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Internet of Things: Semiconductors and Organic Electronics

According to the Institute of Electrical Engineering, the “Internet of Things” is poised to disrupt the semiconductor industry at industrial and business levels.” So, what is the IoT? The Internet of Things (IoT) essentially extends the power of the internet beyond computing devices to other devices, processes and environments.

IoT comprises a network of interconnected wireless devices that communicate with each other and with the internet. Each device has integrated circuits, sensors and software that enable collection of data to be exchanged with other IoT applications. IoT can transform ‘ordinary’ products into smart devices, such as clothing for instance. Such interconnected devices enable autonomous features which reduce energy consumption whilst increasing efficiencies and lowering operating costs. Although IoT has been around since 1982, it is still considered an emerging technology. More than 15 billion connected devices were recorded in 2023, a 76% increase from 2019, and over 29 billion are predicted by 2030.(Vailshery, 2023) These vast increases show a high demand for IoT devices and organic electronics research.

IoT Devices : Edge Devices, Hub Devices and Cloud
IoT Devices : Edge Devices, Hub Devices and Cloud

Devices for IoT


There are essentially three types of device that comprise the IoT: edge devices, hubs and access points (consolidators) and the cloud (large-scale processing).

  • Edge devices - These make up the vast majority of devices and consist of one or more sensors or actuators (that pick up sensor signals and instructions)
  • Hubs and access points - Edge devices have limited range so need to be connected to a consolidator or access point for a wide area network. A smartphone, for example, acts as a hub connecting other devices, like watches or earpieces, via Bluetooth.
  • The cloud - utilizes data generated by edge devices

In other words using all three types of devices, you can create a web of devices that communicate with each other – an internet of things.

IoT Semiconductors


According to IoT Analytics: “IoT semiconductors are those semiconductor components that either individually or collaboratively contribute to the functionality of an IoT device or other IoT equipment. As such, several semiconductor components qualify as IoT semiconductors.” The most important of these are:

  1. IoT Microcontrollers: Collects, processes and transmits data between devices
  2. IoT Connectivity Chipsets: Enables devices to connect to the internet, cornerstone of IoT devices
  3. IoT AI chipsets: Required for real-time analysis, used in IoT edge devices
  4. IoT Security chipsets and modules: Security threats require constant adaptations and solutions

Popular devices that rely on IoT connectivity (and thus semiconductors) include:

  • Smart home devices
  • Wearables
  • Patient monitoring devices
  • Medication dispensers
  • Industrial sensors used in manufacturing and agriculture

Organic Semiconductors and the Internet of Things


Organic materials and semiconductors can be incorporated into various IoT devices. Devices made from organic materials, such as perovskites, offer the advantages of being flexible, low cost, and lightweight. Organic semiconductors are a favorable choice for Internet of Things (IoT) applications for several reasons:

Flexibility

Organic semiconductors are thin and therefore often flexible. This is particularly useful in bendable and conformable IoT devices, such as wearables and sensors that need to adapt to various shapes and surfaces. Also, organic semiconductors can be deposited on various flexible substrates, such as plastics or fabrics.

Low Cost

Organic materials are generally less expensive to manufacture compared to traditional silicon-based semiconductors. This cost-effectiveness makes them suitable for mass production of IoT devices, contributing to affordability and accessibility.

Lightweight

Organic semiconductors are lightweight, making them ideal for portable and lightweight IoT applications, such as wearable devices, which need to be comfortable for users to wear.

Solution processability

Organic semiconductors can be processed using solution processing techniques on a lab scale, such as via spin coating or slot-die coating, or by large scale printing techniques like inkjet or roll-to-roll printing. This simplifies the manufacturing process and enables the production of large-area and customizable IoT devices.

Tunable Properties

Organic materials can have tunable electronic properties, allowing designers to tailor the performance of IoT devices to specific applications. This flexibility is valuable in creating sensors with precise sensing capabilities.

Environmental Benefits

Organic materials are often considered more environmentally friendly than some traditional semiconductor materials, contributing to sustainability in IoT device production.

Applications of Organic Electronics for Internet of Things


Organic semiconductors are suitable for a wide range of IoT applications, including displays, sensors, energy harvesting, and communication components. Their versatility makes them adaptable to various use cases.

For instance, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) can be used in IoT displays due to their flexibility and energy efficiency, and create high quality displays. OLEDs are commonly used in IoT devices such as wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches.

Organic photovoltaics can harness energy for IoT sensors. This is particularly useful for remote and energy-efficient IoT applications. The tuneable properties of organic semiconductors mean they can be tailored to absorb light from specific sources. Therefore, organic photovoltaics can be used in IoT sensors situated both indoors and outdoors.

Organic electronics can also be used in organic light-, gas- or bio-sensors, and organic semiconductors have the potential to enable the development of efficient, flexible and lightweight IoT components. Overall, organic electronics contribute to making IoT devices more versatile and efficient.

References


2023, with forecasts from 2022 to 2030. [Online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1183457/iot-connected-devices-worldwide/ [Accessed 15 5 2024].

Contributing Authors


Written by

Dr. Nicola Williams

Professional Science Writer

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