According to Yen-Kuang (YK) Chen, “Internet of Things” may as well be called “Internet of Everything,” or, rather, “Internet of Everyone.” Chen, who is IEEE Fellow, Principal Engineer, Intel Corporation, and Associate Director, Intel-NTU Connected Context Computing Center, has devoted much of his time to volunteering with the IEEE Internet of Things Organizing Committee and its Internet of Things Working Group, and insists that one thing is at the heart of IoT’s potential success: collaboration, between both new devices and the people who create them.
Chen began his career at Intel Labs as a researcher in the division for exploratory research in new methods of production. “One of the driving forces for me as a researcher is to try to figure out how to help the world, by creating better technology that anyone can use. That’s what I do at Intel; try to design faster and faster CPUs so that the computer can do more tasks.” Over the past few years, Chen has begun to work significantly in the field of IoT. “I feel that IoT is going to change our lives substantially, making our lives better and better. That’s why I wanted to work in this different area.”
Chen enthusiastically points out that there are many signs that IoT is helping us get better, ranging from personal benefits to our individual convenience and comfort levels, to societal aspects such as energy efficiency, environmental conservation, and economic implications. “For example, if we talk about the water shortages in California, internet technology is how deployed to monitor the water usages in providing guidelines to help people learn how to save water. There are benefits, too, in regular homes: we may have a bunch of IoT devices connected to make our home more convenient, but also more energy efficient. There is both a comfort and economic effect. That is my passion, to use the technology to help our lives and our work be better.”
With IoT having such broad application and the potential to touch virtually every aspect of our lives, Chen remains passionate about the entire movement. His primary interest, however, is in smart living spaces: “our homes; our offices; where we spend most of our time.” He also insists that it is imperative to make sure that devices and objects from different vendors can work together, and cites his own experiences at home as an example. “I have installed around 100 internet devices in my house: commercial devices, available today, not ones I built myself.” According to Chen, “Today, IoT is happening and we see a number of companies building devices for consumers. I’m quite happy about this because in the past these devices were not available where a homeowner could actually use them. But today, you can buy them from Home Depot, Amazon, etc.”.
This availability is crucial, Chen says, because the devices greatly improve consumers’ lives by saving energy. But – there are still many issues that need to be worked out. “One of them is the problem of integrating devices from different vendors together, though people have been really creative at getting more and more devices to work together. We need to enable more people to create.” He gives an example of the benefits that can come from this type of collaboration, not just between devices, but between their creators and users. “Let’s take a sprinkler and a smoke detector, for example. in the past, what happened was the smoke detector was isolated in the house. When it detected a smoke or fire hazard, it would only beep loudly to ask the people in the house to leave. It didn’t do anything else but that. Likewise, a sprinkler used to be run by a timer with a pre-set schedule. Now people are getting smarter, and thinking: what can I connect my sprinkler to?”
Today’s smart sprinkler, says Chen, can connect to the internet, using the weather forecast to check rain history to conserve water, working only when necessary, and not at the mercy of a traditional timer. Likewise, the smart smoke detector can send fire hazard information to the internet, so it may then cool another part of the house if necessary. But the devices may also connect to each other: the smart smoke detector can actually turn on the sprinkler and prevent the fire hazard from spreading to a neighbor’s house. “We’re going to see more and more interesting and innovative implications and communications between and for our devices.”
It will take hard work, insists Chen, for IoT smart homes to reach their full potential. “There are a lot of things that need to happen for the devices to work together. New standards in IoT are a way to go, and open API development for other people to use.” According to Chen, “Many companies are selling the product as IoT, but keep the devices connected to their own companies. They don’t allow them to link elsewhere. Now, people are becoming more willing to work with other companies so we can truly have IoT devices.”
“Another one of my key learnings from my experience at home is that the devices are hard to manage for the average consumer.” Chen, speaking of his 100 devices, states, “Each device has failed temporarily about once a year. This means, on average, that there would be a failure every 3 or 4 days in my house. This would be a big problem for average household owners, as the system needs to continue to function, and not fail because one component is at fault.” Chen is not sure if this problem has been properly addressed, as most of the companies selling IoT devices to consumers are looking on a smaller scale, as single devices. “In cases where we are more reliant, or will eventually become more reliant on more and using devices to our benefit, the whole system fails. We need to figure out a way that is simple and scalable for the average user to work with IoT.” Chen’s research is now proposing intelligent middleware to help the user use IoT devices and take care of the detail management easily and seamlessly, so the user doesn’t have to manage using all of the devices.
Collaboration maintains its stance as a crucial theme when Chen speaks fondly of IEEE’s Internet of Things Technical Community. While devices must be collaborative, working together as a system, and companies must be collaborative, working with other organizations to create IoT pieces that are compatible with those of other companies, Chen says, ultimately, “Every day we are advancing and inventing the technology, and a step closer to the world getting better.” He continues, “One of the most important components for the Internet of Things Technical Community is actually the interactions of people who are different kinds of experts in different technical areas and locations. This is the biggest benefit.”
“It would be very harmful for a single company or a single area of expertise to dominate in the area of IoT,” he says. This is where the IEEE’s wide range of members, and their function within the rapidly growing Internet of Things Technical Community is most instrumental. “We’ve got to collaborate; we’ve got to work with each other.”