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Cyber-physical systems readied for demos by White House-led team

Patrick Thibodeau | May 28, 2014
Internet of Things tech is cheap and available, and its only limits may be imagination, says Presidential Innovation Fellows

WASHINGTON - A White House-led effort to show that the Internet of Things can save lives and create jobs is about to put on a big show.

A one-day SmartAmerica Expo here on June 11 will showcase pilot projects that demonstrate the potential of the IoT to control physical systems, or what the government calls cyber-physical systems.

Cyber-physical systems collect and analyze data, and then go a step further to feed this information into a system with the intention of closing the loop, or resolving a problem.

"We really want to show and demonstrate that this is possible, but not just from a technical level," said Sokwoo Rhee, a Presidential Innovation Fellow and co-lead, along with Geoff Mulligan, of the SmartAmerica effort.

"From a technology level we know it's possible," said Rhee. Without the demonstration projects, "it becomes just another technology or product play."

A project underway in Montgomery County, Md., illustrates Rhee's point.

Similar to two dozen other such projects, there is a team involved, in this case researchers from the University of California at Irvine and MIT, along with multiple vendors, including IBM, Sigfox, a French-based, long-range, low-bandwidth provider, and Twilio, a cloud communication firm

The team is building a system for suburban Washington county that can monitor, on a very detailed level, what goes on inside the home. From a hardware perspective, the team are using off-the-shelf IoT technologies, low cost sensors and wireless radios, and some hackable smoke detectors.

The sensing capability is broad.

It begins with the most important and obvious, smoke and carbon monoxide detection, temperature, and then moves to gas detection, including explosive gas, light, dust, mold, pollen and other air quality factors, as well as motion. The unit also monitors itself, namely its battery life.

The developers are imagining all types of users for the system, including people without broadband access. Using either mesh technology, where every device is a node that can hand off signals to another device extending range for miles, or Sigfox's network, these devices can operate independently of a resident's network -- even during a power outage.

"When we look back at some of the bigger disasters that have happened, one of the things that we have learned from them is you can't rely on cell phones," said Dan Hoffman, Montgomery County's chief innovation officer.

This sensing capability has the potential of being very sophisticated.

For instance, motion detection capabilities for a live-alone senior. When operational, the motion data will go to IBM's cloud, which will monitor it for anomalies in a Montgomery County resident's patterns, such as a sudden movement indicative of a fall.

If a problem is detected, an automated alert system kicks into action. First, to the occupant to see if that person can be reached and then to caregivers, relatives and neighbors. If no one can be reached, county emergency services may be dispatched. The loop, so to speak, is closed.


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