IoT trends, opportunities, and education: What’s on the horizon?

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A growing utilisation of sensors and the expanding IoT continue to make meaningful and useful impacts on society. Today, there are numerous examples of applications that not only make our lives easier, but that also bring both economic and environmental benefits, as well as setting the stage for more low-cost and easy-to-deploy future solutions. From an engineering perspective, moving forward there’s a real opportunity to identify new smart applications and develop solutions utilising relatively inexpensive hardware that leverages the expanding connectivity of wireless networks with a wide range of deployed low-power sensors.

Whether you’re monitoring available parking at an airport to get people to a space with less hassle, and burning less fuel, or adjusting heating and cooling needs in a building based upon real-time occupancy, or improving how waste and storm water is diverted in a city using sensors, the opportunities for the IoT, and the benefits it can bring for society, are expansive.

Low power, long-range wireless connectivity is also opening the door to new exploration. One project currently being conducted on my campus is working to integrate low bandwidth applications, such as monitored parking availability, real-time, localised traffic updates, campus foot traffic, etc., and actually transmitting low bits of information wirelessly to augmented reality units. These units might then actually use higher bandwidth in terms of the processing or data needed to project information. Expect to see similar IoT examples where sensors are conveying information on transportation and how best to move through an urban environment being disseminated through augmented reality to help people be more efficient or safer as they move from one place to another.

Clearly, IoT growth is generating a lot of emerging opportunities for young people interested in pursuing a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) educational curriculums and career paths. IEEE, through its Educational Activities branch, focuses on mentoring and bringing opportunities that encourage pre-university students to consider STEM. One such program is   the IEEE Teacher In-Service Program (TISP), which functions essentially as a professional development workshop aimed at helping teachers bring hands-on engineering lessons into their classrooms.

Another IEEE sponsored initiative is www.tryengineering.org, offering an array of predesigned educational materials for classroom students of all ages that cover engineering projects. Studies have shown that it’s important to show students at a younger age how engineering can make the world a better place, because by the time they’re in the last years of high school, students already have a pretty good idea about their future studies.

At IEEE, there is a recognised position to give young people hands on learning experiences, and we’ve found that one of the ways to get more young people encouraged and excited about participating in engineering careers, or learning more about technology, is through community service projects. Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) in IEEE focuses on funding projects where students get involved by solving a local non-profit’s problem for them using technology. This program has had a measurable effect on showing young people who normally wouldn’t consider electrical engineering as a career opportunity how they can apply those skills to make the world a better place.

So, while a lot of people think of an electrical engineer as someone simply building circuits, working with computers or making iPhones, showing real world IoT applications, such as the integration of a sensor network into a city to make it more environmentally sound, resonates more with the younger generation, and gets them more excited about STEM education.

EPICS in IEEE can point to a number of funded IoT projects where university students partnered with high school students and nonprofit organisations to benefit their local communities. A recent example was completed in Philadelphia, where students designed and deployed a sensor network to measure air quality. From building the circuits, to putting together sensor nodes with differing functionality, the students enabled data curating and sharing with an organization that helped provide insight to the city on how to make the air cleaner.

Another notable IoT non-profit project, supported by University of New Hampshire and local high school students, aimed to restore oyster beds in the Great Bay of New Hampshire. Over the years, the local ecosystem had become decimated from pollution and runoff that sent oyster farming into serious decline. The sensor network the student team developed measured sediments in the water to help the nonprofit determine the best locations for reintroducing oysters into the ecosystem, resulting in a revived oyster farming industry in the Great Bay.

The few current applications cited here demonstrate an untold opportunity for the future of the IoT. Today, we’re on the cusp of exciting new technologies that can truly make a significant positive impact on our world. What’s clear is that we need to communicate the vast and emerging opportunities and encourage students today, in order to ensure that we are cultivating the leaders and innovators of tomorrow that will further advance these technologies for the benefit of all.

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