Professor, AI4Society Director, University of Alberta
It is imperative that Canada develops a national strategy for IoT, in consultation with business, industry, policymakers, and academics. Canada cannot afford to stay behind in this sector, given the pervasiveness of the technology and the economic stakes.
The Internet of Things is the latest evolution of the “web”. In 1969 ARPAnet was born when a message was exchanged between the computers of two research teams at Stanford and at UCLA. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, as a network of HTML pages accessible through the HTTP protocol. These technologies launched a race, among existing bricks-and-mortar companies, to establish a “presence” on the Internet to advertise their products to a broader audience of potential clients. The mid-90s saw an explosion of eCommerce websites, eBay and Amazon being just two notable examples, selling products and services online without a real-world store. The launch of Facebook in 2004 brought about Web2.0, offering every individual on the planet the opportunity to connect with each other. The Internet of Things, first mentioned in 1999 to promote RFID technology, is the natural evolution of this increasingly expanded “connectivity” and promises to seamlessly connect the physical world to the Internet, to enable the “sensing” the natural and built environment, the analysis of the collected data at the edge, where it is first collected and on the cloud where it is eventually aggregated, and the optimization of the activities and systems that impact them.
The Opportunity and The Challenge
IDC predicts that the value of the global IoT market will be 1T by 2022. Solid numbers on how much Canada will contribute to this economic activity are not available but unfortunately, there is some evidence that Canada may be lagging behind other countries in taking advantage of this family of technologies. In 2015, there were 363 million visible devices online with some 84 million recorded in China and 78 million in the US. When computing the number of online devices per 100 inhabitants, Canada does not make the list of the top 10 Countries.
Use Cases for the Canadian Economy
The top five economic sectors in Canada, i.e., Real Estate, Manufacturing, Mining, Construction, and Health, can be substantially amplified by IoT. Modern buildings are equipped with sensors that monitor their indoor environment and building usage; this data can be used to fine-tune the HVAC systems’ parameters to improve comfort and reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs, amplifying the return on real-estate investment. IoT can optimize manufacturing processes through robotic control and automation; the reduction of manual effort and risk can boost productivity and quality. The mining and extraction industries have potentially the most to gain from IoT-enabled innovation: environmental sensing can help to precisely identify mining opportunities, and reduce environmental impacts. Construction projects often suffer from cost overruns that could be avoided if the progress of the work on construction sites was better monitored through cameras and sensors embedded in the machines and materials involved. Finally, health care costs could be reduced, and citizen health could be improved, if the variety of data emitted by the devices worn by consumers was analyzed and considered at the point of care.
It is imperative that Canada develops a national strategy for IoT, in consultation with business, industry, policymakers, and academics. This national strategy should include a framework (and incentives) for public-private partnerships to build the necessary IoT infrastructure and deliver demonstrator projects in all major sectors of the Canadian economy, including the Government itself. Canada cannot afford to stay behind in this sector, given the pervasiveness of the technology and the economic stakes.