2021 Predictions: A Growing Need for Connected Wireless Technologies

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smiling girl holding and reading her ipad outside at a table

In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic necessitated digital transformation across industries. Businesses started to think about new ways of doing things to help streamline operations and survive in this challenging economic climate. This included many businesses adopting connected devices and IoT technology for a number of innovative use cases. In 2021, the pandemic will continue to accelerate new IoT use cases across different markets and environments, including the healthcare, retail and hospitality industries.

As we look forward to 2021, here are my top five predictions of what we can expect to see take shape in the IoT space:

Increased use of photovoltaic energy

Photovoltaic energy – including both solar and indoor/outdoor lighting – offers a greener and more sustainable alternative to traditional power sources, such as batteries. Photovoltaic power, sourced from either the Sun or light, can be captured by a photovoltaic cell. Think of it as a tiny solar panel or screen integrated into the product design and used to capture light energy. In 2021, we’ll increasingly see photovoltaic energy used to power IoT applications such as remotes, beacons, keyboards and mice. By increasing the use of power alternatives such as photovoltaic energy, we can reduce the need for batteries, and the environmental waste that comes with them.

The hospitality industry will continue to reduce touchpoints

When the pandemic hit, people tried to minimize touching various surfaces to help reduce the chances of COVID-19 transmission. To help keep travelers safe, the hospitality industry started reducing the number of touchpoints for guests, which will continue in 2021. For example, hotels will increasingly use wireless door and card readers so visitors don’t have to touch anything. To make this feasible, hotels will turn to energy harvesting technologies to extend the battery life of these devices; that way maintenance staff do not have to run around the hotel changing batteries, risking potential exposure, and can focus on more important tasks. 

Rise in contact tracing wearables 

Contact tracing wearables can help businesses navigate the transition back to normal operations. Since the rollout of vaccines will take some time, exposure notification wearables will be an important solution in the meantime for workplaces like warehouses, factories and healthcare facilities. Although smartphone manufacturers have started to integrate contact tracing software and applications into their devices, the ongoing challenge of smartphone access, cost and connectivity remains an issue for some. Wearables provide a solution for users to stay informed about potential exposure to the virus while addressing the cost and access challenges. Companies might also want to use wearables that can track other types of valuable information, such as temperature. If an employee’s temperature goes beyond a certain threshold, companies could alert that they go to an onsite health clinic for further evaluation. Wearables might also be designed to withstand certain conditions, like high temperatures, and be tamper and tear resistant for continuous wear.

Increased use of wearables and other connected devices for medical applications

Wearable medical devices have given patients and the medical staff taking care of them an easy way to monitor their vitals and detect issues before they become serious problems. One emerging use case for wearable medical devices is continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), a relatively pain-free way to track the real-time effects of food and exercise on one’s blood glucose levels. When paired with an energy harvesting solution, CGMs and other vital monitors can have extended battery life and also unlock the possibility of remote monitoring, which can be especially helpful for doctors to monitor their patients, or parents to monitor their children, anytime, anywhere via a browser or smartphone application.

Retail stores will see an uptick in the use of electronic shelf labels 

Many retailers are already transitioning to programmable electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and other digital signage powered by energy harvesting. The main benefit of digital signage and ESLs is that updates to products can be made automatically in real-time, meaning that employees don’t need to worry about constantly updating in-store banners and price tags. As applications and technology advance, special pricing can be provided to select customers in real-time as another way to drive sales. Additionally, in the longer run, retailers can save on the cost of materials for physical signage displayed in-store.

As new ideas and applications come to fruition in the coming year, new challenges will continue to arise as well. We’ll continue innovating and implementing new solutions in the IoT space to meet the market needs and help address the near and long-term impact of the current global pandemic.

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