New ITA report underscores IoT expansion in midwest America

The fourth edition of the Midwest IoT Inventory Report has been released by Illinois Technology Association (ITA) which aims to categorise IoT companies in the midwest of America. This edition of the Inventory consists over 145 companies, up from 120 in the June 2017 edition.

Julia Kanouse, CEO, ITA, says: “The IoT Council has hit its stride with the tremendous growth in the sector all the while bringing immense awareness to the Midwest as an epicentre of IoT innovation. The addition of 24 new companies to the inventory signalling over 20% growth in less than three months and the incorporation of our Midwestern university-born IoT leaders in this release are both confirmation that IoT has taken flight here in Illinois and beyond.”

Companies included in the fourth report include Bluboard, Conduit Labs, Lystr, and Microsensor Labs.

Another report from MassTLC, a technology association covering New England, argues that Massachusetts is ‘at the forefront of innovation’ for the Internet of Things. It states that there are approximately 100 IoT-specific companies in the state, representing a transformative opportunity for the Massachusetts’ technology ecosystem. Companies mentioned in the paper who are building IoT applications include Bigbelly, a firm looking at smart waste management, Philips Lighting for smart lighting, and Powerhouse Dynamics, a company which deploys cloud-based controls and analytics for energy and operational efficiencies.

The paper also delves into how the IoT will potentially affect the state. It says that automation in majority of the sectors will result in job loss, and an even wider gap in obtaining skills. According to the report, some argue that those losses may not be regained while some claim that these are not losses at all but rather opportunities to expand existing industries or create new ones.

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Amazon trying to make smart home simpler with updates, says IHS Markit

With Amazon announcing several new Alexa-related products and integrations, it is part of their plan to make the smart home simpler, according to Blake Kozak, principal analyst at IHS Markit.

While admitting the updates will be ‘disappointing for enthusiasts’ being aimed at a less tech-savvy market, the moves do relate to their competition in the space, including SmartThings and Sonos, added Kozak.

“In the short-term, although Sonos is expected to release a digital assistant agnostic speaker (one that uses Apple Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa) and Google is expected to come out with a less expensive alternative to Google Home and announce additional partnerships, this likely won’t be enough to supplant Amazon over the next 12 months – which can currently control about 24 million smart home devices,” wrote Kozak, adding that number was approximately nine million more devices than the nearest competitor.

The latest product offerings include the redesigned Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot and Echo Connect.

The new redesigned Amazon Echo is a $ 99 hands-free speaker which now comes with an improved audio fidelity, thanks to the second-generation far field voice recognition ability. This comes in a more compact fabric covered form factor and interchangeable cosmetic shells. Amazon is offering buyers a $ 50 discount if they buy three Echo products at once.

The Echo Plus comes with a price tag of $ 149, and is a blend of the original Echo form factor with a ZigBee smart home hub, with a bundled Philips Hue light bulb. According to IHS Markit, The Echo Plus is an important development in its class. This is because earlier the user required the native app for setup and in some cases he/she should know the brand of the voice-controlled device, in order to control it with voice commands. But now, the user will just have to give a simple command without the need of the ‘special’ code or a brand name.

The Echo Spot ($ 129) is an eye-catching combination of the Dot and the Echo Show. It has a circular 2.5” video screen combined with small form factor. And yes, the screen is capable of video calls and displaying video clips.

Lastly, the new Echo Connect ($ 35) accessory allows Echo owners to connect their device to a landline to enable speakerphone calling functionality.

You can read the full note here.

Picture credit: Amazon

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Hybrid 3D printing: The next level of flexible wearables manufacturing

It’s 5pm, and it’s time to call it a day. You turn your computer off, but remember that you still need to send a couple of emails. You fold your new laptop a few times, much like you’d fold a piece of paper, and put in your bag. As you do, you don’t even notice the flexible, clear patch on your hand that locks and unlocks office doors and ensures that the lights are off when you’re not there. And it takes care that the AC is off, saving you the trouble of remembering these trifles.

But this can’t really be called ‘the future’, as these things will be commonplace much sooner than you might think. It’s all thanks to a torrent of tech breakthroughs emerging daily.

Flexible 3D-printed wearables

The electronic industry is evolving so fast that we can barely keep up with all the breakthroughs. It’s not that long ago that we we’re using computers with processing power far weaker than the average smartphone sports now. Then came laptops, tablets, and all the ‘smart’ gadgets that enable our mobile, digital lives. Most recently, we’ve seen a new generation of smart sensors that are unparalleled in their versatility: they’re used in the healthcare sector (think of ‘patches’ that measure your temperature and blood pressure), in the automotive industry (car proximity sensors that help you park your car), and in agriculture (drones equipped with sensors that ensure better yields by providing accurate data about soil quality, humidity, pest infestation, and so on). But they’re about to get a substantial upgrade through the application of stretchable electronics.

The next generation of sensors will be pliable and ‘bendy’. Thanks to their flexibility, they can be attached to any surface. Just imagine sensors that are comfortable to wear against your skin while they’re collecting data about your health, or in sports where a player won’t be distracted by the sensors that measure muscle strain, hydration, and heart rate, preventing unnecessary injuries. These go anywhere sensors promise to leverage smart tech in new and exciting ways.

