The internet of things (IoT) of billions of net-connected sensors will be nothing without the consumers it will serve, said Prof Willie Donnelly, director of the TSSG group at Waterford Institute of Technology.
Donnelly explained: “The exciting thing about the internet of things is that it is a new way of building services, organising society, collecting information and processing that information. But what is really exciting is how it can be used for the benefit of society.”
Last week, Waterford Institute of Technology’s TSSG group signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UCC’s Tyndall Institute to seek €82m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to fund 10 internet of things start-ups.
The MoU creates a critical mass of more than 580 hardware and 120 software engineers focused on the IoT opportunity.
The rapidly expanding internet of things market – where physical objects interact with the internet – was valued at US$613m (€473m) last year alone and will be worth an estimated US$7.1trn (€5.5trn) between now and 2020.
“The internet as we know it today – where you download videos from YouTube or search on Google – is really the macro internet,” Donnelly said. “The IoT we are talking about consists of billions of very small sensors constantly collecting information, monitoring the environment we are in, and this gives us the opportunity to build around these sensors.
“It gives us the opportunity to monitor the environment that supports us as citizens and we have this opportunity to organise our life in a way that technology supports rather than impedes.”
A practical example of the IoT in action, Donnelly proposed, could be in healthcare. “When a citizen goes to hospital they are not in their natural environment, they are tense and the doctor is trying to interpret their state while they are in an alien environment.
“But with sensor technology you can use these sensors and put them on the body and monitor the behaviour of the citizen while they go about their chores in a natural environment. So the information is more precise and more exact and we can use that information to diagnose the patient.”
The economic upside to the internet of things
Donnelly said Ireland is fortunate to be home to operations of the world leaders in ICT, as well as a vibrant ecosystem of researchers and indigenous technology companies.
“In Ireland, we are very fortune we are a networked community. The driver for the internet of things is partly technology, it is partly people. We have the ability to network all the players who can deliver the type of solutions, we have the multinationals here and a very dynamic indigenous industry, particularly in the area of ICT and mobile apps and the internet.
“We also have very educated citizens and this is, I suppose, where the opportunity comes from the internet of things – putting the citizen at the centre of it.
“Creating Ireland as an early adopter of IoT gives us huge advantage.”
Prof Willie Donnelly will be a panelist at the Innovation Ireland Forum on 24 October at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin