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Swarm approaching

Posted by Andrew Shephard on 16th January 2012

I’ve been eager to share a concept I came across a few weeks ago when I saw Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli (co-founder of Cadence and Chair of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences at Berkeley) present at Malcolm Penn’s IEF conference in Seville last October.

During his incredible talk he predicted that we’ll soon each have a thousand electronic devices ‘associated’ to us personally as traditional IT systems evolve to become societal IT systems. This will potentially incorporate everything from transport safety, health monitoring, energy distribution, recreation, information and communication.

A key part of this that really caught my eye was a theory he cited from another Berkeley colleague – Prof. Jan Rabaey – about the Sensory Swarm at the edge of ‘the cloud’. (Prof Rabaey is based at the aptly named Swarm Lab at Berkeley!)

Over the last year we’ve all become painfully aware of the cloud. It’s real, we increasingly pay to use it and it’s where we stockpile our information. The Sensory Swarm is, like us, at the outer reaches of this network. It relates to the plethora of wireless sensors that provide the inputs and control needed to benefit from this societal IT concept.

Prof Rabaey’s Sensory Swarm theory highlights particularly the importance of mobile devices. It considers every mobile device to be a mobile internet node, providing wireless sensors with uncomplicated and automatic connection anywhere they are required.

You already have these sensors: games controllers, heart rate monitors, microphones, compasses, tracking devices, cameras, thermometers and energy meters. They already connected to devices in your home – and to mobile devices – so the prospect of trillions of connected devices ‘swarming’ wherever we are is already well underway.

I did a little digging to determine the numbers involved and how many other analysts agree. To start with, as an industry, we’re confidently predicting over 10bn mobile internet devices before 2020 – this includes tablets, dedicated games machines and wireless home appliances.

Break that down a little and by 2014 one analyst suggests 200m tablet computers will be sold annually and every one will have at least two wireless sensors associated with it. And that’s just tablets! With immersive computing and augmented reality becoming increasingly commonplace, the expectation of users can surely only drive the swarm size one way.

I predict this is a trend that the IT and IT PR industry will be confronting increasingly over the next 12 months.

Andrew Shephard

Andrew’s engineering background and ‘fluff-free’ attitude combined with probably the broadest knowledge of technology installed in one PR brain ensures critical insight for Wildfire’s clients. He has driven campaigns for major forces in the semiconductor industry over 18 years including NEC Electronics, Sun Microelectronics and TSMC along with game-changing start-ups like Achronix and Nujira.

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