By Brian T. Horowitz

Companies big and small are encouraging experimentation with the Internet of Things, as the sector is growing exponentially.

The number of connected things will reach 25 billion by 2020, according to Gartner. And a McKinsey & Company report says the IoT movement will include 20 to 30 billion gadgets by 2020.

Channel partners are exploring how data captured through IoT can provide insight into real-time energy usage and asset security. With growth in opportunities in cloud computing and IoT solutions, channel ecosystems will grow, according to Jeffrey M. Kaplan, managing director for consulting firm ThinkStrategies.

Meanwhile, independent software vendors (ISVs) are experimenting with how to gain value from IoT in areas such as manufacturing, oil and gas field instrumentation, telemetry and transportation.

IoT innovation in transportation is a “huge deal,” said Mike Krell, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, who noted how companies use asset tracking to monitor the location of trucks and trailers.

In addition, many early-stage startups are creating new IoT solutions, and funding to startups in IoT has more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, according to CB Insights.

“The real challenge is to weed through and find unique solutions you can monetize,” Krell said. “What you’re trying to do is find the best innovation and have that rise to the cream of the crop.”

Experimentation with Dell Edge Gateway for IoT

Several companies are encouraging experimentation with IoT and smart devices by running IoT contests.

In partnership with Intel, Dell launched a large-scale contest called “Connect What Matters,” which offers prizes to companies that design IoT solutions with the new intelligent Dell Edge Gateway. The device helps companies analyze and aggregate data received from remote sensors and send meaningful information to the cloud or data center for further analysis, control and decision making.

“What we would like to see come out of the contest are some really cool innovative IoT concepts that will add value,” Raja Tamilarasan, product technologist consultant for Internet of Things (IoT) and OEM Solutions at Dell, told Power More. “It could be a new way of managing a fleet or an enhanced building automation setup.”

The 16 prizes range from $20,000 to $150,000 in monetary value. Companies that earn a prize get consulting help from Dell business and engineering experts and will be able to develop and test solutions in proof-of-concepts at Dell’s IoT labs across the globe.

“We’re seeing a lot of small and new companies coming up with really, really, great ideas,” said Jeff McCann, director of Dell’s EMEA IoT labs in Limerick, Ireland, and the Dubai Solution Center. “I think the competition is encouraging them to actually take those ideas and bring them to the next stage.”

The contest will build on Dell’s vision of providing IoT solutions with partners, McCann added.

“I think Intel and Dell supporting these companies—whether they’re startups or well-established companies—shows that we’re serious in working in this space and supporting new technologies and capabilities,” he said.

In addition to the contest, Dell is encouraging experimentation with many types of applications based on the Dell Edge Gateway, including work in smart buildings, video surveillance, energy and utilities, racing and even connected cows.

IoT innovation on TV

Intel has partnered with TBS to develop “America’s Greatest Makers,” a reality show in which contestants develop IoT technology using smart devices as they vie for a $1 million prize. The season premiere airs April 15, 2016, when 24 teams will begin competing in L.A.

Contestants on the show will create wearable tech and connected devices using the Intel Curie platform, a low-power chip for wearable devices and industrial-edge products that enables “always-on” applications in areas such as social media and sports.

“A good idea is something instinctual, something you feel an emotional connection to,” said Mark Burnett, the show’s producer and the president of MGM Television and Digital Group. “We are looking for something new, something that connects emotionally and creates value to people.”