The Potential of Ambient IoT

by Andy Slote - Director of Customer Success for ObjectSpectrum

Jun 04 2024

All Posts The Potential of Ambient IoT

New Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are helping to overcome the complexity which is often seen as a barrier to implementation across industries. One such technology, Ambient IoT, could revolutionize the IoT space by offering simplified implementation and reduced costs.

When new options become available, potential adopters are forced to deal with unfamiliar terminology, possibly making things appear more confusing. Even after years of promotion and education, the term “Internet of Things” is still ambiguous to the very business leaders who can reap significant benefits from it. When you add a term like “ambient,” you risk evoking caution rather than interest.

If we start with a definition of “ambient” from Dictionary.com, we find (1) the surrounding area or environment; (2) completely surrounding or enveloping. In the context of Ambient IoT, the term ambient describes the energy (or power) aspect. Devices need power to operate, and wouldn’t it be convenient if they could readily obtain it from their surroundings?  

Like any IoT implementation, Ambient IoT employs sensor devices that provide IoT data and gateways or routers for device management and data transmission. But in this case, the devices obtain the energy they need by “harvesting” it from an available source, such as radio signals, motion, heat, or light. More complex (and expensive) devices store this energy in a battery on the device. There are also “battery-less” sensors that receive a tiny amount of energy from a source, powering it for just long enough to activate its sensors and transmit its data to the gateway, router, or other relaying or receiving device.

Due to their low cost, the battery-less designs are projected to significantly increase adoption, particularly in cases where more expensive ones are impractical. Some of these sensors resemble stickers or tags rather than traditional devices. And prices for some are under $1 each. They also eliminate the environmental impact of battery manufacturing and disposal, as well as the recurring cost of replacing batteries.

Many Ambient IoT solutions use Bluetooth, or more specifically Bluetooth Low Energy (or BLE), as the underlying wireless technology. Bluetooth’s advantages include its ubiquity and relatively low deployment costs. But more importantly, many Wi-Fi Access Points are Bluetooth-enabled, including some that are purpose-built for supporting large numbers of Bluetooth devices, making implementations even more cost-efficient in environments where networks already exist; and not to mention that every smartphone also has this capability.

An example of an ambient sensor is one that measures temperature while harvesting RF (radio frequency) energy for power. When constant monitoring is not required, such a device can gather enough energy from the router’s radio waves to take a reading and send it periodically.

Early adopters of Ambient IoT include retailers, grocery chains, and pharmaceutical companies, with use cases that include:

  • Real-time location of assets
  • Supply chain tracking
  • Temperature and humidity monitoring
  • Electronic shelf labels

Although Ambient IoT has some clear advantages, some aspects of an implementation can still be challenging. Like any technology, it will not be the right solution for all remote sensing applications. And with the deployment of potentially huge numbers of sensors comes an increase in data, along with the storage, management, and interpretation of it all. Good planning, data analysis, and the informed choice of a platform for device and data management and data visualization are still critical aspects of any project.

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