iMinds explores a ‘plug-and-play’ Internet of Things (IoT)

Plug-and-play capabilities have been vital to the mass adoption of technologies such as personal computers and mobile phones. Users – whether individual or corporate – have little interest in becoming configuration specialists: they simply want to put technologies to work. Ten years ago, for instance, a cellphone user may have had to specify which network the device was to connect to; today, he or she pushes the ‘on’ button and the phone configures itself.

In the case of the Internet of Things as well, ease-of-use will be essential to its uptake. After all, users cannot be expected to become technology experts to set up (and take advantage of) IoT applications – especially not when objects will soon outnumber us 6 to 1.

What’s needed: a multi-vendor, multi-protocol layer of middleware

In order to make the plug-and-play nature of the IoT a reality, we need a middleware platform that manages and monitors all software components that are distributed throughout the system. We’ll have to find the right balance between automation and control – shielding users from excessive complexity while at the same time allowing parameters to be controlled.

Standardization: the name of the game

Standardization will be essential to enabling the kind of automation envisioned for a plug-and-play Internet of Things. After all, many of today’s IoT applications still use protocols that are solution-specific: if you buy a sensor from one vendor, it will talk only to other sensors made by that vendor. Establishing ‘horizontal’ standards will allow the same protocols or mechanisms to be applied across the full range of IoT solutions – enabling the interoperability that will be essential to a genuine, scalable Internet of Things.

The things that make up the IoT need to deploy without days of configuration and integration. They have to be able to discover services and join the existing network of objects automatically. In fact, as more devices join these networks, the less practical – or even possible – it will be to configure and manage them manually. The IoT’s complexity will make automatic configuration non-negotiable,

iMinds is closely following the development of IoT standards and plug-and-play solutions. One example is the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), which is expected to become the standard for integrating constrained devices into IP-based Internet and web services. Another example is the introduction of µPnP – a hardware and software solution for plug-and-play integration of embedded peripherals with IoT devices.

iMinds researchers are actively involved in CoAP interop testing

iMinds researchers are actively involved in the development of CoAP reference-solution implementations, and are taking part in CoAP interoperability testing. Moreover, iMinds teams have built on CoAP to develop new enablers that facilitate the design of IoT applications or reduce ‘communication overhead’ in sensor networks. Specifically, iMinds’ work provides the basis for fine-grained control over CoAP resources, with extensions for monitoring sensors in a given network and for enabling interactions between sensors and actuators (the devices that activate sensors) without human intervention. iMinds is also working on the middleware that will sit between IoT applications and the underlying communication platform.

Some projects in which CoAP has already been leveraged by iMinds researchers –

iMinds takes the lead in the introduction of µPnP

The Internet of Things is moving out of the lab and into the real world, where it is being applied in diverse, large-scale application scenarios. To optimally support those scenarios, we need easy ways to integrate various third-party peripherals such as sensors, actuators and radios. Yet, conventional approaches are inefficient in terms of energy and memory usage for resource-constrained IoT devices. Those issues are now tackled by researchers from iMinds - Distrinet - KU Leuven, through the introduction of µPnP - a zero-configuration IoT platform for sensing and control.