This news was first published on Dec. 9 in my weekly Stacey on IoT newsletter.
Omron, a maker of sensors and industrial equipment based in Kyoto, has built a selection of IoT sensors and gateways designed to make deploying connected sensors much easier for business. The company, which is probably more familiar to those of us in the consumer world for its medical gear, showed off its new gateways at an IoT show in Austin, Tex. last month.
Cary Horan, a business development manager with Omron, told me the plan is to launch a sensing device called the IoT Module along with an IoT gateway next year in the U.S. The company will white-label the technology for companies that want to build their own software on top of the hardware for their own specific industry verticals. With the Omron gear, a company that makes tractors could, for example, add IoT functionality simply by adding the gateway to its machines and reselling the sensors.
The Omron IoT gateway will have LTE Cat M1 or NB-IoT cellular connectivity or LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi, or BLE connectivity over unlicensed spectrum, and will come pre-certified by government agencies responsible for overseeing radio communications in the countries where it is sold. Buyers of the device can pick and choose between connectivity and power options based on their needs.
The first Omron sensor designed to work with the gateway measures the quality of oils and fluids, and will be designed for refining operations. The company also plans to release a weather sensor next year that measures rain, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity. Environmental sensors that measure air quality, volatile organic compounds, and noise are also in the works.
Horan anticipates that the market for Omron’s sensors and gateway will be in energy operations, smart cities, and agriculture. Omron is well known in both the sensing and industrial worlds, as that’s where the the majority of the company’s revenue comes from. Sales of Omron’s industrial robotic arms and sensors make up 57% of its annual revenue.
Expanding further into this customer base isn’t a hard sell for Omron. The company also sells electronics infrastructure to cities, which is another market it hopes to reach with its new IoT gear. Omron has invested in IoT internally as part of an overall focus on attaining carbon neutrality by 2030 and plans to take its learnings and gear to others that are also trying to reduce their carbon footprints.
I have two concerns about Omron’s approach. First, we saw early on in the launch of IoT companies a focus on providing sensors and gateways to companies that were easy to deploy, but tough to get information from. Omron says customers can pull information from the gateway using an API or MQTT, around which the customer can then build an interface. Omron also provides a low-code programming environment for users that want to build a quick application or dashboard from the data for their end customers.
My second concern stems from a challenge of many IoT platforms that have launched to date, namely that they were too generalized to help solve the specific use case(s) of the end customer. The ease of programming the dashboard for specific use cases will help here, as will the release of more sensors that will work with the gateway. Omron has many options in sensing technology, and only needs to build the packaging around the sensing technology to make it work with its gateway.
So I guess the industry should prepare for another IoT platform option.