Editor’s note: Tom Snyder, executive director of rapidly growing Raleigh-based RIoT and a thought leader in the emerging Internet of Things, is the newest columnist to join WRAL TechWire’s list of top drawer contributors. His “Datafication Nation” columns will be part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.


RALEIGH – I had the pleasure to speak with N.C. State students and faculty last week about the challenges and pitfalls associated with commercializing new technologies. N.C. State can make a convincing argument that it is leading the US in the enablement of future data creation.  By this, I am referencing several Centers and Institutes that are significantly focused on sensor technology.

Sensors are the devices that turn our analog world into digital bits and bytes.

Nearly all modern sensors are semiconductor devices. Semiconducting materials can be engineered to respond in predictable ways to natural phenomena. These responses, typically a voltage or other electrical change, are then converted into the 1’s and 0’s of digital data. Simple sensors may measure a single phenomena like temperature or humidity. Complex semiconductors can digitize sound, capture images and video and measure chemical arrays. Nearly everything in our physical world can be digitized with the right semiconductor.

I was the original Industry Liaison Officer at the ASSIST Center, originally funded by the National Science Foundation, and now self-sustaining as a global leader in development of ultra-low power sensors for on-body and in-body health sensing. My job was to help move research-based discoveries out of the lab and into commercial practice. Startups like VitalFlo and NIRSleep spun out from ASSIST with solutions to chronic health challenges related to asthma and sleep. Industry leaders regularly license ASSIST discoveries to improve their products and services.

ASSIST sensors will one day enable continuous and persistent health data collection. We will be able to automate the management of our health. I predict in the not-too-distant future that it will seem comical that our generation made health decisions based on such a tiny data set that we get from a few annual doctor visits today.

More recently IConS, the Institute for Connected Sensor-Systems, has launched at NC State to bring additional focus to developing new and novel sensors. These Centers and Institutes foster multidisciplinary research and cross-organizational collaboration.  The North Carolina Vector Viral (NC VViral) initiative is an example where ASSIST and IConS are partnered with public and private organizations across the state to develop the sensor and data technologies critical to advancement of medicine, gene therapy and bioscience.

As the world pivots to AI and real-time automation in every market sector, it is the sensors being developed in universities and corporate research labs that will fuel algorithms with real-time information. It is worth noting that North Carolina is a leading state for recent investment in semiconductor manufacturing. Pairing semiconductor research with manufacturing capabilities, positions the state well to be the leader in creation of source data for the AI of the future.

This week, I’m fortunate to get to speak at Converge South in Concord.  There I’ll talk about the other end of the data spectrum.  If sensors originate data, it is AI that ultimately recommends – and usually automates – an action to be taken. In sensor-speak, we’d call this actuation. In many applications, actuation takes those 1’s and 0’s and turns them back into physical actions in our analog world. More sensor data augments our ability to live better lives in our analog world.

I’ll post on Converge South next week.