An interview with Bosch Sensortec CEO: IoT, environmental sensing and value chain

SEMICON Europa is quickly approaching on 14-17 November.  As the premier platform in Europe for discovering new technologies, finding solutions to electronics design and manufacturing challenges, and meeting the people and companies who are advancing electronics innovation, SEMICON Europa features over 60 presentations covering the entire electronics manufacturing supply chain.


SEMI interviewed one of the four keynotes presenting on November 14 during the Opening Ceremony, Dr. Stefan Finkbeiner, CEO of Bosch Sensortec, about topics about developments and trends in IoT, Environmental Sensing, and Value Chain as well as the role of Europe.

SEMI:  IoT growth is slower than expected. Possible reasons are relatively high costs and lack of silicon integration and interoperable standards. However, expected progress over the next two years on all those fronts will fuel a market that “will very quickly double” its shipment rates. What do you see as key factors for a success of IoT solutions and what are today’s roadblocks?

Finkbeiner: Today, the IoT market is fragmented. The lack of standardization is limiting the implementation of new solutions, and only a cooperation of different competencies will bring us closer to a better result. Key success factors for doing so are customization, standardization and cooperation between different parties along the ecosystems and the value chain: all those elements will contribute to the progress of the IoT. In the end, it is the use case that really counts. If you have to pay for a solution, you will only do so if you are sure you will really benefit from it.  Some applications, which are already in the market, include the possibility of detecting the indoor air quality. When and where shall I open the window to get fresh air in order to improve the work environment? If a room is empty, there is no need to use the sensors to heat up or cool down. We can calculate the benefits – and those in charge of operation can measure how much it pays off.

SEMI:  Which role does the cooperation along the value chain play here?

Finkbeiner:  Cooperation is the key, and when we talk about the value chain, there are different competencies, e.g. hardware, software and collaboration with partners to generate smart sensors. These smart sensors accumulate and evaluate sensor signals and dates. Only valuable data is transferred via gateways into a cloud. It is not only about “making the value chain happen,” but also about having access to the market. No company on its own is able to access all markets, but with a net of partners we can. It is crucial to combine competencies in order to get access to the IoT market and accelerate penetration in different applications.

SEMI:  Smart buildings represent the second largest target of the IoT market. This is followed by connected vehicles and smart farms at about a billion devices each. Let’s take the automotive industry and major changes of today’s new players such as Tesla, Google or Uber entering the market. Do you expect or see already similar trends for in the field of Smart buildings or Smart Cities?

Finkbeiner: If we talk about environmental sensing, the answer will be “no.” Still, companies with competencies in the field of sensors or microcontrollers are the ones providing sensor solutions. However, if you talk about making use out of the data, companies like Google, Apple, or Amazon, will also be involved in the IoT market’s data business.

SEMI:   What are typical examples of Environmental Sensing you are referring to?

Finkbeiner: A typical example of environmental sensing is measuring the indoor air quality for energy management in a smart home or smart factory. Let´s take, for example, a fitness application: you can use an app to measure the humidity rate and the air quality. If the results do not show favorable conditions for doing sports, you will most probably decide not to exercise in that specific area, or during a specific time, or period. One of the first products on the market is a smart case for the smartphone developed by i-BLADES, which turns into a portable air quality monitor, thanks to the integrated gas sensor BME680. We currently see many such smart applications emerging on the market.  But there are also other applications: let´s take, for example, food watching. If food is aging, our sensor can recognize it – and an app can show it on your smart phone.

SEMI: The solutions available on the market are very fragmented today and adopting various often-interoperable standards. How do you think it will evolve?

Finkbeiner: There are applications with more obvious benefits than others. The best practices should be leveraged to develop standards. In fact, nobody wants to work with three or four different ecosystems and thus more standardization will be required. For instance, to run applications coming from different companies with just one app is a must. As soon as applications will grow, the standardization will grow, too. The growing number of applications increasingly drives up the number of use cases and as a result, more standardization will occur. It is a slow process, but it is indeed happening.

SEMI:  Bosch invested in a new 300mm Fab in Dresden, which is the biggest single investment in Bosch’s 130-year history. The fab will satisfy the demand generated by the growing number of internet of things (IoT) and mobility applications; the new location should manufacture chips on the basis of 12-inch wafers.  Bosch is one of the largest players in Dresden. This new investment is marking a big step: how important is it for you, as a global player, to belong to such an important innovation hub in Europe?

Finkbeiner: For Bosch, it is essential to be part of this microelectronics cluster in Dresden and to utilize the synergies around it. For the semiconductor industry, it is important to leverage the synergies of the different players in Dresden. Beyond this, if we talk about ecosystems for IoT applications and collaborations, it is also important to go to innovation hubs driving IoT products and solutions such as Berlin, Singapore and other places with a rich start-up ecosystem. Furthermore, a global footprint is also very important: a worldwide IoT community and a larger ecosystem, a connection with America and Asia. But then again: Europe is a very good place to be! In Europe, all competencies to make the IoT applications happen are available.

SEMI:   Which key areas will enhance the cooperation within innovation hubs across different innovation hubs in Europe?

Finkbeiner: When talking about hardware, Dresden comes into play. Dresden certainly brings the necessary competencies, for instance with universities and industry collaboration. Think about Silicon Saxony in Dresden or clusters around the Stuttgart region in Baden-Wurttemberg. Also presence on global hubs and markets, such as Silicon Valley in the U.S. West Coast or Shanghai in China, are important.

SEMI:  What do you expect from SEMICON Europa 2017 and why do you recommend attending in Munich?

Finkbeiner: SEMICON Europa is a very important platform for us. It is an opportunity to meet partners, customers, industry leaders, to exchange ideas and to get new insights. In addition, together with Stuttgart and Dresden, the Munich region as a location of significant electronics companies and technical universities is particularly important for us. We, at Bosch Sensortec also have a development site in Munich.


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