Technology (Innovations for Education)

The Internet of Things is Coming

Internet of Things

PHOTO © GAUDILAB

How did you sleep last night? An innocuous question for sure; it used to garner an appropriately simple “good,” “not good” or “like a baby” if you were feeling particularly refreshed. But ask the same question to someone wearing a Fitbit fitness tracker and banal generalities are replaced with hard data. Hours in bed are broken down into light sleep, deep sleep and — if you download the right app — minutes of REM. But the device doesn’t stop at sleep. It tracks how many steps you took, how much water you drank and even how many squats your friends got in.

Welcome to the connected future. Welcome to the Internet of Things.

Simply defined, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a system that connects any device with an on/off switch to the Internet via the cloud. Smart phones, coffee makers and cars are all tracking use, talking to each other and sending data out for analysis. And that’s just for starters. In 2015 there were more than 13.4 billion devices connected globally. That number promises to multiply as availability of broadband Internet grows and technology costs comes down.

This presents unique challenges to college campuses. The IoT can streamline processes, save money and change the way faculty members teach. It can also overwhelm networks and make you vulnerable to cyberattacks in new and unique ways. Here’s some ways the IoT can help, and hurt, your campus.

Your Dashboard — on Steroids

Smart building controls are old news as building automation systems have been around for some time. The Internet of Things promises to deliver and analyze more data to better pinpoint and predict issues. “Connectivity is the next big step forward,” according to Dan Ritch, vice president connected services and CIO, Honeywell. “You can move information trapped inside the building to the cloud and apply analytics to give insight.”

Ritch predicts that robust insight like this offers the potential for 10 to 20 percent in energy savings annually alone.

Equipment doesn’t need to be state-of-the-art to get hooked up. Inexpensive sensors can be added to a “30-year-old, dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks boiler for pennies,” according to Ron Pieper, product manager VizProducts, TechSolve. The sensor monitors performance and sends alerts when maintenance is needed, further cutting costs. “Unanticipated breakdowns are expensive. Industrial IoT gathers key performance indicators so you can fix problems before the equipment goes belly up and fails completely. This completely changes the game.”

The Internet of Things also promises to make campuses safer as sensor networks combine video, audio and vibration detectors to monitor restricted areas. There are even sonic sensors that can pinpoint the location of gunfire. Both of these applications would be helpful in an active shooter event.

Congestion got you down? Smart streets can direct drivers and cyclists to less congested routes and notify them about available parking. The technology can also boost sales on campus coffee shops and bookstores. “Retailers can learn the ebb and flow of traffic and offer special deals or discounts when appropriate,” says Ritch.

Even pedagogy and student learning and outcomes can be improved by using the Internet of Things. The Center for Human-Applied Reason and the Internet of Things at the University of Southern California (CHARIOT) is working on a project that evaluates students’ cognitive engagement and emotions in real time. The objective is to personalize education by knowing what kind of help students need and when they need it.

Barriers to Success: Wimpy WiFi and Nefarious Nogoodniks

A fully connected smart campus will not just happen on its own. In fact, developing a comprehensive IoT strategy remains one of the biggest concerns for IT professionals surveyed at the Sensors Expo in San Jose, CA, by Northeastern University-Silicon Valley, according to eCampus News. If a school isn’t thinking about IoT yet they are already behind the game. “Going down no path is not a choice,” warns Rick Gambaccini, senior vice president and chief commercial officer, TechSolve.

Students will bring devices to campus and demand enough bandwidth for them to work. Wimpy WiFi will not be tolerated. Expect to upgrade wireless network switches and add access points.

And expect to spend money to keep data — and your network — safe. Spending on IoT security is expected to reach $547 million in 2018, according to Garner, Inc. It still might not be enough. ZDNet reports that, “Hackers are increasingly building botnets out of unsecured Internet of Things devices and using them to direct traffic at particular targets in order to overwhelm servers with the aim of taking websites and services offline.”

Even if your school vets every connected device it installs, you still will need to deal with student-, faculty- staff- and visitor-brought tech. Consumer-ready hardware, with default passwords, infrequent updates and poor security protocols, is notoriously easy to hack. Also, there is a staggeringly wide variety of variability among WiFi-enabled devices carried onto and employed on campus. They are designed to do very different things and are made by a number of different manufacturers. In addition, there are multiple hardware and software manufacturers housed within any single device and there are many types of devices. This seemingly endless supply of hardware and software combinations does not lend itself to easy risk or operational categorization.

Despite its barriers, the Internet of Things is here to stay. Most applications — more efficient buildings, safer campuses and better learning outcomes — sound promising. Other applications — WiFi-enabled hairbrush, anyone? — are more about the gimmick than actual use. Still, expect students, all Internet natives, to bring an ever-growing variety of devices and want to connect them.

“Enthusiasm is growing, excitement is growing,” reports Honeywell’s Ritch.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

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