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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

IoT and the Campus of Things | EDUCAUSE Review

Photo: Jason O. Hallstrom
The Internet of Things (or more commonly, IoT) is a vision of a world where everyday objects can sense, compute, and communicate with one another and other Internet-connected things, notes Jason O. Hallstrom, PhD, serves as director of the Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering at Florida Atlantic University (I-SENSE@FAU) and as a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

This ecosystem of chattering objects will be incredibly diverse in its makeup, ranging from vehicles and roadways, to surgical tools and hospital beds, to forks and toothbrushes. The collective measurements and calculations provided by this new Internet tier will provide unprecedented, macroscopic visibility into a world filled with complex patterns and behaviors that heretofore were too large to see. These latent patterns and behaviors will be made manifest, and the everyday things that populate our homes, our businesses, and our schools will seamlessly coordinate to optimize our everyday experiences. Sensing, computing, and communication technology will be integrated everywhere, and we won't even know it's there.

This futuristic vision of an everything, everywhere, connected world, where technology silently recedes into the background, is hardly new. The vision stems from seeds planted nearly three decades ago by computer visionary Mark Weiser. Weiser articulated the computing paradigm known as ubiquitous computing: "It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere." In the late 1980s, when ubiquitous computing first emerged, the vision outstripped the technological foundation necessary to achieve it. But time is a wheel, and good ideas have a way of revolving until the foundations needed to realize them catch up. Sometimes, it takes multiple revolutions.

A decade after the birth of ubiquitous computing, in the same year that its progenitor passed away prematurely, the idea made another revolution, marked by another important extension to the computing lexicon. Kevin Ashton coined "Internet of Things" in 1999. A brand manager with Procter and Gamble, Ashton was intrigued by the idea of lipstick cases that could communicate their type and location to support inventory management across facilities. The planned implementation was simple, based on passive RFID tags that could transmit a small amount of static, preprogrammed information when activated by a network-connected reader – embedded, for example, in a display case. "I am Natural Blush 621!" "I am Crushed Shells 541!" "I am Wine to Five 538!" The approach became a blueprint for global retailers like Walmart, which rely on the simple, monotonous chatter of shirts, razors, and other goods to manage their global supply chain. This is a far cry from Weiser's vision of seamlessly integrated computational intelligence, but it provides a compelling business case for the power of communicating things.

The IoT fuse was lit at the beginning of a catalytic era for computing. The past 15 years have seen synergistic advancements across a number of domains on the critical path to achieving the ubiquitous computing vision. Among the most important, led through investments by DARPA and the NSF, was the development of robust, miniaturized, wireless sensing technology. Wireless sensors that vary from the size of a postage stamp to the size of a matchbox can be deployed to monitor a host of phenomena, ranging from volcanic activity to human physiology. At the same time, machine-to-machine cellular connectivity has expanded dramatically, with concurrent growth in global Internet connectivity. Coupled with the emergence of cloud computing and big data analytics, the technology ecosystem necessary to enable an Internet of Things was complete. A newfound industrial emphasis on the transformative power of data and the myriad process improvements it can inform served as the final catalyst. The IoT as a reality — not a phrase — was born.

Today, the IoT sits at the peak of Gartner's Hype Cycle. It's probably not surprising that industry is abuzz with the promise of streaming sensor data. The oft quoted "50 billion connected devices by 2020!" has become a rallying cry for technology analysts, chip vendors, network providers, and other proponents of a deeply connected, communicating world. What is surprising is that academia has been relatively slow to join the parade, particularly when the potential impacts are so exciting. Like most organizations that manage significant facilities, universities stand to benefit by adopting the IoT as part of their management strategy. The IoT also affords new opportunities to improve the customer experience. For universities, this means the ability to provide new student services and improve on those already offered. Perhaps most surprisingly, the IoT represents an opportunity to better engage a diverse student base in computer science and engineering, and to amplify these programs through meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration.

Universities must manage the significant capital assets required to support their research, teaching, and service missions. For large, research-intensive institutions, this management task can consume a nontrivial portion of the operating budget. Campus-wide IoT adoption can provide important benefits in this context, reducing operating costs through improved asset monitoring, and optimization of hands-on personnel time.

Source: EDUCAUSE Review