And according to the latest Research and Markets’ report, the market for this emerging field will hit $ 360 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 106.18 per cent. Stretchable electronic devices demonstrate immense potential for a number of applications. But the quest for finding the best way to manufacture ‘stretchable electronics’ is a bit of a challenge as electrical components in general tend to be rigid.

To enable this new tech, researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are using 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which allows printing “highly conductive materials onto an elastomer surface layer by layer”. In plain English, 3D printing allows them to print circuitry in flexible plastics. Their project, dubbed ‘direct aerosol printing’, “involves spraying then integrating a conductive material with a stretchable substrate”.

Heng Pan, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, outlined for R&D Magazine the advantages of 3D printing in manufacturing ‘stretchable devices’. “Additive manufacturing has the benefit that it can easily change from one material to the other and integrate all the different materials together in one print. You can pretty much print any material in 3D geometry. We believe the additive technique has a very strong advantage in the creation of electronics,” said Pan. However, the team acknowledges other issues that require more work, such as “improved longevity and the development of stretchable batteries.” “We are intensely working on the battery”, he shared.

But scientists at Harvard University have managed to find a way to manufacture “flexible, durable wearable devices that move with the body and offer increased programmability”, and this is going to be a real game changer for the world of stretchable electronics.

Hybrid 3D printing

A collaboration between the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Air Force Research Laboratory, has resulted in developing a method “that integrates soft, electrically conductive inks and matrix materials with rigid electronic components into a single, stretchable device”. They’re using thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), both pure and with silver flakes, to make the circuits and the flexible layers.

And simplicity is the key here. As Alex Valentine, who was a staff engineer at the Wyss Institute when the study was completed, explained, “Because both the substrate and the electrodes contain TPU, when they are co-printed layer-by-layer they strongly adhere to one another prior to drying.  After the solvent evaporates, both of the inks solidify, forming an integrated system that is both flexible and stretchable.” As a proof-of-concept, the team created two devices – “a wearable sleeve-like device that indicates how much the wearer’s arm is bending through successive lighting-up of the LEDs” and “a pressure sensor in the shape of a person’s left foot”.

But the possibilities for their methods are nearly endless. Jennifer Lewis, of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University said that “We believe that this is an important first step toward making customizable, wearable electronics that are lower-cost and mechanically robust.”

There’s no doubt that stretchable electronics industry may have a bright future and we’re excited to see developments in this area in years to come.

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Google is preparing an Amazon Echo Show competitor

Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but rumours indicate Google is preparing to launch a competitor to the Amazon Echo Show.

TechCrunch reports hearing from multiple sources that Google is building a smart home device with a screen. Like with the Echo Show, this would allow the device to display useful information visually such as the weather forecast.

Amazon has left itself somewhat vulnerable in this space with the Echo Show often seen as having the right idea, but with a lackluster execution.

The original Echo Show, in particular, suffered from a low-resolution screen by today’s standards of just 1024×600. This is much lower than most smartphone screens while also being larger than most at 7-inches.

Earlier this week, Amazon launched its updated Echo models but the Show was left untouched. Instead, a new device called the ‘Echo Spot’ was launched which can only be described as a small orb with a screen. Its small size will likely be used primarily as a bedside alarm clock, but it’s little use for a primary “home control” device.

This leaves the goal open for Google to close the sales gap between the far more successful Echo line. In fact, Google is said to have planned to launch this device in 2018 but plans have been fast-tracked to release this year.

What may add fuel to this rumour is that Google has just yanked support for YouTube from the Echo Show. This would, of course, be seen as a key feature on any similar device coming from Google.

A device similar to the Amazon Echo from Google may also boost usage of its ‘Duo’ video-calling service which seems to have received a recent marketing push with new ads appearing here on UK television.

If you ask us, all the signs are pointing towards an incoming announcement. Google does have a press event coming up on October 4th…

Are you excited for an Echo Show rival from Google? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Cloudleaf secures $13 million funding to bring patented Sensor Fabric to market

IoT startups in Silicon Valley are in the news every time when they receive a financial push. This time it is Cloudleaf – a designer and developer of a location-aware sensory platform for automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and life sciences, and industrial manufacturing companies.

The company has secured a total of $ 13 million (£9.7m) in a series A funding round from IndusAge Partners, Bold Capital Partners, Tandem Capital, Mahindra Partners and other seasoned angel investors.

Cloudleaf will put the received fund in innovation in IoT and bring its patented Sensor Fabric to market. The company’s mission is to enable its customers to know the location of their assets and its condition in real-time. The Sensor Fabric is an intelligent mesh embedded with IoT sensors, endpoints, gateways and cloud technologies.

Every asset in it generates a unique digital fingerprint with location and contextual metadata, such as temperature, shock and vibration. Moreover, a patented location engine, middleware and cloud applications easily transforms digital metadata into actionable insights. Dashboards provide alerts, notifications, metrics, trends, analytics and KPIs related to inventory, product quality, audit and regulatory compliance.

Another IoT startup, Canada-based Helios Wire, raised an additional $ 4 million to launch first of its two satellite-based IoT systems in December 2017. Scott Larson, CEO and co-founder, Helios Wire, said: “For instance, a small-scale farmer will be able to use Helios Wire’s economical IoT service to optimally manage a handful of fields. As well, multinational shipping corporations and exporter-importers will be able to optimise fleets and shipments. In Ireland, Cubic Telecom received $ 47 million in Series C funding round which will help the firm to pave way for vehicle connectivity.

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