From Internet of People to Internet of Things
Posted Jul 02, 2013 | Atlanta, GA
There is a scene in the movie Minority Report where the protagonist, John Anderton, is walking past a bank of large screens playing advertisements. Suddenly an automobile ad addresses him by name, and then the others recognize him and solicit his attention. One, a travel ad, calls out, “Would you like to get away, John Anderton?” As it turns out, he really, really would.
Reminded of this scene, Alain Louchez notes that personalized advertising is merely one of the vast number of applications for the Internet of Things. A former telecommunications executive currently on the board of advisors of Georgia Tech Lorraine and GT - CIBER (Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research), Louchez is directing the development efforts, anchored at GTRI (Georgia Tech Research Institute), to establish Tech as a prominent player in the Internet of Things (IoT) space.
“The Internet of Things,” states a recent McKinsey report, “refers to the use of sensors, actuators, and data communications technology built into physical objects—from roadways to pacemakers—that enable those objects to be tracked, coordinated, or controlled across a data network or the Internet.” Such sensors may also enable the objects to communicate with each other and adjust behavior or activity based on their environment.
Some elements of IoT technologies are already in use, for example, when tracking sensor tagged machine parts through a factory or cars with EZ passes moving through a toll-system. Internet of Things as envisioned, however, would take things one step further, connecting all these disparate networks through the Internet, and enabling users and machines to adjust to any changes. A refrigerator could take inventory of groceries and generate a shopping list – or simply order the items itself.
Louchez believes that such scenarios are not far off, and in fact that this year represents a transition point. “We are all familiar with the Internet of people,” he says. “We are the main users of the Internet of people – but the Internet of Things consists of things [communicating] on the Internet. There are many converging trends that make the IoT very popular and why in some circles 2013 has been called the year of the Internet of Things.”
Two of these trends, says Louchez, are related to market forces – the search of wireless carriers for an alternative source of revenue, and the shrinking cost and relative availability of a wide range of sensors.
In addition, he adds, social factors have also spurred the interest in IoT – namely, the government requirement for regulation of a number of sectors which are well suited to monitoring via sensor networks (pollution, for instance) and the desire of aging baby boomers to maintain independence by “aging in place” (which could lead to a high demand for sensor-equipped intelligent homes).
“But the critical moment,” notes Louchez, “was the rollout of IPv6 on June 6, 2012.”
Before that date, the standard for assigning Internet addresses was IPv4, which had a capacity of 4.3 billion addresses. It was fine when Internet use was limited to universities and researchers, but became a debilitating constraint with widespread Internet connectivity. A year ago, IPv6 – Internet Protocol version 6 – was officially launched worldwide, and along with it, the potential to assign 340 trillion trillion trillion unique addresses.
As Louchez notes, it's a mind-boggling figure, one which makes it possible for virtually every object on the planet to have an internet address. In fact, “we could tag every tree leaf, every piece of hair, every grain of sand, and still have plenty of addresses left over,” he says.
It's easy to see how this state of affairs could lead to ubiquitous computing, where the everyday person is surrounded by self-regulating networks of sensors conducting hundreds of operations in the background – simplifying processes, anticipating needs, ensuring security – which would leave him or her time to pursue the more important things in life.
Jokes Louchez, “I'm excited that the things I buy will be able to manage themselves. It's going to allow me to be more relaxed about a lot of things.”
However, there are certain challenges ahead before such potential is reached.
First the issue of interoperability – the field is currently fragmented, and there are competing standards. How will different objects monitor, collect, exchange and interpret data? Closely related are issues of privacy and security. Apart from the fact that the lack of a common standard makes it difficult to agree on security protocols, what provisions are there for users to opt out if necessary? How would a future John Anderton be able to ensure, as Louchez (echoing the European Union) puts it, “the silence of the chips,” or his “right to be forgotten”?
Louchez is eager to bring Georgia Tech's resources to bear. He is particularly interested in security, privacy and trust issues, which are key to public adoption of new IoT technologies. “Here at Tech we have a cluster of expertise in cyber and information security, and the protection of privacy and identity that is highly regarded worldwide. Security, privacy and trust are at the center of the glue. If you cannot have them, forget about it.”
Louchez often refers to 'glue' as shorthand for Tech's unique capabilities that can bind the Internet of Things parts into a coherent whole. In addition to security, he believes Tech's well-known expertise in systems will help the Institute stand out from the fray as an independent entity dedicated to developing the IoT industry.
“Tech is recognized for its leadership and expertise in a wide array of areas that can be used to glue all the links of the IoT value chain together. As a case in point, internationally renowned GT experts in ubiquitous computing, cyber-physical systems, embedded computing, data and high performance computing—fields intrinsically tied to Internet of Things—continue to be acknowledged around the world for their seminal contributions and groundbreaking research,” notes Louchez. “In addition, the world-class work at the Institute for People and Technology (IPaT) on how the convergence of people, technology and enterprises is transforming everyday life adds a fundamental human dimension to our IoT value proposition, and makes it compelling.”
At the beginning, the focus will be on developing partner relationships inside and outside Georgia Tech, expanding knowledge of IoT and providing expertise on projects of mutual interest. These efforts would involve GTRI, campus collaborations coordinated with IPaT, and possibly other interdisciplinary research institutes at Georgia Tech, thus leveraging multiple partnerships to result in a broad successful initiative. In the long term, he believes Georgia Tech is in an ideal position to energize the IoT industry and educate IoT solution developers and users, as well as the public in general. Ultimately, this process would make Georgia Tech a global leading focal point for IoT research and development.
"Our role is to provide capabilities,” says Louchez. “Our goal is to help make sense of this complex ecosystem.”