First places, then people, now things. There’s no stopping the whole world going online – and Sasu Tarkoma, professor of computer science at the University of Helsinki, has no intention of trying.
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is his thing. It’s a real buzzword – the industry is buzzing, startup circles are buzzing, idea incubators are buzzing.
What's all the buzz about?
“Places are connected to the network with cables and satellite connections, and humans connect with smartphones and social media. The next frontier for the Internet are things – and there are a lot of things,” Tarkoma explains.
Just take a look around you. Could the flower pot remind you that the plants need water? Could the ceiling lamp switch off automatically as you leave the room, or could a sensor in your sneakers help you navigate a new path for your run? All of these things are possible in the Internet of Things.
Tarkoma, however, is focusing on bigger things. He is studying smart cities and smart transportation as well as automatic boats, factories and massive logistics chains.
“The number of network connections will increase exponentially. Few people realise that the Internet requires a great deal of work. Engineers and experts are constantly adjusting, optimising and building it.”
The ideas that became true
Sasu Tarkoma has several IoT projects underway. He has met the top experts in his field and has been among the first to access upcoming technologies. That tends to inspire all kinds of new ideas.
Sometimes these ideas become startups or apps with 850,000 users.
The University of Helsinki developed one of the world’s most precise algorithms for transport mode detection on a smartphone...The startup Moprim and Carat mobile app are the results of this process.
“The University of Helsinki developed one of the world’s most precise algorithms for transport mode detection on a smartphone. We were able to do the kinds of things for smart transportation that Google’s API’s or Facebook’s Moves just can’t. The startup Moprim is a result of this process, and it continues to move the innovation forward.”
Another highlight is the Carat mobile app, created in cooperation with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. The application advises users on how to optimise the battery life of their smartphone. The app currently has 85,000 users, and it has helped them improve the battery life of their smartphones by an average of 20%.
”For a service run by a research project, these user figures are pretty unique."
Privacy is a major concern for open science – and one of Sasu Tarkoma’s research topics
“At this very moment, we have two terabytes of mobile data we would like to publish, but unfortunately cannot.”
Tarkoma’s goal is making science open. The research process, data and the repeatability of results – he wants to open every part of research. He believes the entire academic community would benefit if interesting data could be used across discipline boundaries.
He has accrued a respectable amount of data. The 850,000-user Carat app alone could yield enough material to keep several researchers busy.
What are the conditions for opening data?
One important aspect of IoT projects has to do with data protection.
“One important aspect of IoT projects has to do with data protection. Privacy is really central when we process data and make it open. Whenever data is published, we must make sure that individuals cannot be recognised from it.”
The fact that the Internet of Things tracks us and records all kinds of data about our behaviour is both frightening and fascinating.
The way we use up our phone battery or move around in traffic yields identifying information. Even if the open data has the most powerful protection imaginable, the underlying public information can reveal too much about an individual – about you or about me.
Such information must not fall into the wrong hands.
Tarkoma does not just promote open science – he's making it secure.
This is why Tarkoma does not just promote open science – he's making it secure. He is working on a project with Aalto University which seeks to create a machine-learning model for protecting data.
“We’re developing a researchers’ toolkit, with a variety of different data protection methods. They will make it easier to openly publish research data.”
International networks bring New York’s mobility data to Finland
Berkeley, New York University, Cambridge and good contacts with Asia.
The pioneer of the Internet of Things and open science has managed to build extensive international networks.
Connections in New York have given the researcher access to mobility data from the Big Apple. Tarkoma and his team have used big data methods to study New York and its transportation systems.
Cities, Helsinki included, are growing at such a rapid pace that smart transportation is not just fanciful thinking – it is becoming a necessity if the cities are to remain functional.
We can only hope that Tarkoma and his colleagues can find the best solutions to protect the data. For example, open data on how a bus navigates a city could inspire researchers from a variety of disciplines.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, smile. Try to find comfort in the fact that somebody, somewhere, is trying to fix this problem.
That somebody may be Sasu Tarkoma.