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University Campus Serving as Internet-of-Things Lab

Anind Dey

Anind Dey (Carnegie Mellon University)

10 July 2015. Carnegie-Mellon University is turning its campus into a real-time lab to develop a Google-funded platform supporting networks known as the Internet-of-things. Google is providing Carnegie-Mellon, in Pittsburgh, a grant of $500,000 for the project that also involves Cornell, Stanford, and University of Illinois.

Internet of things, or IoT, is the term given to collections of sensors and devices attached to day-to-day items in homes, businesses, and institutions such as appliances, burglar alarms, smoke detectors, baby monitors, and heating and cooling systems to create smart environments for new capabilities or provide greater safety and savings. Google is seeking to develop a solid technology platform for IoT development that encourages ease of access and interoperability, while ensuring security and privacy.

Google’s interest in IoT is more than altruistic; in early 2014 Google acquired Nest, a maker of Internet-enabled thermostats, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide monitors for $3.2 billion. In December 2014, a Google team led by vice-president Vint Cerf issued a call for proposals to conduct research on an IoT platform, covering user interfaces, applications development, privacy and security, and further studies of systems and protocols. The call for proposals noted in particular the need for new approaches for open standards and usable security models.

At Carnegie-Mellon, teams led by computer scientists Anind Dey and Norman Sadeh will study development of sensors that are easy to deploy, software that makes it easy to create mobile apps and take part in IoT, and features for managing privacy and security. Dey, director of the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, is the lead investigator on the project. Sadeh will lead a special team focusing on protection of privacy.

The project promises to turn the Carnegie-Mellon campus and surrounding community into a large-scale test site for the IoT platform. University buildings and facilities will host sensors and smart devices, while students and others on campus will be recruited to create and test new mobile apps.

And the researchers expect to do it a big way. “Because many novel IoT applications require a critical mass of sensors,” says Dey in a university statement, “CMU will use inexpensive sensors to add IoT capability to ‘dumb’ appliances and environments across the campus.”

Carnegie-Mellon has experience in the development of apps similar those used in IoT, including an app that connects a smartphone to a printer or projector by taking a photograph of the device, as well as a system for accessing shared apps to find public transit schedules or retail stores. In the 1980s, the campus was one of the first to be completely networked.

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