IoT, Internet of Things era is about to begin in which everything is linked to networks and mutually controlled while exchanging information. One of the important elements of IoT is the semiconductors. How will society transform with the diffusion of IoT? How does Renesas see the IoT market? We asked Renesas Executive Vice President Yoshikazu Yokota about the company's endeavors as a semiconductor manufacturer.
Autonomy―IoT Leads to an Era in Which Things Become Autonomous
Q: What kind of society does IoT envisioned by Renesas will bring?
A: Simply put, it will be a society in which people can live more safely and comfortably than ever. The first wave of IoT has already begun to analyze and utilize big data sent from smartphones and dedicated terminals in the energy, healthcare, distribution, automobile and other fields. It is our feeling that, in the future, people need not be aware of being connected via the network. Devices will automatically link to one another to dynamically and autonomously exchange information, which will support people's lives and work. Such a society will become real with the diffusion of IoT.
Q: How do you see this market?
A: Currently, there are 12.5 billion devices linking to networks, which is 1.84 devices per person globally. According to a research company, all devices will link to networks in the future, which will result in 50 billion devices in the world by 2020. This means there will be 6.58 devices per person. The scale of this market will jump to 200 trillion yen by 2020 with manufacturers and service industries included, and this market is expected to quickly establish itself.
Creation―Creating an IoT Market in Collaboration with Customers
Q: Which fields is Renesas considering targeting?
A: We think new services will be offered through the utilization of various data for the IoT market in manufacturing, distribution, and social infrastructure or new types of business fields may arise. Our customers are developing devices and infrastructure required by businesses offering such services. We hope to create a new market together with our customers considering the types of new businesses with IoT.
Q: What specific products or solutions do you think they will be?
A: I think they will be end-to-end solutions that result from the convergence of IT and control. For example, one of the visible needs is a system to monitor road and bridge conditions to address recent problems such as the aging of expressways and tunnels. Sensors are installed on targets to monitor vibration and overall conditions. We are developing an intelligent sensing module with a microcontroller that can understand the meaning of the signals sent from sensors, intelligently recognize only abnormal conditions and send warnings via wireless system, which in turn, will reduce network traffic. Administrative service providers can replace parts or execute work after receiving warnings, which ensures safety as well as significantly reducing infrastructure maintenance costs (Figure 1). In order to do so, the important thing will be how intelligent control can be achieved with low power consumption while ensuring network connections.
Q: Is this system in practical use already?
A: This intelligent monitoring system is in the stage of demonstration testing. We still need to accumulate and analyze data to determine what should be considered abnormal data. Then, there is the issue of who will pay for the costs. If IoT replaces inspections normally carried out by people, such as monitoring of bridges and roads, and reduces cost, diffusion of the system may move along smoothly. However, one of the biggest issues for in the future use of IoT is who will bear the cost of creating this environment in which people can enjoy safety and comfort.
Pioneer―IoT Solutions Leading the Industry
Q: From which field, then, do you think IoT will diffuse?
A: It would be a field in which tangible effects can be achieved. The introduction of IoT in factories is being vigorously pursued, for example, by major industrial machinery manufacturers, and is rapidly advancing globally. It is the first step in the introduction of IoT to link everything from the central production control system to terminal motors with Industrial Ethernet to optimize production throughout the entire factory. This is the end-to-end system fusing IT and control that I mentioned. Raising production efficiency is the key to cost reduction and what leads to increased competitiveness. That is precisely the reason all companies seek to create factories run by a small number of staff, with low power consumption, manufacturing with speed and efficiency. We were among the first to provide high-speed, low-power consumption network devices and microcontrollers for motor control corresponding to various specifications of Industrial Ethernet, with which, in cooperation with our partner companies, we propose industrial network solutions to customers (Figure 2).
Related links：Industrial Network Solutions
There is also an increasing need for smart meters, which are essential for the efficient use of electricity. We are moving forward starting from nations and areas that have fixed communication methods. Smart meters can measure electrical power at a high level of precision with minimal power consumption, to which customers desire the addition of security functions that prevent data tapping and manipulation. Renesas offers low-power consumption solutions with our own smart meters equipped with high-precision measurement algorithms that protect against security threats (Figure 3).
Related link: Smart Meter Solution
Experience―Technology and Experience to Realize IoT
Q: What is the elemental technology required to attain IoT?
A: Well, this may not be specific to IoT, but I think there are 4 elemental technologies: 1) network technology to link one thing to another, 2) technology to control sensors, motors and other devices, 3) low-power consumption technology to raise energy efficiency, and 4) security technology. Think about it. The example I gave before of accurately linking a number of motors in a factory for efficient operation would require all of the above technologies.
It is the same in offices. Sensors detect the light level in the office and this information is linked with a network for the efficient control of lighting to reduce power consumption. It operates independently, detecting the number of people in the office and their movement. If IoT is employed, not only luminance sensors, but other sensors, such as for temperature, smoke, sound, odor and more, can be linked via networks, working autonomously to provide a pleasant environment for the people working in the office. I think the technology to control sensors and security technology to ensure the solid protection of information are particularly important elements.
Q: What are your plans for the IoT market?
A: Services with high added value in the future IoT market will require collaboration between service and security because each piece of data must be reliable. Renesas possesses security technology and past performance in IC card, mobile and ETC system operations, thus we are able to offer support for it with high added value services. This means that we can help all people live comfortably in an IoT network society with peace of mind. We hope to create and propose new services not only to our current customers and partners, but also to enterprises providing services to end users, and to quickly enter the IoT market that is expected to expand in the hope of contributing to the realization of safe and comfortable living.