Until recently, access to the internet was limited to “proper” computers such as personal computers, laptops, tablets and phones. Now objects of everyday life such as TV sets, watches and cars are connected to the Internet, too. The next hurdle is to embed smart devices deep into our cities, meaning roads, buildings and public transport to integrate them in a new ecosystem of things of the Internet of Things (IoT). In the future, such “things” could form networks of their own and manage our cities efficiently and automatically by controlling traffic or street lighting to save energy.

The sheer number of devices expected to be part of the IoT ecosystem poses two important scientific challenges. The first challenge is energy consumption and bandwidth. This myriad of “things” will require vast amounts of energy to operate and can interfere with cellular and WiFi infrastructure when being sent. The second challenge is efficient data gathering. It will be necessary to gather and communicate vast amounts of information for the IoT. Therefore, new energy efficient platforms need to be explored to manage a variety of sensors and to monitor cities efficiently while maintaining privacy.

The Internet of Things Lab at AMS Institute is tackling these challenges. The IoT Lab Team develops a new communication platform called LuxSenz to overcome the energy and bandwidth challenge, for instance. This platform does not need any cellular, WiFi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLW) infrastructure to communicate data wirelessly and thus will not interfere with existing communication systems. Only sunlight is used for communication. To overcome the data gathering challenge, the team is developing a new sensing platform called CityApps. The concept is similar to a smartphone that runs apps using various sensors in the phone, but adapted for urban environments. In the same way, CityApps is developed for people to use. It runs on a platform with multiple sensors for air pollution, light and GPS that can be embedded into cities. Different urban stakeholders can develop their own CityApps to understand and improve the life of their communities.