Flexible sensors: Expanding the reach of the Internet of Things
September 19, 2016
As devices become more connected, consumers are presented with new use cases and levels of utility that weren’t possible until recently.
For example, we can now control our smart home appliances remotely via mobile apps, or collect information about our health and fitness through smartwatches while being able to conveniently access and view the same data on our phones.
Although we may not all drive one yet, connected cars are here – these are cars that are equipped with Internet access and can share information with other devices including our phone and wearable: they can notify us of traffic jams, and they can also collect and send to information the Cloud about the driver and the car.
It may not be too long until we start wearing connected clothing too – take for example Google’s project of a smart jacket with Levi that is complete with Maps and Spotify integration.
Connected devices are the foundation of the Internet of Things (IoT). While there is a lot of work yet to be done for the infrastructure to be developed so that the full potential of IoT is unlocked, there is no doubt that this is the future. Gartner estimates that by the end of this year alone, 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use – rising to 20.8 billion in 2020.
Sensors – the enabling technology for IoT
When you think about it, the IoT is driven by sensors – which are the source of the data that is autonomously and continually collected from the device. Whether the devices are wearables, home appliances or cars, an ever-growing range of sensors can be applied in each application, measuring temperature, pulse rate, air quality, fingerprints and so on.
Today a vast majority of IoT sensor devices use silicon-based sensors. And they work. But with the development of organic electronics, flexible sensors are now also possible - this unlocks an entirely new set of IoT-enabled products. Thanks to their thinness, lightweight and robustness, they can be seamlessly integrated onto any surface offering users more intuitive and improved experience, and be mounted in places that would be difficult to do with silicon sensors.
Flexible sensors mean unobtrusive health monitoring: skin patches that monitor and record vital signs, sent directly to health professionals without any discomfort to the patient or time delays. Flexible sensors will also improve fingerprint detection – certainly by enabling a multitude of additional surfaces to be installed with the security feature – imagine a sensor wrapped around a car steering wheel, recognising the driver as well as customising their experience.
The investment into the IoT has been huge and we are only seeing the beginnings of where and how this megatrend will change our lives. Flexible electronics is already impacting the proliferation of the IoT -if you have any more ideas as to how flexible electronics can do this, we’d like to hear from you – firstname.lastname@example.org.