Showcasing the start-ups driving the Internet of Things

Innovation and start-ups go hand in hand. So it’s not surprise that the Internet of Things (IoT) ‘Start-up Showcase’ was a highlight at Semicon West 2014. This session featured five start-ups whose technology demonstrated not only the exciting products that are driving the IoT wave, but also the importance of R&D and patent-protected inventions.

Pellucid GPS: This early stage start-up is promising a potentially disruptive, low-power GPS device. The technology is based a much simpler circuitry (no multipliers and adders, for example), enabling it to process GPS data very quickly. As a result, the device only needs to be switched on for a very short time, thereby using minimal power. Pellucid claims its ’Zero Energy’ technology increases talk time on the iPhone 5 by 15%, and increases the Nike Fuel Band from six hours to an incredible 92 hours.   Based on two US ’defendable’ patents, the technology can be implemented with today’s technology and offers an almost too-good-to-be-true best performance, lowest cost and smallest footprint GPS device that is especially suitable for IoT devices. Personally, I would appreciate not having to worry about the battery sapping smartphone GPS app during my weekend long runs!

Lumiode: Lumiode is developing emissive LED microdisplays that are 10x more efficient and 30x brighter than existing technologies such as organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and digital light processing (DLP). Founder and CEO Vincent Lee invented the core technology while completing his studies at Columbia University. In turn, Columbia has given an exclusive license of the patented technology to Lumiode. Lumiode’s microdisplays are low power, compact (less than an inch diagonal) and are easily readable in bright daylight, making them ideal for head-mounted devices such as glasses and helmets. With these displays, real-time information and graphics from IoT devices would be delivered to the user to provide for a truly interactive augmented reality experience. Ironman should definitely get Lumiode to upgrade his heads-up display.

CHIRP Microsystems: This fabless start-up provides a low-power micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) ultrasonic 3D-sensing solution. Traditional approaches which use light to detect objects in 3D are computationally intensive and use a lot of power. CHIRP’s technology, originally developed at the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, uses ultrasonic transducers to generate sound waves and determine the location of an object from the echo of the waves. An early demo of the technology shows how users can control a tablet with gestures – similar to how you interact with the Xbox Kinect. Other applications that could use this ultrasound technology include medical and industrial imaging, and automotive collision detection. The solution uses only microwatts of power and has an extremely small footprint, making it a great enabling technology to interface with the always-on connected devices of the IoT.

ChemiSense:  This wearable company is developing a personal air quality monitoring device and companion app that provides real-time alerts on the harmful chemicals and pollutants in the air you breathe. With the data collected from users, the app provides a real-time crowd-source map showing the air quality of applicable areas. ChemiSense is initially targeting a segment of the asthma market, but there are huge opportunities in healthcare and other industries such as mining, oil & gas, defense – essentially any industry that involves dangerous and toxic working environments. Their product and $150 price point are comparable with other popular personal fitness wearables, and therefore should ease user adoption.

Arrayent: describes their Connect Platform as an IoT operating system in the cloud. Their approach is to shift the complexity from IoT devices to their own software platform, thus helping manufacturers develop IoT devices quicker, cheaper, more reliable, and easier for consumers to install and use.  Arrayent’s platform offers tools and services to support disparate wireless local area network protocols, a comprehensive device management, data analytics and application framework for enterprise and consumer application development. At core, Arrayent is helping solve issues – such as security, disparate connectivity technologies and lack of standardization – that must be resolved if the IoT is to be fully implemented.  Impressively, they have developed partnerships with leading silicon device vendors, and their solution has been incorporated in consumer electronics and appliances from some of the top vendors. Not surprisingly, providing IoT platform solutions is a very crowded space, but Arrayent appears to have traction.

The products from these five companies exemplify the innovation and diversity of the ’very different’ things of the IoT. It will take time before clear leaders emerge from the inevitable shakeout. Fortunately, the sheer size and diversity of IoT should allow for far more technology companies to thrive than in the increasingly monopolistic smartphone and tablet market. To everyone who loves technology, it’ll be fun to watch start-ups and established companies alike push the envelope with new technology and intellectual property as they clamor to ride the next big wave.

That’s why I enthusiastically agree with Kevin Ashton, who coined the term IoT, that “the Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so. “