IoT 2.0: The Interface of Things?

March 29, 2016

The Internet of Things 2.0 is arriving. Dr. Erik Volkerink, the former chief technology officer of Flex1 who currently serves as the chief business officer of Heptagon, describes IoT 1.0 as embracing machine-to-machine connectivity. Engineers working on IoT 1.0 needed to understand connectivity as well as the software stack, ranging from firmware on silicon to software in the cloud. To deal with the product design complexity, technology building blocks emerged that were essential to create a competitive business centered on IoT 1.0. In fact, more and more hardware building-block ecosystems are emerging to accelerate product innovation, a trend that will continue for a couple of years.

In contrast, he said in a recent interview at the company’s new Silicon Valley facility, “I believe IoT 2.0 is more about interfacing between machines and humans in a very intuitive fashion. It’s about using artificial intelligence to understand people. It’s about multimodal human interactions—including voice and gestures.” He added, “When I speak I use my hands as well as my voice,” pointing out that a substantial portion of conversational communication in fact takes place through body language.2

Issues surrounding IoT 1.0 and M2M have largely been addressed, Volkerink said. Cautioning that he didn’t want to trivialize technical M2M challenges, he acknowledged that there are still battles to be fought with multiple players. Yet surveillance of the battlefield suggests it’s somewhat clear where M2M technology is headed.

In contrast, he said, “I think the human-interfacing piece now is still chaotic. It’s basically where the machine-to-machine piece was five years ago.” In addition to challenges analogous to the development of IoT 1.0 and M2M technologies, IoT 2.0 and M2H will increasingly take advantage of “…a lot of new technologies in artificial intelligence and deep learning that can help create intuitive M2H experiences as well as new miniaturization and integration technologies to bring this to consumers,” he said. Right now, he added, people are scrambling to internalize these technologies, yet one can argue that many of the most innovative smart products are actually successful not because of the Internet connection but because of better ways of interfacing with humans.

Whereas Moore’s law has driven—and continues to drive—monolithic scaling, heterogeneous scaling of the type Heptagon has advanced will serve as an underlying driver of the next-generation components that go into the next generation of products in IoT applications, he said.

“The human-machine link right now is very primitive—it’s not very multimodal,” Volkerink said. The voice-recognition engineers and computer-vision engineers are doing great work solving their respective problems, he added, but the supply chain is very diverse: you buy a microphone from one company, an image sensor from another, and an accelerometer from yet another. Citing software, he said, “I think a whole new software stack is not about how to connect to the Internet—it’s about artificial intelligence, deep learning, computer vision, and matching the heterogeneous hardware integration capabilities of More than Moore’s law,” with the largest portion of artificial intelligence investments over the past year occurring in the area of computer vision. “I think it’s still very single-modal right now,” he said, “but I think the company that can tie all of those things together and drive the Interface of Things, is going to win.”

Although the term “Internet of Things” hadn’t been coined3 when Heptagon was founded,” Volkerink said, “The company now finds itself with core capabilities and strengths that can help address IoT 2.0.” Over the last six months, the company aggressively launched a portfolio of new products including single-point and multipoint depth sensors for mobile applications, 3D imaging solutions for augmented reality and virtual reality, eye-tracking solutions for advanced user interfaces, high-speed optical interconnect products, and iris scan solutions for mobile authentication. The company also launched a 3D middleware layer to accelerate the development of 3D applications and is currently investing in expanding its Silicon Valley computer vision labs.

Heptagon has shipped over 2 billion products and recently expanded the manufacturing capacity to 1 billion products per year, giving the company “…the experiences required to integrate very diverse hardware technologies in small form factors,” he said. “Our in-depth software technologies help develop complete solutions addressing the Interface of Things.”

Notes:

  1. Flex was Flextronics until a name change last July. As CTO, Volkerink reorganized the company’s engineering services business into centers of excellence addressing the building blocks of IoT products. In a keynote address at Test Vision 2020 in July 2013, he outlined the challenges of building next-generation smart products embracing electronics, fluidics, biology, and mechanical assemblies. He elaborated further in an interview with EE-Evaluation Engineering published July 2014.
  2. Two studies involving researcher Albert Mehrabian and published in 1967 suggested 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and only 7% the actual words spoken. These figures have been contested, at least as applied to formal oral presentation.
  3. Kevin Ashton, cofounder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, may have coined the phrase when he used it as the title of a presentation he made to Procter & Gamble in 1999.

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