Turning off a hair straightener from your cinema seat; counting your steps and converting the data to dietary advice; a refrigerator that writes your weekly shopping list – the benefits of smart homes connected by the Internet of Things (IoT) are already being advertised. Beyond everyday household tasks, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is set to transform manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and energy grids.
But while the consumer IoT may function using existing wireless and fixed networks, industry and critical infrastructure IIoT applications need high standards of reliability, latency and security. (Latency refers to the total delay for transfer of data following an instruction for its transfer.)
“Emerging smart environments and infrastructure could solve major problems facing the world today, by saving energy, reducing pollution, improving health and increasing road safety,” says Professor Branka Vucetic, Director of the Centre for IoT and Telecommunications at the University of Sydney.
“However, engineers are currently unable to build the wireless networks with almost zero latency and the ultra-high reliability needed for machine-to-machine communications.”
This is where Professor Vucetic and her team of 60, including postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, are focussing their expertise.
What will these ultra-reliable low latency networks mean for us as the customer?
Imagine a city-based surgeon operating via robotic tools on a patient in a remote location. The networks connecting the surgeon to the robot will be able to process very high volumes of data without discernable delay (latency) so that the surgeon senses the response of the tissue.
Governments will be able to avoid large-scale power outages in the energy grids by automatically identifying faults and their location in the grid before they spread over large distances.
Automated cars will be able to talk to other vehicles, roadside infrastructure, transport management systems (like traffic signals) and personal mobile devices to keep the driver safe, and alert them of traffic changes. Trucks and self-driving cars would be able to platoon – automatically setting and maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles while decreasing traffic congestion.
The IIoT is currently in its infancy but to date Professor Vucetic’s team has been involved in exciting pilot projects and research test-beds for trialling new technologies in multiple sectors.
Born and raised in the Serbian capital Belgrade, the daughter of a school teacher and a shop assistant, Professor Vucetic has been inspired to be at the forefront of wireless technology development since 1986 when she first joined the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and IT. Since then she has received accolades for her work in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – one being an Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellowship, which recognises the best research in Australia.
In receiving the Chinese Government’s Friendship Award in 2014, Professor Vucetic was praised by China's Vice-Premier Ma Kai for her sustained co-operation with Chinese tertiary institutions and her contribution to furthering science and education.
Our next research goal is to develop a fundamental framework and use it to design a new universal communication network that can support reliably and securely a whole range of emerging IIoT applications, instead of building specialised networks for each of them.