The Internet of Things (IoT) has emerged as an essential part of today’s life. Yogesh Simmhan, Associate Professor and Swarna Jayanti Fellow, Department of Computational and Data Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, spoke to BE’s Kuntala Sarkar regarding IoT’s popularity and how it can help businesses to run during the pandemic.
Q. How are the continuous innovations helping in the development of IoT?
A. IoT has become more popular in the last four-five years due to the convergence of new technologies. Improved communication technology like 3G, 4G, and 5G is allowing IoT to acquire sensor data and send control signals, anytime and anywhere. Availability of low-power and low-cost sensors is making it affordable to deploy them at large scales. Additionally, cloud provides an easy and affordable resource to process these data. Two other technological innovations, Machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are helping to make sense of the data by allowing to find useful patterns, take actions, etc.
Q. What are the major ventures of IoT?
A. Presently, a major venture of IoT in India is under progress in smart cities. In telecommunication devices, home appliances and smart buildings - the usage of IoT is increasing every day. Use of IoT in power grids is helping to intelligently manage the power generation and supply. It can measure the current power consumption and predict the future power demand in real time. Apart from this, IoT is also playing a role in manufacturing industries to transform to Industry 4.0.
Q. How can cloud computing along with IoT help the academic sector?
A. Cloud is an enabling technology that allows us to lease computing servers without worrying about their purchasing and management. We are outsourcing their operations and it improves the core competency of the academic sector. It allows us to push the existing software to the cloud securely. With the help of cloud, IoT is now bringing multiple engineering disciplines together in the academic periphery. It enables better training of students. In the space of engineering, students have to become specialists while also being good generalists. For example, IoT is helping computer science students to gather more domain knowledge about electrical or civil engineering.
Q. How can industrial IoT help the manufacturing sector during pandemic?
A. Since the pandemic took place, the manufacturing sector had to shut down, leading to massive loss. In industrial IoT and the manufacturing sector, IoT has a lot of value in automation. Human labour is limited in industries due to Covid-19. But IoT can help with monitoring and automation. For example, it can be used to detect equipment malfunctions or low productivity. Companies can employ sensors embedded in the equipment to help identify those that need preventive maintenance. So industrial IoT can maintain the efficiency through resource optimisation. Enabling robotics in industries will also help to run during pandemic allowing them to reduce operation costs.
Another concern related to this is safety. IoT can use automated ambient sensors to ensure the safety of the workers in case of malfunction by sensing the working atmosphere minimising the chance of accident.
Q. How IoT is easing the work-from-home atmosphere during lockdown to continue businesses and maintaining security?
A. IoT is supporting the companies to monitor and control infrastructure remotely. It helps in observation of multiple complex systems. Remote management of a different device also saves time by letting a work done quickly from the comforts of home.
Cyber-security is a major concern. IoT deployments may be on the public Internet, or on private networks. If there is a hacking attempt, it can affect the safety of people - as many public infrastructures will be controlled through IoT. For example, consumer web cameras have been hacked through internet, and cyber war is now as dangerous as physical wars. But this should not prevent IoT from being deployed. Technological progress will always have both benefits and challenges. The consumers of IoT will also need to be more educated on cyber-safety. This has been done by banks and other public utilities to avoid phishing emails and malwares.
Q. How data driven insights from IoT can help to create new business models?
A. IoT is offering new opportunities to define new business models. Collecting a huge amount of data through the internet have help the companies to recommend purchasing options or movies etc. Similarly, e-commerce businesses, food delivery chains are benefiting from the use of IoT for hyper-local logistics. Internet connected smartphones which are a great example of IoT, always linked to GPS and making use of ML. New business ideas while maintaining physical distancing can arrive from this.
Q. Private enterprises are well equipped with IoT applications. But what is the scenario in the public sector?
A. I think smart cities are a great example of IoT in the public sector. In last few years, the government is also investing in this infrastructural development. Drones with on-board sensor like video cameras can use ML to understand traffic patterns of a particular location. This can aid the city government to plan new road constructions and traffic signalling. IoT can also bring in more transparency in governmental operations.
Q. How is IISc Bangalore poised regarding technological innovation concerning IoT in recent years? Is any application incubated at the IISc Bangalore helping to combat the pandemic?
A. In IISc Bangalore, we have a very strong research programme for ML, AI, and cloud computing side of IoT. We had one of the first PhD programmes in Data Science in India at the Department of Computational and Data Sciences. We also have Masters’ programmes for Data Science and AI. We have the ‘Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber-Physical Systems’, which is a hub for innovations in smart cities, smart health and IoT for the past ten years. There is also a `Technology Innovation Hub’ for autonomous vehicles funded by the government as a centre for excellence that is upcoming over the next few months. This will accelerate the use of IoT and autonomous technologies.
To help manage the Covid-19 situation, IISc Bangalore has developed a smartphone contact tracing application named ‘GoCoronaGo’. It collects data of mobility and interaction patterns of people to enhance their social distancing and inform them if they came near any Covid-19 patient. We have also created a Covid-19 screening tool named ‘Project Coswara’ using IoT and AI to recognise respiratory problems and coughs.