Innovation Ireland Forum: Don’t fear IoT – UCD Earth Institute’s Prof Gregory O’Hare

9 Oct 2014

Prof Gregory O'Hare, director, UCD Earth Institute

To some, the internet of things (IoT) sparks fears of a Big Brother-esque world, but the enormous power of the technology to do good must be recognised, says UCD Earth Institute director Prof Gregory O’Hare.

O’Hare’s research interests are in the development of software infrastructure that will support the harvesting of data in real-time from a diverse range of sensors.

He explained that the UCD Earth Institute wants to be the single one-stop shop for all issues relating to the environmental challenges the world is facing and the first preference point of contact for European researchers forming consortia and submitting to the Horizon 2020 programme.

“We are seeking to become the destination of choice for multinational research centres that are looking to collaborate with leading research centres in Ireland and deep within Europe.”

Developing the finest senses known to humanity

Innovation Ireland Forum – interview with Prof Gregory O’Hare

O’Hare said the IoT is going to be a massive area of endeavour in the coming decades because of the sheer explosion of information we are witnessing.

He said people have become accustomed to the increased rate of information and data that has risen through the internet and mobile technologies.

“But now we overlay on top of that a phenomena where we have got data coming from the internet but also now we have data being derived from sensors within the physical world.

“People are starting to become aware of the fact that their everyday activities in life are being monitored. That might seem somewhat Big Brother-esque I understand, but in many cases this monitoring is for very legitimate and morally good purposes.”

O’Hare added that many aspects of our every day life are being recorded, such as the use of swipe cards to gain entry to a building, an ATM transaction, passing through a toll gate on a motorway, and the location of a mobile phone call.

“There are indeed very interesting business models starting to emerge from this internet of things – this joined-up thinking.

“One example, some of the thinking that is emerging in North America is that currently there are discussions ongoing among large retail outlets and health insurers to get access to all the data pertaining to a weekly or monthly shop.

“Are you buying junk food? Are you buying healthy food, this might act as one parameter of a rich set of parameters into determining or judging cost or risk you constitute in terms of risk to health.”

O’Hare said the demographic time bomb facing the world in terms of people living longer means there will be an explosion in the number of people over 65 and this will present serious issues for health systems.

“The number of people of working age contributing to and maintaining the health system is decreasing and we are starting to see the need for people to live independently in their own homes for a longer period.

“This independent living – or ambiently assisted living – necessitates instrumentation of the home. The vast majority of senior citizens are habitual creatures; they go to the shop at certain times, go for walks, go to church. Their regime is incredibly stylised.

“By sensing that environment you can not only capture that itinerary but more importantly you can start to identify deviations or departures from habit and in such cases raise alerts to loved ones if there is less activity.

“This data is important and can bring to bear significantly enhanced quality of life for different constitutions.

“The IoT provides us the mechanism and infrastructure that we can start to fold this disparate sensed data together. It is fundamentally important.”

Dr Gregory O’Hare will be a panelist at the Innovation Ireland Forum on 24 October at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years