Internet of Things

SFU Beedie professor Andrew Harries is equally at home in the academic and business worlds. A longtime innovator, he holds three US patents. Among the many companies whose boards he has chaired is Bsquare Corporation, which delivers enterprise Internet of Things software solutions.

The Internet of Things, Andrew says, will disrupt every industry and change every aspect of our lives. Watch as he explains its impact.

Andrew Harries

Q&A WITH ANDREW

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things, simply put, is the merging of physical devices with big data analytics and machine learning. The whole idea is to make things operate in a healthier and more efficient manner, whether those things are people or machines.

Most physical devices have sensors and the sensors generate data in the Internet of Things. This data is sent up into the cloud where it's made available to apps, which analyze the data to generate insights and information that, in turn, will allow the thing that it's attached to operate more efficiently and effectively.

What are some examples of IoT technologies?

The Internet of Things really breaks down into what I would consider to be consumer and industrial segments.

In the consumer space, most people are familiar with wearables such as Fitbit or Apple Watch, which have a variety of sensors on them. They can send this sensor information up into the cloud, whether it be heart rate or movement, and these things can significantly enhance your life experience and your health. The connected car is another one where cars generate a lot of information in real time. There's a company locally called Mojo, which is a world leader in the connected car, and with their app you know where your car is, how it's been driven, what it's health is, whether you have adequate fuel for the forthcoming journey, whether it's been stolen or towed, and so on. These are significant enhancements to the car-ownership experience in the connected home.

On the other hand, on the industrial side, we're seeing a wide variety of industrial applications. Big machines, where the consequences of downtime are really significant are a prime example. In this particular case, the data coming off the machine can be used by apps in the cloud to actually predict failure events and prevent them before they occur. In the industrial Internet of Things space there are really significant returns on investment to deploying these kinds of systems.

How will IoT affect business?

IoT is going to change just about every aspect of our lives. For one thing, the way that we interact with devices and the way that we interact with information will change dramatically. These things are coming together to create whole new experiences, whether it be in terms of personal fitness, the way we live our lives, the way we drive cars—for that matter, in the future cars we'll drive themselves, as will trucks, and that is going to be really an astonishing thing to see.

But the other thing is it's going to be massively disruptive to the future of work. There are, by some reckonings, between six and 10 million professional drivers of cars, cabs and trucks in the U.S. alone, whose future is threatened by these trends.

Are there any challenges or dangers associated with IoT?

There's a big thing in IoT called data sovereignty, and that, simply put, is about who owns the data and in turn what's it going to be used for. In the consumer space in particular, it's always ambiguous and you typically just sign away your rights to your data and rely on application developers to monetize this data—which you can be sure they are doing—by generating aggregate insights. Occasionally, bad actors will actually try and monetize your individual data, and that's a real no-no. Typically they get found out and they get into a lot of trouble for it.

How is IoT going to affect our lives in the future?

The future of IoT is that everything we wear, everything we buy, and everything we ride around in is going to be connected. And for the most part I think this is going to significantly enhance the way we live our lives, our health, and the efficiency of how we go about our lives. There are risks, certainly, but I'm exceedingly excited about the future.

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