London was buzzing with activity last few days to mark the inaugural “London Technology Week”. Among the events was the annual convening of the Internet of Things Forum, where Andrew Tyrer, the digital lead specialist at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the UK’s innovation agency that is sponsored and funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, was one of the speakers.

He writes here about the UK’s Internet of Things (IoT) industry, the opportunities in the sector, and about TSB’s latest Launchpad initiative, which offers funding for small and medium sized IoT businesses.

This week has really brought home for me the reasons why now is the time to be investing in IoT technologies, and why the UK is the place to do it.

The IoT industry is rapidly changing. This change is perhaps best illustrated by the nature of the attendees that gathered in London for Internet of Things Week. Not only has the event, now in its fourth year, swelled in size, but the programmers are increasingly being joined by representatives with commercial interests, such as investors and entrepreneurs.

Many will be very familiar with the phrase “Internet of Things”. It is a general term for physical objects with communications capability that allows them to pass data about themselves and their surroundings through the internet, automatically and without human intervention. This can be the foundation of automated data collection and control systems, or it can create smart service environments for people who come into contact with the objects.

Potential applications for IoT technologies are as varied as the applications for the internet itself. For example, in manufacturing, connected machinery enables ever greater automation of industrial processes, including remote monitoring and control. Data connectivity in systems such as transport networks, energy networks, health and care systems and smart cities also allow operational efficiency to be improved, for example, more trains using the same tracks, smoother service experiences, and new services based on the system’s data, such as better timetable information.

Abundant opportunities in IoT

There are also immeasurable opportunities for consumer applications. Arguably the most talked about innovation of the year, have been “wearable” technologies. These include smart watches and health monitors that collect data on individuals, enabling earlier and more accurate diagnosis of health conditions, and generating “big data” that really excites the business community through its commercial value, as the information generated can be used to deliver targeted marketing and personalised services.

Given these varied applications, it is unsurprising that analysts predict the market for IoT devices will rocket in coming years. Analyst company Gartner estimates that the number of devices connected to the internet, excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones, will increase from 26 billion in 2020, to a trillion in 2025, creating a $500 billion global technology market by 2019.

However, even more excitingly, the UK is particularly well placed to lead this growth. Just as Boris Johnson launched the first London Technology Week to help position the city as the biggest global player within the sector, the UK can also lead the development of the IoT industry.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there are organisations throughout the country, and particularly in London and Cambridge, which have already developed innovative connected technologies.

Through my role at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), I have been exposed to some of these projects. The TSB recently funded eight diverse IoT projects, where the applications for the technology ranged from: determining how to improve the movement of freight through Liverpool’s ports; helping students in schools with their learning by enabling teachers and students to share data; using Bluetooth technology to map the journey of passengers through airports to make this process more seamless; and working with Westminster Council on using IoT devices and the data they collate to improve the availability of parking.

TSB Launchpad

Funding for IoT businesses in the UK is also readily accessible. The government is committed to driving this sector. At the CeBIT 2014 trade fair in March, David Cameron announced £45 million of new funding for research in areas linked to the IoT, taking the total pot of government money available for the sector to £73 million.

The latest TSB Launchpad − competitions designed to support the strengthening of clusters of innovative companies in specific sectors and geographical locations − launched on 16 June 2014. This IoT focused Launchpad, being run by the TSB in partnership with Tech City UK Ltc, and Cambridge Wireless, makes £1 million of this funding readily accessible, to help SMEs commercialise innovative projects.

Winning applicants can secure up to 60 percent of the money they need for their projects, although the funds provided are capped at £150,000. Winning companies will be expected to raise the additional funding needed to deliver their project, but the TSB also offers significant support with this.

As a testament to the opportunities large companies see within the industry, this Launchpad is also being supported by John Lewis, EE, and Unilever, who have offered to provide support to the winning SMEs in a variety of ways, from match funding, right through to retail space, and support with marketing and distributing new products developed as a direct result of the programme.

To apply, companies need to submit a video outlining the details of their project by 3 September 2014, further details on the subsequent application and selection process can be found here.

With such exciting opportunities within this sector, I strongly recommend that those with innovative IoT ideas enter this competition. Who knows what new products and applications will be brought to market as a result.