Internet of Things

Curious about the Internet of Things space? We have broken up potential investment areas into five categories. See what we are looking to fund and learn about the space. If anything below seems interesting, learn more at the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Program.


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a rapidly evolving field that involves the interconnection and interaction of smart objects (objects or devices with embedded sensors, onboard data processing capability, and a means of communication) to provide automated services that would otherwise not be possible. IoT is not a single technology, but rather involves the convergence of sensor, information, communication, and actuation technologies.

Thanks to an NSF SBIR award, small business PharmaSeq is developing a microchip with a sensor that can be injected into live cells to transmit information without a physical connection. (Image above shows relative chip size in comparison to ants.) Credit: PharmaSeq

Today, most of what we consider as IoT is a variety of largely stand-alone devices and isolated systems, such as wearable fitness monitors, home thermostats and lighting, remote video streaming, smartphones, and smart watches. Emerging IoT implementations will use smaller and more energy- efficient embedded sensor technologies, enhanced communications, advanced data analytics, and more sophisticated actuators to collect and aggregate information and enable intelligent systems that understand context, track and manage complex interactions, and anticipate requirements.

IoT is expected to become ubiquitous, with implementations in the smart home — management of energy use, control of appliances, monitoring of food and other consumables; consumer applications — health and fitness monitoring, condition diagnosis; manufacturing and industrial settings — supply chain management, robotic manufacturing, quality control, health and safety compliance; utility grids and other critical infrastructure — grid optimization, automated fault diagnosis, automated cyber security monitoring and response; and automotive/transportation — optimization for driving conditions, assessing driver alertness, collision/accident avoidance, managing vehicle health.

Market verticals that are potentially impacted by innovations in this area include Connected Cities and Homes, Smart Transportation, Smart Agriculture, Industrial IoT, and Retail IoT. Proposals are encouraged that address key challenges across the full range of IoT applications

IoT Sensors and Actuators

IoT is on track to connect 50 billion “smart” things by 2020, and one trillion sensors soon after. This subtopic includes (but is not limited to) innovations in device and materials technology to enable new sensor functionality, further sensor miniaturization, improved sensor performance or more efficient energy use; actuator technologies to enable new IoT functionalities; and device packaging innovations that enable further sensor or actuator miniaturization and embedding in a greater range of smart objects and devices.

IoT Energy and Power Systems

Many of the components that enable IoT will have to operate in severely power constrained network edge environments, requiring improvements in energy efficiency in simple, low-cost systems. In many cases, the devices will not have a consistent power supply, and local energy harvesting will therefore be required. This subtopic includes (but is not limited to) novel power management integrated circuits aimed at miniaturizing devices and increasing energy efficiency; power management systems for energy harvesting to enable mobile or remote IoT devices and systems; and smart power protocols for IoT devices. This subtopic can also include broader categories of energy-efficient technologies to enable mobile IoT applications, such as displays, power efficient IC’s, and innovative mobile battery solutions.

IoT Communications

Enabling ubiquitous connectivity and the aggregation of IoT data presents key data processing and communications challenges as the industry tries to simplify and define how “smart” things interact. A wide variety of communication solutions, both wired and wireless, will likely emerge. This subtopic includes (but is not limited to) innovations that will substantially improve the underlying technical performance, or extend the functionality, of IoT communication systems. Particular emphasis is placed on low-power and data-efficient communications schemes, as these are required to enable IoT in resource-constrained environments. Examples of relevant technical fields include (but are not limited to): short range and long distance transmission technologies — optical, RF, microwave or ultrasonic; communication signal sources and detectors — optical (lasers, LEDs, photodetectors), RF, microwave or ultrasonic; and electronic or optoelectronic signal processing technologies to facilitate efficient low-power data transmission or reception.

IoT Integrated Systems

Many of the benefits of IoT require the full integration of complex systems to enable developers to build innovative service delivery platforms. This subtopic includes (but is not limited to) new design and development platforms that facilitate widespread adoption of IoT; IoT systems with the flexibility to allow rapid development and deployment of new use cases and functionalities; and shared platforms designed for lean, power-constrained environments that enable the easy integration of sensors and actuators, communication technologies, and data processing to create new business models for IoT.

IoT IT. Cloud, Big Data and Security and Privacy

Data is rapidly emerging as the most important currency driving IoT. Offloading computation to the cloud, providing overall system security, and guaranteeing the privacy of users remain key challenges in IoT. Companies developing innovations in these spaces should refer to the IT topics of this SBIR/STTR solicitation.

What is the National Science Foundation?

As described in our strategic plan, NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences. We are tasked with keeping the United States at the leading edge of discovery in areas from astronomy to geology to zoology. So, in addition to funding research in the traditional academic areas, the agency also supports “high-risk, high pay-off” ideas, novel collaborations and numerous projects that may seem like science fiction today, but which the public will take for granted tomorrow. And in every case, we ensure that research is fully integrated with education so that today’s revolutionary work will also be training tomorrow’s top scientists and engineers.

Small Business Innovation Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards nearly $190 million annually to startups and small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. The non-dilutive grants support research and development (R&D) across almost all areas of science and technology helping companies de-risk technology for commercial success.

To learn more about SBIR/STTR, visit NSF-SBIR.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.