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Integrating Nanotechnology into the Internet of Things

The internet of things (IoT) paradigm has long been considered a key incentive to the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the potential to transform the way we live our lives. Yet its impact promises to be enhanced further through the integration of nanotechnology.

Image Credit: Ana Aguirre Perez/

The IoT is a system of interrelated physical objects embedded with sensors, antennas, processors, software, and other technologies to enable relevant data exchange over the internet. From pills to guided missiles, the scope of these devices is vast and looks set to grow; predictions for the number of IoT-connected devices in 2025 peak at 75 billion, with tens or possibly hundreds of zettabytes of generated data.

Facilitating such substantial predictions is the development of enabling technologies (including cloud computing and big data analytics) and various communication modes, termed IoT protocols. These protocols enable data exchange between the endpoint devices, such as sensors and the next piece of hardware in the connected environment. They include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Near field communication (NFC) for short distances, low-power wide-area (LPWA) and 5G for long distances.

Arguably, one of the most fascinating developments lies in the integration of nanotechnology. This promises to extend the IoT concept to its fullest through nanodevices and give rise to a whole new IoT derivative, the internet of Nano-Things (IoNT).

NanodevicesAdopting nanomaterials within IoT devices can make use of their exceptionable properties to increase the functionality, energy efficiency and accuracy of the devices while reducing their size. Nanoantennas, nanoprocessors and nanobatteries are all examples of IoT nanodevices currently being utilized or developed, but within IoT endpoints, nanodevices have found the most use as nanosensors.

NanosensorsIoT sensors must monitor specific phenomena in sensing environments to provide relevant data for subsequent analysis. Nanosensors use a broad range of nanomaterials to achieve this and are capable of physical, chemical, and biological monitoring.

For example, Tang et al. (2019) developed a flexible nanowire-based sensor for real-time ammonia (NH3) monitoring. The sensor, developed to be used within a watch-type device, displayed a lower detection limit and faster response time than traditional NH3 sensors primarily due to the nanowires' extremely high surface area to volume ratio.

The remarkably low power consumption (as low as 3μW) and scalable soft lithography fabrication technique further support how nanomaterials can act to enhance IoT sensors realistically.

Similar nano-based advantages have been seen for non-invasive biosensors for continuous blood glucose monitoring and for chemical, microbe and other analyte monitoring in drinking water.

NanoantennasIoT antennas are responsible for the wireless communication of IoT devices by receiving, decoding and transmitting information via various wave types. Nanoantennas, often graphene-based, primarily achieve such a function by radiating in the terahertz frequency band.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.