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Will the Internet of Things Help Drive Hardware Innovation?

Not surprisingly, the Internet of Things was a hot topic at last week’s Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. A couple of companies were even touting internet-enabled toothbrushes, both claiming to be first to connect teeth to a smart phone. Gartner estimates there will be 26 billion Internet of Things (IoT) products by 2020. (This excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones—encompassing just new types of connected products.) Cisco’s John Chambers said IoT will generate $19 trillion to the economy over the next decade.

The Internet of Things includes the Oral-B® toothbrush and App (Photo: Business Wire)

The Oral-B® interactive electric toothbrush and Oral-B® App
(photo credit: Business Wire)

As more products become connected to the Internet—home appliances, cars, dog collars, and now toothbrushes—more data and processing will be pushed to the cloud. In order for this new class of connected products to fulfill their potential, the core technology and backend infrastructure that support them must also evolve to keep pace.

Consider the Nike FuelBand, one of the most popular wearable, fitness-tracking products. FuelBand tracks your steps and your motion, and allows users to set goals and track against them. But it’s still a rather rudimentary technology that a CNET review describes as a “wristband that doubles as a cool watch.”

Wearable providers have to strike the balance between features, functionality and overall size of the product. Adding too many real-time capabilities will kill the battery–instant death for a product like FuelBand. Likewise, increasing its size to jam in more features and a bigger battery has aesthetic and wearability implications.

Products like NikeFuel Band SE may help drive hardware innovation (photo: Nike.com)

NikeFuel Band SE
(photo credit: Nike.com)

Imagine if FuelBand was powered by energy harvesting technology and never had to be charged, and if it performed many more biometric monitoring and analysis in the same sleek design. To make these new connected products really innovative will require more sophisticated microcontrollers and processors, and other embedded componentry.

Quite simply: Hardware innovation needs to accelerate and catch up to software innovation for IoT products to really shine. But that’s easier said than done. The funding model for hardware innovation is broken. Core technology startups are no longer in vogue with VCs. Over the past decade, VCs have been pumping money into software and services companies, where the financial risk is lower, and the exit is generally quicker and with more upside. Why fund a semiconductor startup that could take 8-10 years to pay off when the next WhatsApp could reap a massive return in a fraction of the time?

MSLGROUP is working with a couple of new accelerators focusing specifically on hardware technologies, each targeting different areas of innovation. SK Telecom Americas, the U.S. arm of Korea’s largest telecommunications provider, recently launched the Innovation Accelerator to seed the core technology innovations of the future with a unique model that pairs entrepreneurs with a dedicated strategic partner, in addition to offering up to 1M in combined funding, services and facilities per startup. HAXLR8R takes teams with hardware prototypes, brings them to Shenzhen, China, the hardware component capital of the world, and turns them into functional, fundable companies, offering up to 50K in funding per startup.

While an Internet-enabled toothbrush likely won’t be on my wish list anytime soon (I still prefer the good old-fashioned manually operated toothbrush and floss), I do look forward to seeing next-gen wearables as the Internet of Things continues to evolve.

Photo Credit: Nike & Oral-B® via Business Wire

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Jill Reed

Jill Reed

Vice President at MSLGROUP

Jill focuses on enterprise technology, including big data, cloud, infrastructure and open source software.

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