Infusing the Internet of Things with Wisdom

Increasingly, the Internet is not only connecting computers, phones, tablets and smart TVs. Machines, ships, cars, light bulbs – and even human beings – are also being equipped with networked sensors that monitor the environment, provide status reports, receive instructions, and take short-term and long-term actions based on intelligent processing of the gathered data. The era of the Internet of Things (IoT) has begun, and at its heart there’s a world of thinking objects.

The Internet of Things – and all the opportunities that come with it – only represents the beginning. Combining the intelligence of connected things (from light bulbs and coffee machines to containers and cars) with other sources of information will allow those objects to respond to the dynamics of their environment. As such, we’ll create a true ‘Wisdom of Things’, with devices using contextual awareness to make intelligent, autonomous decisions. In a new strategic research program, 20 of iMinds’ most forward-looking IoT researchers have taken on the challenge to making this Wisdom of Things a reality.

As pointed out by Wikipedia, ‘things’ (in the IoT sense) can refer to the widest variety of objects and devices – such as dishwashers, coffee cups, heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, etc. These devices collect useful data and then autonomously flow the data between themselves and a myriad of other devices. The aim: to wipe away (human) inefficiency and imprecision.

The technological and economic potential of the IoT

The Internet of Things is bringing a massive change to industry and society. By connecting everyday objects – and embedding intelligence in them – we are given unprecedented control over our surroundings. In turn, that will lead to major efficiency gains.

A recent McKinsey study predicts that the IoT’s market value will amount to $11.1 trillion by 2025. The impact of the IoT will be felt everywhere: in rural villages and urban centers; and in every economic sector – from transportation and logistics to medicine, manufacturing and food production. It will optimize business systems, enable asset tracking and facilitate cost-saving predictive maintenance in machine parks.

“It is expected that especially in the domains of manufacturing and logistics, the impact of the IoT will be profound,” says Thomas Kallstenius, Director Research & Innovation at iMinds. “Applying the IoT to those sectors will allow companies to more efficiently monitor and control machines, and better capture the status and the flow of goods or materials through plants, distribution centers, etc. In this sense, the connected devices that make up the IoT become an active part of companies’ business processes and also a cornerstone for novel, disruptive business models.”

But the impact of the IoT will also be felt at home – making household environments highly adaptable, for example by boosting the volume of the stereo automatically when the dishwasher is running, or quieting the TV when someone picks up the phone. Or consider the impact in the health and care sectors, with intelligent robots walking around semi-autonomously in nursing homes and interacting personally with different residents as a useful support tool for nurses and caregivers.

How the Internet of Things will impact the way in which we live and work in Flanders

Already today, Flanders has a healthy, lively and innovative IoT industry – featuring a mix of start-ups, SMEs and larger multinationals. Without ignoring the other potential application domains, iMinds believes that the IoT will especially have an impact on the Flemish manufacturing industry – which represents approximately 7% of export revenues and more than 500,000 jobs. And while it is clear that the whole industry will have to adapt to the new realities (and the new ways of working) that are brought by the IoT, lots of new opportunities will arise as well – taking the outputs of this industry domain to a whole new level.

In search of the ‘Wisdom of Things’: the Holy Grail of engineering

Renowned companies in the IoT domain, such as Cisco, predict that – by 2025 – the Internet of Things will be composed of more than 50 billion smart, connected objects (or about 6 per person). Together, they’ll not only make up the IoT but also lay the foundation of the next step: the so-called ‘Wisdom of Things’.

Indeed, whereas today’s Internet of Things is merely characterized by providing objects with an IP address, this is only the beginning. In a next phase, we’ll combine the intelligence of connected things with other sources of information so that they become situationally or contextually-aware. And that’s how we will create the ‘Wisdom of Things’ – with things making intelligent decisions and responding to the dynamics of their environment.

Imagine a next-generation navigation system in which information about the arrival of a big container ship is transmitted to public navigation systems – helping predict traffic jams in-land, related to unloading and transporting containers from that ship. As such, moving from one point to the other will look completely different in a few years from now – thereby significantly reducing the productivity loss linked to traffic jams.

How to get there?

In order to realize the vision of a true Internet of Things and to lay the foundation for the Wisdom of Things, several challenges still need to be addressed. Many of these barriers are technical in nature, while others – such as those pertaining to security, privacy and the problem of technologies that are inaccessible to (and uncontrollable by) non-specialist users – demand social science research and policy solutions.

iMinds covers the complete IoT innovation value chain – from strategic research to business incubation – and can thereby call upon the expertise of 900+ researchers (ranging from network engineers and mathematicians to experts in privacy, ethics and communication sciences). In 2015, we kick started a new strategic research program in which 20 of our most forward-looking IoT researchers are trying to solve the most fundamental technical challenges to making the Wisdom of Things a reality. Moreover, in the field, our researchers are actively involved in initiatives such as the creation of the Antwerp City of Things (together with the City of Antwerp and mobile operator Mobile Vikings). The Antwerp City of Things is a unique project, connecting 200,000 urban citizens with developers and tech entrepreneurs through a massive amount of smart devices spread over the City of Antwerp. Objective: implementing and testing innovative ICT applications in a realistic setting.

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iMinds Insights: Internet of Things
News item: Launch of iMinds' IoT strategic research program