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The Internet of Disposable Things Will Be Made of Paper and Plastic Sensors

For disposable sensors, silicon will never be the right fit—but cheaper tech is nearly here

11 min read
Photo: Dan Saelinger
Photo: Dan Saelinger

The year is 2028. It’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night and you’re famished. You’re staring wistfully at the only remaining item in your refrigerator: a package of sausages with an unappetizing grayish hue. Ugh. Did they always look like that? Are they still safe to eat? In 2018, you’d have to rely on your sense of smell and take a gamble. But in 2028, you might simply wave your smartphone over the package. The smartphone interrogates the package’s embedded sensor, which measures the concentration of gases associated with meat decomposition. The smartphone displays the message “Safe to eat within the next 20 hours,” and then offers a list of recipes for cooking with sausages. Too hungry to bother with the recipes, you tear open the package, toss the sausages into a frying pan, and discard the package—along with its sensor technology.

This imagined scene of salvation by smartphone captures just one of many anticipated Internet of Things applications. IoT is possible now because of the convergence of low-cost, low-power components, specifically microprocessors, cellular radios, Wi-Fi radios, and MEMS sensors. There’s also a proven market for aggregated IoT data on consumer behaviors, known as big data. IHS Markit, a research firm that tracks and analyzes the electronics industry, predicts that the global volume of IoT devices will more than quadruple, from 27 billion connected devices in 2017 to 125 billion in 2030.

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