As a topic of much discussion and debate, the Internet of Things (IoT) stole the show once again, this time at SEMICON West 2015. Between imec’s ITF USA 2015: Builders of Tomorrow event Monday, Bill Bottoms’ presentation on ITRS 2.0 during Tuesday’s STS Advanced Packaging Session The Very Big Picture, and the keynote by Doug Davis, Intel, on The Internet of Things and the Next Fifty Years of Moore’s Law, I certainly came away with a lot of food for thought.

If any of you read my most recent missive, Will the Internet of Everything Really Make the World A Better Place? you’ll recall my concern about what a technology-centric society will do to our basic humanity. Last week at SEMICON West, I listened to what these speakers had to say, and I also engaged in conversation with other attendees. Turns out there are many skeptics in the room. Some are so tired of the IoT hype that they skipped those sessions altogether. But I think the best way to ensure the IoT is put to its best purposes possible is for enthusiasts and skeptics to each bring there ideas and concerns to the forefront so we can, as a society, ensure the ultimate impact of the IoT is for the good it can do.

IoT applications span the spectrum from good ideas to great ones, from personal to global, and from frivolous to life changing. Unfortunately, it’s the frivolous ideas that spark the skepticism, and take away from the real value of this trend. A diaper that sends a text to your cell phone to let you know it’s time to change the baby? I classify that frivolous – and lazy parenting. In my experience, babies are pretty vocal about when they need to be changed. Contact lenses for diabetics that can analyze tears to test insulin levels? Now that can be life changing.

In his opening presentation at ITF, Luc Van Den Hove talked about imec’s focus on developing IoT devices for “smart living” — defined by Van Den Hove as technology that improves the quality of life; making it easier, more comfortable, safer, and more sustainable. While there are already a number of wearable devices on the market, Van Den Hove says that by 2020, the wearable market will grow to $80B.

imec is focused on the next level of ioT – what Van Den Hove called the Intuitive IoT –enabled by wearable devices that are invisible, intuitive, minimal, easily integrated, and once implemented requires little to no human interaction. Considering the amount of human interaction required to effectively implement say, a FitBit, this must be music to many ears.

stress level copy
FIgure 1: 18-35 year olds experience the highest stresss, followed by 34-47 year olds. 48-66 experience below average stress and those over 67 are the least stressed.

He also talked about initiatives that address the needs at different life stages, all with the goal of improving life and reducing stress. According to recent studies, stress levels reduce as people age. Causes of stress include money, work, the economy, family, and personal health. “Technology should be able to help alleviate some of these concerns.” He said.

For example, targeting senior citizens are wearable devices that can monitor health from the convenience of their own home. Doctors can keep track of markers and notify patients if there is something to be concerned about. This also helps reduce worry for their adult children.

cellsorting copyAnother example was an in-home blood test for cancer markers. This nanoelectric device employs microfluidics to perform cell sorting and identify early cancer markets. “If we detect cancer early, chances for survival is higher,” said Van Den Hove. “If we detect tumor cells in the blood stream early, we can save lives.” He explained that these point-of-care solutions can improve diagnostic care for many people.

I would tend to agree, as long as they are not made readily available to the general public, who already are inclined to incorrectly self-diagnose conditions because of the readily availability of information on the Internet. I can imagine a scenario where primary care physicians are suddenly inundated with patient data due to the hypochondriac nature of the un-trained consumer. And what about the worry put into people who have the markers, but may not develop cancer for 20 years? What does this sort of information do to their lives? I think we need to think very carefully about what we can technologically achieve, and what we should be doing.

I think the greatest benefit society can gain from the IoT are those applications that can address renewable energy, improve food sources, and sustain our resources. Intel’s Doug Davis had me when he said, “The question isn’t how we make things smart, its how big are the problems we can solve?” Problems like our aging population: by 2050 40% of people will be over 60, and more people over 60 than under 14. (According to Van Den Hove’s scale, that does mean fewer people will be stressed…) But Davis noted, “We are woefully unprepared to deal with issues we’ll be facing as a society.” 90% of elderly prefer to age at home. That’s where home monitoring systems that provide actionable data to caregivers can have a positive impact- as a connected care center for independent living and cost effective care.

Davis also offered some great success stories addressing planet health, urbanization, and global food supplies.

How do we reduce emissions in environment where we need to produce more? By implementing strategies at every point in the supply chain for how we produce energy and goods. For example, by implementing predictive maintenance technology in our factories, we can make them more efficient and reduce downtime, thereby reducing the carbon footprint.

In this age of urbanization we need to focus on more efficient distribution of resources. Davis talked about Intel’s work with London Living Labs, which is researching the impact of Big Data analytics in treating cities as giant systems, and uses real time weather and transportation data to help cities run more efficiently.

Lastly, Davis talked about the myth of the global food shortage, and that the real problem is that we are producing so much food that goes to waste, while millions of people go hungry. Agricultural productivity is increasing faster than the population, and is a huge drain on our water resources. We need to grow more with less.

Davis talked about a program Intel launched in Malaysia with rice farming to convert water supply management to water demand management. Rather than just timed water delivery irrigation systems, these systems uses sensors to determine water need based on water levels, and weather conditions. “Farmers have seen water savings up to 10% and increase rice harvest from 2-3 in a year,” said Davis. This precision agriculture could have a powerful impact worldwide. I think of how this could be implemented by municipalities for green space watering. How many times have I walked through the park at 5am during summer monsoon season in Arizona, only to see the sprinklers come on at 5 am after a flash flood the night before?

There’s no doubt that the IoT spells tremendous opportunity for the semiconductor industry. As Karen Savala, President, SEMI Americas, noted in her welcome remarks at imec’s ITF, “Technology is not just Facebook or the App you download to your cellphone. The semiconductor industry provides the underpinnings of all of this.” Bill Bottoms noted from the advanced packaging perspective, that smartphones have been a great driver so far, but the IoT threatens to take over as the greatest driver. The key, I think, is to not get caught up in all the hype of what it could be, and focus efforts into making the IoT what it should be. ~ F.v.T.

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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