Octopart’s Key Takeaways from IoT Day

Hello again! Hope your new year has gotten off to a great start! We attended a ton of events last year — some of our favorites were the Hardware Workshop, Open Hardware Summit and Electronica — and we’re continuing the trend in 2017. A few weeks ago, I visited IoT day, organized by Techstars, right here in New York! There was bustle and excitement among the entrepreneurs, and it was great to see a big audience, of around 200 people,  talking about the future of IoT, from machine learning in self driving cars to the decentralization of manufacturing.

Interestingly enough, there was no discussion of PCBs or the latest micro-controllers on the market. Rather, the focus was on software for the hardware. It seems like the ESP8266s and the MSP430s are commoditized to a certain level, and the real focus seems to be on how to use the ICs at the product level and the software stack for them. Hmm.

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There were several panel talks, from “What Lies Ahead for Developer Evangelism” to “The Future of Manufacturing” and “IoT in Mobility and Urban Tech.”

Based on what we heard there, the IoT trends to watch in 2017 are-

  1. IoT is going to disrupt even established industries like construction and oil and gas:

    Alex Schwarzkopf, CEO of Pillar Technologies, mentioned that for our dream of smart cities to come true, connected buildings are a prerequisite. IoT devices, increasingly installed during building construction, provide new ways to monitor the structural health and safety of buildings. Having this data couldn’t have been imagined a few years ago. He was excited about this potential to disrupt the construction industry.

    Kirk Coburn, CEO of Surge Ventures, talked about how IoT devices can impact the oil and gas industry because of the potential to introduce better safety measures in oil rigs. But he was cautious, saying that big companies are scared of losing their valuable, confidential information in IoT device hacks. Hence, better measures for IoT cyber-security are important before IoT devices are widely adopted. But with the latest advances, he was optimistic about their use in the industry.

  2. APIs and machine learning libraries will gain prominence for IoT devices:

    Mike Mansuetti, President of Bosch, explained how manufacturing processes in factories are increasingly using IoT devices to speed up production cycles and improve efficiency. These devices produce enormous amounts of data every day; to use them effectively, it is important to have the right data analysis tools and machine learning models to better understand data and use it for prediction, anomaly detection, classification, and more. It will be interesting to see how ML libraries like scikit-learn are adopted for IoT applications.

    Jinger Zeng, the founder of DroneSmith, explained that good APIs are pivotal for implementing IoT solutions quickly. She mentioned how tight API integrations with hardware will allow IoT devices to integrate with our lives better. This will happen as APIs allow complex functionality and enable multiple devices to connect easily. An example of an API platforms built around devices is Twilio, which allows for a quick voice and messaging integration.

  3. IoT will be used more in synergy with AI, 3D printing and augmented reality:

    There was a discussion about how self-driving cars will gain prominence in the coming years. The AI in the cars today is quite accurate, but it’s not perfect. The challenge lies in how to better train the algorithms to make decisions in edge cases, like sensing a stray pedestrian or driving in snow. Perhaps, IoT has an answer to this question: by having the vehicles communicating with each other.  

    Another important point was how manufacturing will continue to decentralize in 2017. 3D printing is getting popular in areas such as automotive, healthcare, and the space industry and we have seen a growth of desktop manufacturing and low-cost 3D printers. IoT can provide a way to provide additional quality control using data analytics. Embedded IoT devices will enable 3D printers to track things like temperature and structural integrity, and this data analysis will improve manufacturing processes.

    Augmented reality is another technology that came up at the summit. There was a point raised about how car companies are using augmented reality to show how cars will behave in certain situations like dark roads or steep hills. While AR is promising by itself, there is a huge potential for AR to use IoT provided data to add context. For example, by overlaying sensor data directly in an augmented reality environment, it can make it even easier to gain insights from data.

The question underlying all of these IoT conversations was how can we use the tools and capabilities we already have in interesting and unconventional ways. IoT definitely has a potential to change the way we live: connected vehicles, decentralized manufacturing and augmented reality is just a start. Wishing you the best in your projects — share them with us!  — and we hope Octopart can help you discover the electronic components you need as you work on the next big thing.