Towards a UK research roadmap for the Internet of Things

RCUK-TSB Internet of Things R&D roadmapping workshop
11-12 July 2012, Loughborough University

By Orestis Tsinalis

The Internet of Things (IoT) R&D roadmapping workshop was an event co-organised by the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) that brought together participants from both academia and industry, with the objective of mapping “the current research landscape relevant to the Internet of Things, the research and R&D challenges for research institutions and businesses in the Internet of Things space, and the future skills needed and challenges to enable the UK to lead internationally in delivering and realising the IoT capability”.

In the introductory session Dr. Maurizio Pilu of the Technology Strategy Board presented TSB’s view on the Internet of Things (IoT). He stressed that there are various, often contradictory, perspectives about the IoT that need to be considered when designing a holistic IoT research strategy. The major challenge that TSB identify in the IoT space is to “help the UK gain an early advantage in the Internet of Things adoption, applications, and services development”. The angle that TSB adopt towards the IoT is an “horizontal” information value-chain view in order to deliver user-centred services through the digital enablement of “things”.

The second talk in the introductory session was given by Professor Rahim Tafazolli, who presented a view of a shared agenda for the IoT between RCUK and TSB. He highlighted the importance of the IoT in terms of the gains efficiency and simplicity that it can bring about, but also the social challenges that it can help us manage, in areas such as healthcare and assisted living, sustainability and smart energy, and security. According to Professor Tafazolli, the major challenges in the UK that prevent the IoT from taking off are the fragmented domains and diverse technologies that are employed, the uncoordinated research activities, the foggy business opportunities’ landscape, and the barriers to user adoption.

After the introductory session, the delegates were divided into four groups, each one exploring a different aspect of the Internet of Things: (i) Social, Legal and Ethical, (ii) Culture and Creativity Design, (iii) Economics and Business, and (iv) Technology. I will begin with the final findings of each group, and then present in more detail the discussions in the Economics and Business group breakout sessions.

The Social, Legal and Ethical group, led by Professor Bill Dutton from the University of Oxford, highlighted the tensions that exist in the IoT domain, between open and proprietary, formal education, and hacking and tinkering, standards and heterogeneity, mandate and incentives. They also emphasised the need to view the IoT from the perspective of social welfare.

The Culture and Creative Design group, led by Professor Rachel Cooper from Lancaster University, identified a number of research themes around which design research in the IoT should concentrate on. These themes were: play as a research process, making data tangible, understanding the role of physical bodies, changes in the working life in the future, digital life and death, sustainability, and storytelling and user experience.

The Economics and Business group, led by Dr. Colin Upstill from the University of Southampton, defined short-term and long-term goals of the business-related research on the IoT, as well as the key messages that every researcher or organisation should keep in mind when working within the IoT domain. In the short term we should aim at creating a unified IoT framework and platform to understand how all different aspects fit together, understanding how we can get, measure and show value in the IoT, and identifying the market enablers and economic blockers in the process of IoT adoption, such as the new business models and the interoperability issues that arise. In the long term we should focus on resolving framework issues (trust, governance, interoperability), capturing and making use of dynamic value chains and evolving value constellations, dealing with cross-border issues, and managing the complexity in relation to user engagement. The key messages of the group are that, at present, in the space of the IoT, we need value and not technology demonstrators, understand that we cannot predict disruption but can only facilitate it, and invest in meaningful skills for the future generations that will live and create in an IoT world.

The Technology group, led by Professor Hamid Aghvami from King’s College London, categorised their suggestions in four main areas: data processing and its applications, network architecture, things and radio links, and security and privacy. As regards data processing research should be focused on semantic connectivity, data discovery and federation, and coping with incomplete and noisy data. On the hardware side, researchers should investigate low power devices and energy harvesting, as well as how to achieve efficient use of the radio spectrum, and reduce the signalling overhead in communications so as to build a scalable IoT infrastructure. Finally, there are major issues regarding security and privacy of transactions and interactions in the digital space, such as proof of identity in transactions, and adaptability of security systems to changing conditions.

At the Economics and Business breakout session Dr. Upstill pointed out that the Internet of Things is a technology proposition now, and we need to work towards turning it into a business proposition. Dave Carter of the Manchester Digital Development Agency suggested to concentrate on user-driven open innovation and the future of production, in terms of the future skills that will be needed when “every house will have a 3d-printer”. TfL’s Head of Technical Services Group Simon Reed talked about tailoring information in order to make it relevant to individuals through personalised services, like a personal journey planner, and highlighted the need to depart from single-data-stream applications towards multi-source data integration on top of which new services can be built. Piotr Cofta of Trusted Renewables underlined that suppliers don’t understand the risk of smart technologies, and they don’t accept liability for failures. He concluded that new technologies, as the IoT, encompass “a high degree of risk that nobody wants to take”. Liz Brandt of Ctrl-Shift talked about understanding the value of user-created data, empowering individuals through ownership and control of their data, and building trust into the Internet of Things. Professor Irene Ng from the University of Warwick talked about the need to understand dynamic value constellations, and “putting data into context”.

The final outcome of this workshop will be a white paper highlighting the 2-3 big issues that surround the realisation of the Internet of Things. These challenges will serve as the foundation for proposing robust R&D projects in the future towards the direction of tackling them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *