Wednesday, June 22, 2011

IoT in China revisited: centralized views and smart cities are taking off

Again, I had the chance to attend the IoT Conference organized by Shanghai International Exhibition in China, a continuation of the series started in 2010. The audience included about 400 participants from business all over China. I contrast to last year, about half of the speakers were international.

The session started with welcome notes from various honorable people, such as Wang Lie from CCPIT Shanghai promoting trade, Wang Xi from Shanghai Institute of Microsystems, Shuguang Liu from IOTCC, a newly founded body to coordinate between enterprises and government funding, and An Xiaoping from MIIT (ministry of industry and information technology). All speakers emphasized the business opportunities of IoT as being huge for the future in China.

Chenghai Zhang, a former leader of the post telecommunication ministry, went even more in detail in his very energetic presentation (so energetic that the translator faded out from time to time) and proposed IoT as a way for recovering from the economic crisis, a new technical revolution. He mentioned the capabilities of IoT to broaden the access to economy for new users, to transform the Chinese industry from manufacturing into providing higher value services, and to extend today's value chains by new business concepts.

After that opening, some leaders were called to the stage to trigger short demos featuring NFC, fingerprint, 2D-reader, LBS and RFID technology – exposing those is the core building blocks of an emerging Chinese IoT.

The conference was opened with the first keynote by Ed Schuster from MIT. He started with a quote from Ian Waitz which described that MIT during its 150 years of existence had built infrastructure the first 75 years, and had created industry the second 75 years. Thus, the next 75 years should be devoted for applying this knowledge to build a better planet. Ed gave some examples semantic information processing as part of his work within the data center[1]. I think this perspective of big data [2] should be further investigated as part of Internet of Things research.

This talk was followed by a talk about smart cities by Bin Cao from Datang Telecom, a telecom equipment manufacturer. He again emphasized the view of extending IoT to all industries in China in order to collect, network and communicate even more information within China. As the main challenge of cities in China today he mentioned one-time funding during construction without sufficient budget of maintenance. Furthermore, planning divisions have to improve collaboration, development should be better identified, standards should be enforced, and finally processes should be designed to allow for more sustainability.
As a specific example Bin Cao presented a centralized control system for cities where "efficient modules" collect data and provide services to the citizens. I challenged his assumption of “identifying people’s needs and providing services accordingly” by proposing to follow open data policies for empowering individuals and business to provide services in addition to centralized authoritive units in order to allow for more diverse and competition among services.
In my talk (slides) I proposed to go beyond IoT in supply-chains and seeking for opportunities of accessing tacit knowledge of people and individuals. I gave examples of my2cents and appaware as opportunities of new services based on user-generated content. While user-generated content is probably not at the core of IoT, I see the IoT as an important enabler for developing new services including user input.

Later, Paul Havinga presented a nice definition of IoT:

Everything is networked; Smart objects and global connectivity allows for open multi-purpose services.

Thus, IP cannot be solution, not even the low-power versions as 6LoWPAN as being too expensive and too complex for cheap and small devices. Instead, he proposed the integration of various technologies coupled with embedded intelligence as a way for establishing distributed collaboration. The IoT would allow to collect information and to make information available right at where the action is.

Finally, IoT-A hosted a Session and provided an update of its activities.

The second day was opened by Prof. Hao Min who presented several projects of Anti-Counterfeiting. He mentioned tagging of Wulangje liquor which I already reported about here (link) . Alan Thorne from the Cambridge Lab reported about several activities at the Cambridge lab concering discovery services and applications in airline industry.

Prof. Wei Zhao from University of Macau, leader of the 973 IoT project, mentioned the inauguration of IoT colleges. As core topics he proposed computer science, software architectures and sensors. He explained the IoT as being built upon sensing, generating virtual measures, and dealing with the challenge of fusion of data. As a main challenge he put identification of objects.He was elaborating on how identifying. While I agree on this challenge, I also think that progress has been made when thinking of all the different numbering schemes that already exist in industry. As the history of the Auto-ID center has shown, posing a new global numbering fails. Instead, building upon and fusing established schemes is the way to go.

Toru Murase from Sumitomo Electric industries was proposing FTTH as a backbone of running an Internet of Things in the home, mobility network.

Jin Mitsugi was talking about an Internet of Consumer Electronics. For this he introduced a dual interface RFID tag developed by Keio and Fudan Auto-ID Lab allowing to read an RFID tag both from an RFID reader. Thus a newly developed data XML can be read from http, apps, and through a gateteway from home network appliances. They have installed the system in 49 consumer devices so far for monitoring the energy consumption [3]. In combination with IR-sensors counting people, consumer devices could be switched off.

