What will power the future of the internet?

13 Oct 2016

Dr Kieran Drain on the main stage at the Tyndall Technology Days event. Image: Conor McCabe

Grappling with the key challenges facing the internet of things at Tyndall Technology Days 2016.

The Tyndall Technology Days event in Croke Park focused on the theme ‘Powering the Future Internet’, that future being the internet of things.

The one-day conference brought experts, industry stakeholders and academics together to grapple with the challenges ahead for the internet’s next step: the internet of things (IoT).

“We’re all familiar, maybe, with the term ‘internet of things’ – how devices are being connected, how it’s going to change people’s lives – and that’s all fine and well until you get down into the details and let’s discover how will we do that,” Dr Kieran Drain, CEO of Tyndall National Institute, explained.

The big questions facing the development of IoT technologies rest on two pillars: power and connectivity. How are we to power the billions of devices set to become part of the internet? What are the implications of this energy consumption? How can we make this efficient? And how can we connect them all to ensure both reliability and security?

These were the topics tackled by speakers, panelists and demonstrators at Tyndall Technology Days 2016.

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“It’s true that, for the internet of things, every individual small sensor has to have its own power source and so we can’t feasibly think of a little battery for running everything. It has to be done in a smarter way than that,” said keynote speakers Steve Moffatt, CTO for front-end products at Applied Materials.

The power problem even impacts discussion in terms of communications and storage, Moffatt added. “Power scaling is actually a big part of the new ways we look at the scaling in the road map, and how we manage the power for the whole system is becoming of increasing importance,” he said.

The day’s first keynote came from Katsu Nakamura, fellow at Analog Devices Inc (ADI), who discussed enabling the IoT from his company’s perspective.

Nakamura also serves as CTO of the healthcare and consumer IoT group at Analog Devices and said ADI has a “laser focus” on developing conditional capability, going “beyond excellence” in sensing and measurement and optimising low-power solutions for specific businesses in healthcare, smart cities, smart consumer and smart industry.

Finishing off the morning plenary session was a panel discussion chaired by Siliconrepublic.com editor John Kennedy.

Kennedy was joined by Drain, Science Foundation Ireland director general Prof Mark Ferguson, Atlantic Bridge investment director Helen McBreen, IDA Ireland CEO Martin Shanahan and worldwide solution leader for IoT at IBM, Claire Penny, to discuss how IoT can get off the hype curve and down to business.

Later, delegates split into two sessions, with speakers focused on one of the two challenges: power or connectivity. Among them, Robert Newberry from Sanmina, which is focused primarily on getting devices to operate at lower power as well as exploring how to make use of renewable energy from the environment to fuel the IoT.

Imagine, for example, wearables that are powered by fluorescent lights or the thermal energy from your own body.

For the connectivity crowd, photonics was the key theme permeating discussion on how to enable suitably speedy transfer of data and information. Because, as Drain explained, connected devices will need to ‘think’ and act as fast as humans can.

“Issues like latency and bandwidth become very, very important,” he said. “You don’t want the timing to be wrong when that [autonomous] car has to make a decision that you formerly make.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.