Two weeks ago, WATTx hardware team went to Electronica, the largest electronics trade fair in the world. This year, as it does every second year, it took place in Munich. In total, 2,913 companies from more than 50 countries presented their new products and solutions. Overall, it was an interesting fair that gave us a clear indication in what way hardware is going currently.
Gateways are supporting more and more connectivity options
There are many connectivity technologies, like Bluetooth, 6LoWPAN, and, LTE nowadays. During the conference, we could see that several companies has developed internet gateways that supports a range of internet modules, making them compatible with a number of different sensor environments and services.
A real-world example of these new gateways is NXP’s new modular IoT Gateway. It supports a wide array of wireless communication protocols including: Thread, ZigBee, Wi-Fi and, in a near future, BLE Mesh.
Choosing the right connectivity option is often something that takes some time, as you need to consider power consumption, device bandwidth, and range. In our work, these new gateways will allow us to experiment and find the right solution concerning connectivity for our prototypes.
Sensors are getting smaller and more specialized
It will come as no surprise to you that sensor development is following Moore’s Law. Every year, sensors are becoming smaller, while getting more accurate.
However, you might be surprised with how much smaller sensors are today compared with the ones from only a year or two ago. One example of that can be seen below.
Here you can see different generations of humidity sensors. Each tube contains the same amount of sensors.
Another clear trend that we saw is more specialized sensors. One example of that is Excelitas new PIR motion sensor, which has built in temperature compensation. That solves a problem with sensors registering a sudden temperature increase in the environment as movement by compensating for environmental changes.
Apart from that, Excelitas also launched their new IR Image Sensor “CoolEYE”, which provides spatial IR information without identification of objects. That allows for surveillance while still maintaining people’s privacy.
The tools needed for quick prototyping are coming
Internet of things are revolutionizing the electronics industry. More and more companies are looking to work with quick prototyping in hardware and manufacturers have taken note. In Electronica we saw a lot of new new products specifically developed for prototyping.
One of those new products is Controllino, a software open-source PLC with Arduino compatibility. It allows you to do quick prototyping in automation or robotics without using a specific PLC from the market. Controllino also let’s you do more realistic prototyping, especially in cases when you would normally run small motors or LEDs on a breadboard. You can also handle heavy voltages and control light bulbs, fans, and other electronic components in a safer way than before.
There’s a lot of innovation in printed circuit boards
There is a lot of innovation among PCB-manufacturers. Here you can see plastic and paper versions.
From China to Europe, many PCB companies has started to provide startups with a quicker and more flexible design and assembly process. They help startups do prototyping and test their prototypes in small batches and fast. EMSPROTO is one of those companies. Based in France, they’ll accelerate your prototyping by instantly checking the availability of components you need based on your PCB layout design. You can then order small batches of your PCB and have it delivered in 2-12 days. Now hardware design is not just something that big enterprises can do.
We also saw a lot of innovation among PCB-manufacturers. One of the most interesting innovations we saw came from SATOSEN, a japanese PCB-company. During Electronica they demonstrated their new printing technology, which let’s you print a stretchable PCB which is flexible enough to follow the shape of the human body. It also handles dynamic stress quite well, meaning that it is flexible enough to handle flexing, bending, twisting and all other motions a human body goes through in a day. They also enable circuit plating on different types of materials.
Stretchable PCBs are very interesting as they allow for a host of new use cases. As an example it might allow for new innovation and new thinking in the wearables-sector and enable electronic devices on clothes.