Feature Story

The Internet of Everything Goes to School

by Anne Field

Responding to student and faculty interest, more schools are introducing or boosting STEM programs that involve Internet of Everything skills and research.

For students and professors at Columbia University's computer science and engineering programs, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is everywhere. There are many courses in which students learn skills that, as it happens, are needed to create the building blocks of IoE systems. More than 80 students have participated in a major research project involving energy harvesting and related work required to help IoE operate over the long-term; it's just one part of a larger data science institute. And there's a new course focusing on IoE that may debut in the summer or fall. "It's the wave of the future, the new Internet," says Steven Nowick, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Columbia.

Columbia isn't alone. In response to increasing student and faculty interest, more schools are introducing or boosting curriculum and programs focusing at least in part, on skills and research related to IoE. That ranges from courses exclusively covering the area to student engineering and computer science projects that involve IoE technology.


It's the wave of the future, the new Internet. - Steven Nowick/Columbia Professor

On the whole, because the IoE involves multiple areas within engineering and computer science, many schools have been addressing the discipline through the various pieces. That includes, for example, topics essential to the underpinnings of IoE systems, such as embedded systems and very large scale integration (VLSI), the process of creating an integrated circuit by combining many transistors into one chip. And while the classes aren't new, many student projects focus on IoE-related work.

See Also: How Big Data and Mobile Technology Startups Are Changing Education

Soon, however, Columbia plans to launch a new graduate school course offering an overview of the subject. In development now, the curriculum would look at three areas—physical devices, networking and protocols, and software development. Students would finish with a project in one of those categories. "We don't want to treat this superficially," says Zoran Kostic, associate professor of professional practice in electrical engineering at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In some cases, universities include the area as one part of another, related course of study. Take the University of California, Berkeley. It's approaching the field through the lens of data science and Big Data and recently introduced a Master of Information and Data Science degree.  Aimed at working professionals, it teaches the skills needed to organize, analyze and interpret the torrent of disparate information available on everything from social media to mobile devices needed to make critical decisions. IoE sensor networks are perhaps the most significant source of such data.  About four years in the making, the 15-month long program includes a suite of multi-disciplinary courses offered online, although there are week-long sessions at the school.

 An inter-disciplinary approach is the hallmark of a number of relevant programs. At Carnegie Mellon, for example, its new Integrative Design, Arts & Technology  Network (IDeAte), program merges technology and the arts, allowing undergraduate and graduate students in computer science, fine arts, and a number of other fields to work in collaborative teams. One important component is courses in physical computing, in which students have created such experimental projects as a system that, using sensors and mobile devices, allows people to feel the presence of cell phone or wireless network signals. 

With more than 150 faculty members from nine schools within Columbia, the school's inter-disciplinary Data Science Institute, focuses on research by both faculty and students, some of which involves IoE.  A case in point is a project called Energy-Harvesting Active Networked Tags (EnHANTs). It looks at small, flexible, sensor-driven devices that can be powered on their own using, for example, solar energy, and can be attached to objects traditionally not networked, like books, furniture, or toys, thereby providing the infrastructure for tracking anything from misplaced items to determining locations of disaster survivors.

See Also: Internet of Everything: Training Today's Students for Tomorrow's Careers

Take Robert Seth Margolies, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering. For the past four years, he has been working on the algorithms and protocols that allow items to communicate with each other and, ultimately, to a person, through a wireless network. Example: placing stickers on books in a library encoded with such information as the ISBN number and that harvest and store energy from light. They also can communicate with each other over just a few feet and, through a networked chain, eventually tell a librarian if a book is missing. "We're looking at ways to enable this technology," says Margolies. "There are a great many areas to explore and there's a lot of room for development."      


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