Reaping the Rewards of the IoT
With the power of a future internet becoming a reality, and significant promise from the IoT with participative sensing and smart cities and spaces, the ICT future looks full of promise. However, for the potential benefits to be within the reach of all stakeholders there are challenges to be dealt with now so we don’t sleepwalk into a closed shop of expensive and proprietary solutions; but we also have to take stock of the ancillary features and services which need to be provided.
Karen Eng recently looked at the options for the IoT: like many innovations, there is a danger of big players monopolising the potential. Instead, she wants it open for "seriously meaningful innovation" . What is stopping it right now? Internet connectivity, says Eng, and computing power. The same message is echoed over and over again in many similar articles.
In the US, GENI (Global Environment for Network Innovations) provides computing power, and in Europe, there’s PlanetLab testbed, PACA Grid and GRIA (Grid Resources for Industrial Application); commercially, Amazon and Microsoft Cloud offer almost limitless storage and processing power; and in Europe, the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) provide the internet-type connectivity. Access to hardware is not really enough, though; it would help to have a set of building blocks like littleBits and cloudBits . It’s one thing, Eng suggests, to allow individuals to participate and create novel, if limited solutions; but it’s another if the authorities want to monitor and trace complex data interactions . It’s not just power and connectivity that’s needed, it’s security, the ability to control throughput, monitor activity, and decide where to run an application and to store the application data: different jurisdictions will expect different things.
Since the financial and economic crash of 2008, the European Union launched Public-Private Partnerships to take Future Internet technology forward making it available not only to small, isolated users, but also large enterprises and SMEs. It combines federated data centres for the power, connected via the GÉANT data network, as well as FIWARE open cloud-based infrastructure, a collection of generally applicable software including IoT support . Let’s look more closely at all this.
The true benefits of the IoT lie not only in gaining access to individual devices and the data they provide, but also in being able to connect (sometimes on demand) to and co-ordinate other devices providing different data from different sources and locations. A FIWARE environment, including FIWARE Ops (the tooling and utilities for resource federation), provides the ability to interrogate and connect with devices and other resources on an ad hoc basis. Take crowd-sourcing: you want to exploit open data from a city authority (points of interest etc.), and to aggregate it for individual subscribers' phones and wearables. The real challenge is the dynamic collection and correlation of vast amounts of heterogeneous data from all available sensors, including citizens themselves, and then providing a personalised context-aware service to end-users. This imposes enormous strain on making, managing and exploiting connections; but this can be shown to work in a European environment, based on the data available in the city of Trento, Italy (cf. , UCY2).
With the potential to attach remote devices anywhere and at any time for brief or longer periods, it is essential to be able to monitor what’s going on, for instance to manage Quality of Service (QoS): an infrastructure provider wants to ensure they can meet all their customers’ requirements; and a consumer wants consistent performance everywhere. Take live video (cf. , MG2); sensitive information and data like medical or energy consumption may also need special treatment (cf. , MG1).
Other data management issues include where data are stored and processed. Traditional cloud solutions don’t often allow control over where data are stored or processed. But the law may require an IoT developer to direct where and how information and data are processed. Add in a typical mobile application maintaining persistence across domains and you have a major issue. Imagine a patient at home monitored by a geographically dispersed medical team. Turn the problem on its head: don’t make the data follow the medical team, let them come (virtually) to the data instead (cf. , UC1v2).
Open interfaces and ease of connection come at a price though, requiring safeguards around access and interoperability. For the IoT developer and provider, their devices must be secure during development and operation. A balance needs to be struck between usability and security. The environment needs to be aware of this, and at the same time encourage trust in the services it provides. So adaptive services must be crafted which maintain the same levels of security and control as they 'follow' the user and the service provider (cf. , MG3).
There’s one final piece, though, which the supporting infrastructures, interconnectivity and software components need to provide.
It’s not enough sometimes to have innovative ideas; there’s one final piece. Just as the physical infrastructure cannot operate in isolation but needs connectivity not least to remote peripheral devices and geographically distributed users, so the development and testing environment encouraging IoT developers and providers to engage has to include a community: groups and individuals with experience, who represent all the main interests involved, and who can help grow and support new ideas from paper into the real world. It’s this community aspect that’s often missed. Collaboration and sharing experience and know-how is essential to maintain and develop the potential offered.
With the European public-private partnership initiatives, there is a new opportunity to capitalise on a fully integrated technical as well as contextual development environment. Moving forward and keeping the benefits of the IoT open and accessible to all players, we are seeing the potential for innovative collaboration within our technical reach. But there are different skills and different users who will need to be able to understand and exchange ideas with each other to reap all of the innovation potential.
 K. Eng, "What’s next for the Internet of Things?" 2014. [Online]. Available: http://ideas.ted.com/whats-next-for-the-internet-of-things/
 "Policing (Wired UK)," 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.wired.co.uk/policing
 "The FIWARE Catalogue," 2015. [Online]. Available: http://catalogue.fiware.org/
 "XIFI project: year 2 showcases," 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.fi-xifi.eu/showcases.html
Dr Brian Pickering has worked in ICT for over thirty years, starting in IBM R&D working on speech and language, and moving into software development including telephony systems, advanced messaging and the management of complex distributed systems at IBM UK Laboratories in Hursley. After joining the University of Southampton, Brian has more recently focused on the motivations for and reality of online participation. He holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford in psychoacoustics, has published on federated systems and patented work from DSP exploitation to adding the human into HCI and advanced dialogue systems.
Dr Massimo Vecchio is a senior researcher at CREATE-NET, an ICT Research center located in Trento (Italy). He received the Laurea degree (Magna cum Laude) in Computer Engineering from the University of Pisa (Italy) and the Ph.D. degree (with Doctor Europaeus mention) in Computer Science and Engineering from the IMT Lucca (Italy) in 2005 and 2009 respectively. His current research topics include the Internet of Things, Future Internet technologies and artificial intelligence techniques (especially bio-inspired meta-heuristics for global optimization). He is a member of IEEE and is currently leading the Showcases Work Package of the XIFI European project (www.fi-xifi.eu).
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