As the countries around the world use social distancing or shelter-in-place strategies to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that businesses are hurting. Online retailers and a few others are the exceptions given the current situation, but by and large, it’s a tough time to run a company.
There is a bright spot, however, and it’s precisely because of these strategic efforts against the virus: The IoT market is expanding as people look for health monitoring systems, less expensive machine vision solutions, and other remotely accessible products.
Stacey and I caught a glimpse of this in a recent IoT Podcast, as we saw reports of 640,000 Raspberry Pi sales in the month of March. That sales figure is second only to the first month of sales when the small, inexpensive computer arrived on the market in 2012.
What do Raspberry Pi computer sales say about the IoT market? More than you’d think considering they’re great for prototyping small-compute wireless products for under $50. And they’re coming into their own during this time of crisis.
For example, a team in Colombia built a Pi-powered ventilator that can be used with readily available parts in order to supplant that country’s inventory of the highly demanded medical device. And projects don’t need a top-of-the-line Raspberry Pi for such a product: The $5 Pi Zero board can handle all of the code and computations needed to keep a DIY ventilator properly running.
But IoT during these times isn’t just about cheap computers. It’s also about how to best get small bits of information, particularly in the medical field, to the right place.
One of my Computer Science class projects exemplifies this. We hacked an older “dumb” glucometer for diabetes patience and applied a little IoT of own. The end result? Using a little code, some algorithms, and the addition of a wireless module, we created a digital pancreas of sorts. The final product sent blood sugar measurements every five seconds to the cloud, automatically adjusted insulin dosages in near-real-time, and remotely provided medical professionals with highly detailed reports.
Our project was really about the learning experience, but now medical device makers are doing the same thing to improve patient’s health without requiring face-to-face doctor’s visits.
Earlier this year, for example, startup Bigfoot Biomedical raised $45 million in Series C funding to help deliver its first connected diabetes management products this year. These are fully-connected and integrated devices: The insulin injection pen and a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) for automated insulin injection.
It’s not just the small up-and-comers doing this either. Medtronic and Dexcomm, two of the big players in this space, are ramping up their product lines with IoT features for automation and data delivery. As a whole, this market, just for smart diabetes products, is expected to surpass $41.6 billion worldwide by 2027 according to recent reports.
There’s also growing IoT demand and new products in the industrial sector where, given the current state of health affairs, companies may not want to have people walking around to inspect production or manufacturing lines. To automate here, you need smart sensors and wireless technology. And it helps if you have devices that can “see” what needs to be seen.
To that end, I point to the recently released $199 computer that’s meant solely for training machine vision models. ADLINK, Intel, Arrow Electronics teamed up for this little box, which resembles an ARM-powered Raspberry Pi on the outside.
Inside, however, is a more powerful Intel Atom processor, Intel’s Movidius Myriad X VPU, and OpenVINO software used to train computer vision models for specific tasks such as monitoring parts on the assembly line or watching to see if there’s a slight problem in production.
And what about the smart home now that so many people are generally confined to their abode? I haven’t yet seen any sales figures on smart home products, but if I had to guess, I’d say they’re up for people who have a little extra disposable income right now.
As I wrote in early March, my smart home products are actually helping me and my family be safer by lessening our exposure to potentially infected people. Our smart doorbell system is really the key here: We’re not opening our front door for anyone these days. Instead, whether it’s a neighbor or a package delivery, we’re using the two-way conversation feature to communicate safely.
We might be outliers here, and the smart home market was growing anyway. In fact, the whole IoT market has been on an uptick for several years. But while other industries are “on hold” or contracting, my take is that the global response to this pandemic will only speed up IoT adoption whether it’s at home, at work, or somewhere in between.
Want to learn more about why IoT didn’t predict COVID-19? Sign up here for a webinar on May 20 to find out why and how IoT can help in the future.