Smart cities require IoT calalyst of ‘EPIC’ proportions

Image credit: metamorworks /

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) recently released a new paper titled “Driving New Modes of IoT-Facilitated Citizen/User Engagement”. ITU News caught up with Alain Louchez, managing director of CDAIT, to discuss the potential of the IoT for improving lives and building smart cities.

How is IoT changing the world?

Alain Louchez is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Alain Louchez, co-founder and managing director of CDAIT

Alain Louchez: First, it’s important to understand what IoT is. The expression is many things to many people. For some people, it’s a consumer thing. For others, it’s an industrial thing. And for others, it’s something else. The lack of definition is a challenge.

The expression is just a metaphor that describes something humongous: the arrival of anything and everything into the connected space. We are moving from an inert world to a “pulsating world.”  Why pulsating? Because everything in and around us will be able to send and receive data constantly. IoT will completely change the way we live, the way we work and the way we do business.

There are three stages to the Internet of Things, which can co-exist. The first stage is about monitoring and control, the second stage is about data optimization, and the third stage is the interconnection of intelligent things. The interconnection of intelligent things will redefine everything from business models to national security systems.

What are the benefits of IoT?

IoT represents a complex value chain represented by what we at CDAIT call “IMAGE”. In this model, IoT includes the “interface” with the physical world, e.g., sensor and actuator, the “medium” for data transport and the “application” for the software that translates signals into intelligible format.

The IoT ecosystem also includes a critical and central component, the “glue” that comprises the capabilities and enabling environment that hold everything together, now and in the near future, at both the application and industry levels (security, privacy, regulation, business model, energy source, etc.). At the end, is the vital “extraction” of information and value from the data captured by the interface, including big data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI).

With such a wide range of possibilities, we are only limited by our imagination in terms of what these technologies can do. On the consumer side, IoT technologies can increase convenience, independence and quality. For example, in healthcare, IoT sensors can make it possible for someone’s health to be monitored remotely by experts, even across great distances.

IoT can also help people with disabilities by making services more accessible (e.g., telehealth) and work less physically demanding, enhancing their productive life and, as a result, societal inclusivity.

In addition, IoT technologies can support economic development. On the industrial side, IoT technologies can lead to operational efficiencies. For example, sensors can help increase productivity in the manufacturing process. They can also help companies comply with regulations. For example, these technologies would allow a company to monitor the amount of carbon dioxide it is emitting against existing regulations.

There are also military applications of IoT technologies, which include sensors to track weapons and analyze the supply chain attached to military deployments.

What are the key challenges to IoT?

The biggest issue is simple: if an IoT solution doesn’t have an answer for security and privacy, it’s dead on arrival.

Companies must also be able to bridge with the past and update any existing legacy systems. They need to show they can transition smoothly from the past to the present to the future. While doing so, they must make sure that any changes will still be relevant two, five, ten years from now. Time-proofing is a huge challenge because technology moves really quickly.

In addition, IoT advancements must be accompanied by appropriate standards and judicious regulations.

If we are going to have as many devices as people are saying we are going to have, it is also clear that they cannot all be powered by the grid. We’ll have to find alternative sources of energy for these technologies.

Overall, there is a need for more IoT education, training and awareness. It is fine to develop the technologies, but the real question is: what are we going to do with them? IoT unquestionably requires mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, and engineers, but it also needs people who develop innovative services and imagine these new services from a user’s point of view.

What are the main opportunities of smart cities, and what is the EPIC approach?

As part of the paper, we look at how IoT can play a catalyst role in enabling smart cities. Smart cities aim to create “positive externalities,” i.e., a wide range of tangible and intangible benefits to improve the quality of life of its citizens, businesses, visitors and other stakeholders.

We developed the EPIC model, which marries quantitative and qualitative measures, to put forth four dimensions smart cities must consider to take advantage of IoT technologies.

“E” is “ethics.” This is very important. Because while thanks to technology we can do a lot, we have to ask: “Should we?” and make sure that we consider and factor in the implicit and explicit values that are integral to the collective well-being.

“P” is “profit.” If you want businesses to invest, there has to be a business case and associated rewards. However, profit here goes beyond economic incentives, it also includes “social profit”, i.e, the good done in and to the community (including environment protection), sometimes difficult to quantify but crucial for technology adoption.

“I” is “intimacy.” We define intimacy as ease of access, mutual openness and a customized experience. This means no red tape, increased transparency and systems that meet people’s needs.

“C” is “connectivity.” Connectivity is about the overall technological foundation and has three parameters: the medium (how the data is transported), the computing (cloud, fog and edge), and the trustworthiness of the process (security, safety, privacy, reliability and resilience).

It will take time, but we believe the challenges will eventually be overcome, and, a little bit like electricity overhauled economy and society throughout the one hundred years following Edison’s light bulb patent, the Internet of Things will radically transform our lives in a way that we can now barely begin to fathom.

The original version of this article first appeared in ITU News

Be the first to comment

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.