A new collaboration should ensure that the UK remains a global leader in the "Internet of Things".
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) describes a world where the physical objects around us – everything from heart pacemakers to fridges – are connected via digital networks. The PETRAS IoT Hub will explore the technical, ethical and social issues associated with these networks. It aims to make the UK the world’s best place to develop and deploy new internet technologies.
Imperial College London is part of the new consortium of nine universities, which has received £9.8 million support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of a UK Government investment in IoT research.
An additional £9.7 million comes from partners including businesses, NGOs, and public bodies. With just over £4 million of additional support from the participating institutions, the total investment in the PETRAS IoT Hub comes to £24 million over 3 years.
Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: "UK universities are renowned for their creativity, and pioneering research and development. We want the UK to be a world leader in the adoption of Internet of Things technologies, and I know that bringing these universities together with partners from the UK's thriving tech industry will be instrumental in making this a reality."
Imperial will be the technical lead on two out of five themes – “Safety and Security” and “Harnessing Economic Value”.
“Safety and Security” lead and Deputy Director of the Hub, Dr Emil Lupu, from the Department of Computing, said: “We aim to create a new generation of systems for applications in health and wellbeing, transport, household technologies, and infrastructure and utilities, which fulfill our need for safety, security, and privacy. The burgeoning Internet of Things must be able to face unexpected circumstances, be robust to cyber-attacks, and be able to adapt to face new threats as they emerge.”
“Harnessing Economic Value” lead, Professor Michael Huth, also from the Department of Computing, said: “The broad array of objects that are becoming networked – gas meters, lights in our homes, heart pacemakers, insulin pumps for diabetics, water distribution systems, cars, and more – open up the possibility of creating innovative ecosystems in which these technologies will have social and economic benefit. The possibilities are pretty much endless and may include new social platforms or economic mechanisms. But these novel systems should be unobtrusive and easy to live with, and we must be able to trust them.”
There are many drivers for the trend for networked objects, not least the opportunity to cut costs by, for example, enabling us to control various processes remotely.
Business opportunities arise as the market for tailored consumer offerings grows. Also, new service industries are emerging. For example, keeping older people safe at home, using sensor readings that track wellbeing and that can detect emergencies and support them with specific information for immediate care.
Researchers at Imperial will be involved with cross-cutting groupings where there are technologies common to several projects that explore applications of networked objects:
- Health and care
- Ambient environments
- Transport and mobility
The PETRAS hub
The Hub is a consortium of nine leading universities have come together as the PETRAS IoT Hub, led by UCL with Imperial College London, Lancaster University, University of Oxford, University of Warwick, Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton, and University of Surrey.
PETRAS IoT Hub Director and Vice-Dean of UCL Engineering, Professor Jeremy Watson said: “We will maximize the economic and societal opportunities of the Internet of Things by removing barriers to adoption.”
“Working with business, public, and third sectors will enable the PETRAS IoT Hub members to investigate questions of safety, security, privacy and trust within real life settings.”
“The UK has the potential to be the world’s most supportive environment for the development and deployment of a safe and secure Internet of Things. We will raise the bar using innovative collaborative and interdisciplinary research methods.”
The project is part of IoTUK, an integrated £40 million, three-year, Government programme that seeks to advance the UK's global leadership in IoT and increase the adoption of high quality IoT technologies and services throughout businesses and the public sector.
Opportunities and risks
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) describes a world where the physical objects around us – everything from heart pacemakers to fridges – are connected via digital networks, just as our digital real estate of websites, files, messages, and social media profiles are.
Smart cities, high tech healthcare systems, improved infrastructure, and efficient manufacturing are set to alter our environments and the ways in which we interact with objects, people, and organizations around us.
Connected homes, transport and workplaces have the potential to enhance our quality of life whilst enabling new economies, experiences, possibilities and efficiencies. The IoT is likely to generate economic growth at a significant rate.
However, the IoT is not without risk. The UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor has warned that new opportunities can only by fully realised by engaging with the many challenges these new technologies bring. The IoT needs to find a good balance of potentially conflicting concerns, for example privacy and security, to gain full acceptability of consumers and citizens. The cost of a serious cybersecurity breach is rising, and will continue to rise as we add connectivity to our lives. Consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper estimates the average cost of a single serious cybersecurity breach at between £1.46 million and £3.14 million for big business and £0.31 million for SMEs.
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