IoTs devices and the smart city strategy: universal protocols and data protection vital for success

I am not a cricket fan. I never watched an India team cricket match while growing up in Mumbai in a tiny 4-square, 1-bedroom apartment.

While my friends were busy playing cricket with the neighbouring slum dweller kids, I chose to stay at home and tinker with light emitting diodes (LED), light dependent resistors (LDR), transistors and capacitors. My aim was to build a device that would turn the kitchen (the makeshift study room) light on as soon as dad walked into the house. An warning for me to hide the circuit boards and bring out my maths books instead. Having a dad who was a gold medallist in maths, physics and chemistry didn’t help as his mission was to ensure that I become a gold medallist like him. I scored a 100 in maths, but didn’t win a gold medal.

I eventually managed to build my first stand-alone sensor that turned the kitchen lights on as he walked through the door; but it didn’t connect to anything else. My next project was to build a temperature sensor for my mum to be used on a make-shift clay oven.  Did these sensors, easily constructed in the early 80s, fuel the idea where small sensors, distributed file technologies like Hadoop, data mining techniques and faster internet connectivity would collectively form the key elements of a ‘smart city’?

What was different when I built these crude devices in the early 80s?

What could I have done if I had access to multiple computers and a technology that stored large volumes of data across 1000s of servers? What if I had access to data mining tools to support predictive analytics?

Well, if my home-made ‘device’ was able to collect data on the date and time dad entered home over a number of months, by using data mining techniques I would have been able to predict the time dad was most likely going to come home. Then I could have my maths book open as soon as he entered the kitchen, without having to react when the lights turned on.

Hadoop is a new technology where existing limitations with relational databases like volume, variety and velocity of data are addressed. Its ability to store information from 1000s of IoT devices constantly streaming different varieties of data, coupled with enormous processing power make it an important component of the smart city solution. The data captured from these IoT devices can be used to make intelligent decisions and identify new solutions to reduce costs for services.

The smart city strategy is exciting.

Imagine a future where your fridge, music system, home lighting system, car, phone, security cameras, smart meters, point of sale terminals, traffic signals, road temperature sensors all talk to each other and share data seamlessly. These smart cities can provide economic growth through increased standards of living, new job opportunities and better access to facilities.

Ensuring there is a universal protocol where all these devices and systems easily talk to each other is key to ensuring early acceptance of a smart city and solutions to support it.

With the advent of smart payments, could there be a business case for an overlay service built on Australia’s New Payments Platform (NPP) that can be part of the smart city strategy? Imagine never receiving a parking ticket as an NPP overlay service processed a payment for the exact time spent in a smart meter parking bay. Or imagine receiving a “request for payment” message to renew your digital driver’s licence anywhere, any time.

One of the biggest weakness of IoT is the possibility for these devices to be hacked or manipulated by cyber criminals causing large scale disruption and ultimately challenge the smart city model.

Securing the data flowing between these systems poses a challenge. Data security and privacy issues must be addressed early. Progress needs to be made in adapting existing security protocols and practices to federate the massive growth of IoT devices. More importantly, security will need to be an on-going consideration and not something that is ticked off once during smart city design.

In the meantime I’ve decided to go back to the basics, pull out the old circuit diagrams I used at university; create a sensor device and attempt to build my own little IoT project. Only this time, my 16 year old son has suggested that he would use my device to predict when his mum will come to his room to check up on him, while he is busy exchanging photos on Snapchat with friends well past his bedtime.


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