How Much For An IoT Sensor?

The explosion in popularity of the Internet of Things and accessible development platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi have inspired millions of people to consider making an IoT Sensor of their own.

At NewieVentures, not a week goes by without us being asked “How much is an IoT sensor?”. Given that a large part of our business is designing IoT sensors, we’d love to have an answer. Unfortunately, it’s a lot like answering “How long is a piece of string?” with the extra complication of the act of measuring string being a significant part of the cost.

Here we attempt to answer that elusive question.

Firstly, “IoT Sensor” combines two vague terms into one doozy of a catch-all phrase. It literally could mean anything from a $1 integrated circuit (IC, aka “chip”) to a $100,000 jet-turbine pressure monitoring system.

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IoT Sensor

Measures temperature
Texas Instruments TMP101
2.9mm x 1.6mm

$1.17

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IoT Sensor

Measures temperature
Lufft WS3100-UMB250mm x 470mm

$16690

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IoT Sensor

Measures temperature
Custom Development Project
Schematics

$10,000 - $3,500,000

Secondly, there’s a world of difference between buying a single item off the shelf, and building something that can be sold in the hundreds or thousands.

There’s no doubt that electronics is more accessible and more affordable than ever before. But in any useful IoT product, the cost of the device that measures the world (the sensor) is usually one of the least significant aspects. That’s what makes all those generic headlines we see about “sensor prices falling” and “IoT sensors now cheap” misleading at best and really rather absurd. Hardware costs have been trending towards zero for decades now. Still, an average saving of 80 cents per sensor, over 10 years, is meaningful to very few people in very specialised fields, yet it gets a lot of disproportionate attention.

Unfortunately, the drop in sensor prices does not signify a more affordable way for you to gain the data that you need.

Unfortunately, the drop in sensor prices does not signify a more affordable way for you to gain the data that you need.

But I Just Want A Cheap Sensor!

So what does that all mean for you, who wants a sensor that’s not expensive, and that gives you the data you need?

The good news is that you probably have a few thousand options to choose from. The bad news is that you probably have a few thousand options to choose from. To help you navigate the hundreds of choices and make informed trade-offs takes lots of questions. And a lot of consideration - not something that can be captured in a questionnaire. This is a normal part of the process, but it does take time and expertise. And that means money.

By the time you’ve found something off the shelf that meets 80% of your requirements, you probably could be well on your way to designing something custom that meets 100% of your requirements. But unless you’re making millions of them, they’re still going to be more expensive than something someone else is making millions of. Making something cheap costs a lot of money. Weighing up the best use of your money is a key part of a good product development service.

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Why not just use an Arduino?

There are two types of people in this world: those that have had their designs crippled by the realities of nature, scope creep and failings of technology, and those that haven’t deployed their designs in the real world. Arduino is one of many fantastic prototyping platforms. We use them all the time to teach and to prove concepts. But it’s unlikely you’ll ever find anyone recommending you put one in the field, unless you have a lot of time to look after it, or you’ve done a lot of work to simplify your requirements dramatically. There’s just too much unpredictable manual effort required to do it commercially.

So the answer is you can use an Arduino. You should. You’ll learn a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. But anyone willing to help you is probably yet to learn the same lessons.

Conclusion

Customised devices like IoT Sensors have never been more in reach. But few organisations are fully equipped to take advantage of these opportunities, and those that are often find it too difficult and time-consuming to mobilise. That’s why NewieVentures was established - to make these sorts of devices accessible to more businesses than ever before. It’s exciting and rewarding to make these opportunities a reality for our customers. But the reality is that cheap, successful prototyping platforms are the result of not-so-cheap, careful and clever product development.