Daeyoung Kim took his inspiration from Hollywood movies, such as minority report and motivated the need of software infrastructure by new verions of facebook/twitter/google for objects. ID-based network with thing’s application level protocol “id- based network for Internet of things”. He mentioned lightweigth Ipv6, 6lowpan and RoL as common alternatives and then introduced SNAIL allowing for mobility management security and routing.

Finally, smart cities was discussed as a hot topic for IoT. Ono Mitsutoshi from Kashima Consulting focused on the development process of smart cities, Yokoi Masaki from Nomura Research envisioned several IoT apps for citizens in smart cities. He proposed that China should understand what smart city means for China of just copy-paste-ing from US. As layers he outlined network layer, platform layer for recognition/identification/authentification, and the application layer for apps.

Michael Zhang from Shanghai Youth Info-tech was talkbing about making life better. He focused on the example of Pudong Xinqu area, the neighborhood of Shanghai where most multi-nationals and expatriates reside. He presented a credit-card combined with access functionality to private spaces. A house-keeper application allows for convenience services implement in a cloud: you can virtually queue in line of hospitals, such that you can wait from home. Also, you can shop from remote, obtain registrations, e.g. dog permit, and banking. Whereas in this app is reasonable in the current context, I was wondering why not also working on changing procedures and introducing planning to get rid of queues.

Finally, I was a bit scared of the "red light app" which warns if pedestrians cross a red light and inform authorities accordingly. When walking through Shanghai I'd rather appreciate a green light app sending an SMS to the car drivers who were pushing really hard to find their way through the crowds pedestrians. Overall, I was a bit skeptical whether reducing human mankind to shopping animals always hunting for bargains and aiming at getting rich while being continuously controlled by government would yield flourishing smart city I'd like to live in.

My take-aways:
  • IoT is proposed as a way out of China’s disappearing business case: low manufacturing costs are disappearing due to increasing salaries and the currency under pressure adjusting the low peg to US dollar. Ways have to be found to transform industry to go beyond manufacturing and provide more valuable services higher up in the value chain.
  • Still a very centralized view: During the conference it was mentioned several times that building the IoT would allow to collect and share data within China more efficiently. International collaboration was never really mentioned other than learning and adopting from others in order to follow the national agenda.
  • More concerns about information security than privacy: Throughout the discussions I experienced that fear about external forces/attacks is more established than protection privacy. The notion of control is more severe than establishing an environment of diversity and creativity. This contradicts quite a bit with the notion of IoT from Council which sees governments getting more and more challenged by an IoT, where individuals and groups gain more power due to open pools of data knowledge (OpenData).
  • Smart city is the major topic for Iot in China: Smart cities is a major topic in China. As part of the global trend of people moving towards cities, the mega-cities, compact spaces where millions of people live and work, are happening in Asia. Thus, city governments are facing tremendous challenges of providing public infrastructure and services. Information and sensing technologies will become important. Making sense out of this data and connecting all the emerging systems is where IoT comes into play. Finally, construction industries always share close relations to public and governmental funds, thus smart cities fit right into "thinking big".
  • IoT drives economy in China at least until 2012: I met several Chinese funding agencies promoting IoT for industry. However, as a new president is going to be elected in 2012 it's not yet clear whether he will put the same emphasis on IoT as Hu Jintao does today. Thus, organizing our IoT2012 Conference in Shanghai/Wuxi in November 2012 should be the right moment.
[1] Edmund W. Schuster, Stuart J. Allen, and David L. Brock. 2007. Global RFID: The Value of the Epcglobal Network for Supply Chain Management. Springer-Verlag New York, Inc., Secaucus, NJ, USA.

[2] Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, McKinsey Global Institute, May 2011

[3] Katumasa Ihara, Goshi Kojima, Tomonori Kondo, Yuki Sato, Hisakazu Hada, Jin Mitsugi, “Home energy consumption suppression using EPC enabled multi-vendor consumer electronics control”, IEICE Technical Report USN2011-7 (2011-5), pp.29-37

[4] Sungmin Hong, Daeyoung Kim, Minkeun Ha, Sungho Bae, Sangjun Park, Wooyoung Jung, and Jae-eon Kim, "SNAIL: An IP-based Wireless Sensor Network Approach Toward the Internet of Things," IEEE Wireless Communications, 17(6):34-42, Dec. 2010.

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