TAIPEI, Taiwan (The Street) -- The Internet is moving into devices as common as doors and light bulbs, allowing them to communicate with each other. This fast growing trend is on display this week as a who's who of IT heavyweights show off their latest hardware at the Computex Taipei show in Taiwan's capital.
The tech industry sub-sector that requires sensors, processors and radio equipment will cover 29 billion enabled objects by 2020 and be worth $1.9 trillion, market research firm Gartner forecasts.
The highest-profile presenters among the 700 Computex Taipei show spaces dedicated to the Internet of things were microchip developers ARM Holdings (ARMH), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Broadcom (BRCM), Intel (INTC) and NVIDIA (NVDA).
The exhibition -- expected to bring 130,000 buyers, suppliers and other visitors by its close on Saturday -- allows those companies to find a place in the Internet of things supply chain before the trend kicks into its highest gear.
"You look at some of the big growth in the venture capital market, and the Internet of things is clearly a hot topic," said Ian Drew, chief marketing officer with British microprocessor design firm ARM. "Taiwan is critical to this industry. If you want to find out what's going on in Asia, this is one of the key shows to go out and talk to people."
The Internet of things, a concept first used in 1999, refers to automated setups connecting objects such as clocks, doors, refrigerators and even cat food dispensers, allowing people's living or work spaces to operate largely on their own.
Computex exhibitors showed set-ups to automate urban infrastructure and let cars communicate without endangering drivers who might otherwise text or call.
ARM displayed chips it had designed for automated data collection in commercial spaces. Its scheme picks up numbers of people passing through a doorway, measures everyone's height (computing an average as it goes) and records the air temperature in every corner of the space.
The company will work with Taiwan-based software and computer platform developer Advantech, Nasdaq-listed Taiwanese hipmaker MediaTek (MDTKF) and a university on the island to develop new uses for the Internet of things.
Taiwan-based, New York-traded Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASX) produces sensors for the Internet of things, as other local firms sell equipment such as Wi-Fi range extenders.
Investors can take positions in locally-traded Taiwanese tech firms through their American depository receipts (ADRs) or funds that track the Taipei stock exchange. Those include iShares MSCI Taiwan Index Fund (EWT) and First Trust Taiwan AlphaDEX Fund (FTW).
Intel's higher-end chips such as Xeon help manage data for the Internet of things, while its low-power Atom and Quark can do remote data collection and make computations between sensors and data centers, a critical link in any Internet of things transaction.
Focus on the Internet of things is giving new shine to smart wearable devices, which since their inception two years go have struggled for mass market traction against more multi-use and often cheaper mobile phones.
Wearable devices such as watches and armbands may eventually serve as the more human-accessible things linked by Internet. A watch could send controls to household objects or receive information from them, for example.
"A few wearables can make payments or even open locks, and that counts as Internet of things," said Thomas Huang, deputy exhibition executive director with Computex organizer, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. "The person qualifies as a thing."
About 46 million wearables will ship this year across brands, but by 2019 that count will grow to 126 million units, market research firm IDC forecasts. Some 50 exhibitors touted watches, tracking devices for lost children and a $500 alternative to the suspended Google (GOOG) Glass.