What happens when your fridge goes online

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The Internet of Things is on the verge of revolutionizing our daily lives, but also involves major challenges.

Internet of things

Imagine that your oven at home registers that you left work 10 minutes later than planned, and therefore waits ten minutes to put your dinner on. Then imagine that you get stuck in traffic halfway home and are delayed another fifteen minutes—and that your oven therefore turns down the heat so you can still arrive home to a perfectly cooked dinner, ready to eat.

This is pure science fiction today, but not unthinkable in the not too distant future. Many are predicting that the Internet of Things (IoT)—the connection of physical objects to the Internet—will be the next big online revolution, and Lyngby is one of the places people are already closely watching this technology.

“There’s a lot happening right now. We are seeing strong demand for IoT solutions internationally. It’s therefore very important for education and knowledge institutions to keep up. IoT is expected to see amazing growth, so many people are currently looking at how they can get a piece of the pie. If we can take a bite first, we’ll be in a leading position internationally,” says Daniel Bachmann, CEO and founder of IoT Denmark, which recently created IoT coverage across Denmark through the Sigfox network.

The example of the oven, which communicates with the access card reader at your workplace and notes the traffic information for your route home, comes from Alfred Heller, Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering and Deputy Head of CITIES (Centre for IT-Intelligent Energy Systems).

Like many others—he predicts that the Internet of Things will become one of the most important infrastructure research and development areas of the future.

“It represents the entire digital future—that we can create an efficient and sustainable future with disaster prediction and so on. But we’re at a very early stage, so for me it’s still a playground. We must first of all get used to using the technology,” he says.

Facts about the Internet of things
The Internet of things (IOT) was coined in 1999, by Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble, later MIT’s Auto-ID Center. Development has been at a slow pace since then, but in the past few years it has started to gain speed.

“Things”, in the IoT sense, can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, electric clams in coastal waters, automobiles with built-in sensors, DNA analysis devices for environmental/food/pathogen monitoring, or field operation devices that assist firefighters in search and rescue operations. It’s as an “inextricable mixture of hardware, software, data and service

Computer monitoring

Being able to monitor everything from vehicle transport and electricity consumption to waste containers, in a network which can automatically communicate, calculate and plan, offers countless opportunities for safety, efficiency and savings.

The City of Knowledge & Urban Development, DTU and Lyngby-Taarbæk Municipality are currently running a trial involving monitoring the use of the municipality’s cars via IoT. The aim is not to pry into the behaviour of employees, but to see whether money can be saved through better scheduling or by monitoring when vehicles need service etc.

Henrik Lehrmann Christiansen is head of studies for the MSc Eng in Telecommunication at DTU Fotonik (Technical University of Denmark) and Associate Professor in mobile communications. He says:

“IoT is not a new concept as such, but it is becoming more prevalent. One of the challenges is that a huge number of appliances would have to be fitted with transmitters and receivers. So we are very interested in the whole communications infrastructure, and are particularly looking at capacity, security, reliability and energy efficiency,” he explains.

Man attacked by electric razor

But the trend is not without hazard. There are two areas in particular that raise concern and careful consideration when our devices go online —hacking and data security.

The first is the most obvious. If an entire fleet of cars is on the Internet, it paves the way for some unpleasant possibilities if the wrong people can hack in and gain control.

The horror scenario from Stephen King’s cult classic, ‘Maximum Overdrive’, where an unknown alien force brings all machines to life and instils them with a fatal hatred of humans, suddenly does not seem quite as unthinkable as when the film was released in 1986.

And closer to reality, the recent US presidential election has shown that not only terrorists—but also foreign governments—do not hesitate to use hacking as a weapon against other nations. So do we really live in a world where we want to let an online razor anywhere near our throat?

“There is a potential hazard that people can in principle hack into anything, and for example cause an autonomous vehicle to drive up onto the footpath. The second challenge is privacy—that people can see when you are home and who you are with,” notes Alfred Heller.

Henrik Lehrmann Christiansen from DTU Fotonik agrees:

“In principle, watching the movements of the municipality’s vehicles represents strong surveillance of our employees. And when we one day put our nuclear power stations on the Internet, there will also be potential problems there,” he says.

Great potential

However, Daniel Bachmann from IoT Denmark seeks to calm the waters, especially regarding his Sigfox-network. Given that only very small 12-byte data strings are transmitted in a closed network, using signals that only the recipient can decode, he does not see any risk in the system—but there is enormous potential, also for researchers and students at DTU:

“Being researchers gives us slightly better opportunities than companies, because part of our job is simply to show what is possible, without having to worry too much about legal issues etc. It’s a relatively new role for us as researchers to have to go out and demonstrate what you can do, but it’s an important role,” says Alfred Heller from DTU Civil Engineering.

“It will probably not be something we think much about as consumers in the future, but IoT is one of the building blocks of a world of digital services, and it’s going to be everywhere.”

Article bt Bertel Henning Jensen, DTU 


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