"With support from EU and Indian agencies, IIITH launched a Living Lab to collaborate with government bodies, start-ups and big organisations on Smart City solutions"

May 2020 - Dr. Sachin Chaudhari is an Assistant Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology at Hyderabad (IIITH) and a senior IEEE member. He is coordinator of the IIITH's Centre of Excellence on IoT for Smart Cities. His research interests are in the field of signal processing for wireless communication and particularly, in the physical layer aspects of internet of things, 5G, and cognitive radio. Sachin represents IIITH at the Telecommunication Standards Development Society of India (TSDSI).


Q: What is the IIITH?

SC: IIITH is an autonomous university, founded as a not-for-profit public private partnership in 1998, and is the first IIIT in India under this model. In 20 years of its existence, IIITH has risen in stature and is presently ranked one of the best institutes in the country in technical education. The success of IIITH owes in a large part to its flexible operating structure that places emphasis on research centres. Each research centre focuses on niche technological domains in areas such as Signal Processing and Communications, IT in Building Science, VLSI and Embedded System Technologies and, the Computer Systems Group. This arrangement offers chances of greater collaboration across teams of researchers whose collective interests span multiple disciplines. Research centres have a great degree of autonomy in planning and executing their research agenda.

We have developed a substantial in-house research capacity that enables the institute to undertake strategic projects in core and applied areas that require high levels of manpower. This has helped attract research funding from government agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO), and industry bodies such as TCS, IBM, Microsoft, Nvidia, Google, Nokia and others. The institute also maintains active collaborations with leading international universities around the world.

Q: What initiatives has the IIIT launched to address the IOT market?

SC: Each of our research centres has become more active in the IoT domain, expanding capacity within IIITH. We have also collaborated with different European institutions such as Aalto University (Finland), Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet (Norway), and Lulea Technical University (Sweden). This is in addition to broader activities with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and France's Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA), among others.

We have focused our efforts in three areas: institution building, projects, and the student curriculum. In the first of these three areas, IIITH established a Centre of Excellence (CoE) on IoT for Smart Cities with support from the India-EU collaboration project on ICT standardization, TSDSI and ETSI. We conducted several tutorials, hackathons, and workshops on IoT and Smart City topics, including oneM2M and LoRaWAN. The institutional framework helped us to launch a collaboration between LAAS-CNRS as well as INSA (Toulouse, France) and Bordeaux metropole on a Smart City implementation that uses oneM2M standards. We also became members of TSDSI and oneM2M to learn and contribute on IoT standards from the community.

In the second area, project-related initiatives, we received funding for several institute-level projects in the field of IoT for Smart Cities. One such multidisciplinary project "IoT Enabled Smart Cities: Pollution, Health and Governance" aims to understand the effects of different air pollutants on human health. This project involves deploying a dense IoT network for air pollution monitoring in Gachibowli region and collecting health data of traffic personnel and school children. The initial deployment uses our campus and we provide a web-based dashboard at https://spcrc.iiit.ac.in/air/. Once the lockdown is lifted, we plan to deploy 50 more sensors in the Gachibowli region.

One ambitious project, which has been awarded recently by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), is to build India's first living lab in IIITH. This is a collaborative effort with the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC). The objective is to convert IIITH campus into a living lab on the lines of the Amsterdam Arena in the Netherlands which is already a living lab. The IIITH campus would include different IoT verticals related to air pollution, building energy, water quantity and quality, street lighting, etc. There are three main objectives of this living lab:

  • get expertise in IoT for Smart Cities related research and deployment,
  • generate data for research and
  • provide a test bench for IoT based Smart City implementations to start-ups as well as big companies.

Our existing collaborators such as the State and Central Governments, LAAS-CNRS, PWC, Bordeaux Metropole, will continue to help us in this mission. We are open to more collaborators from academics and industry on this project.

Finally, as regards the student curriculum, IIITH already has several courses on IoT and is planning to create few more in different domains in future. They range from an "Introduction to IoT" course to "Embedded Systems Workshop", where focus is on more hands-on approach to solve real-world problems through low-cost deployable solutions. Both these courses also have oneM2M theory and lab sessions along with use of OM2M implementation of LAAS-CNRS to integrate oneM2M in their projects. We are planning to introduce IoT as an elective in cross disciplinary fields such as Building Sciences and Structural Engineering.

Q. Why is the Living Lab so focused on Smart City issues?

SC: In June 2015, the Indian Government launched its "100 Smart Cities Mission" with a focus on making cities efficient, sustainable, and citizen friendly using smart solutions. In order to make cities smart, there is a significant reliance on information and communications technologies (ICT). Examples of such ICT based components include sensor networks, software engines, and network enabled actuators. Design and operation of Smart Cities is extremely complex and requires a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approach for providing ICT solutions.

IIITH's different ICT research centres are relevant to the theme of IoT for Smart Cities. In addition, IIITH also has a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) which supports start-ups in the technology domain. Leveraging the core and domain strengths of IIITH, the living lab focuses on Smart City issues. Our efforts are aided by our international collaborations such as EBTC, PWC, LAAS and Bordeaux, which have a strong Smart City component to them.

Q. Why is standardization important and what led IIIT to focus on oneM2M?

SC: The core infrastructure elements of Smart Cities cover several domains such as traffic, adequate and clean water supply, assured electricity supply, robust IT connectivity, affordable housing, efficient transport, safety of citizens, health, education, etc. For a city to operate smartly, there must be a seamless exchange of data between these different domains so that services can be provided efficiently. For there to be interoperability between different domains, standards such as oneM2M are critical. We got involved in oneM2M activities during our collaboration with LAAS-CNRS and found it apt for our Smart City research activities.

Standardization is extremely necessary for the success and adoption of IoT technology world-wide. For example, one of the main reasons for the success of GSM among different 2G technologies was standardization. This is also true with other cellular generations such as 3G and 4G as well as Wi-Fi. Standardization provides scalability and economies of scale as the whole world becomes a single market. It also helps in avoiding vendor lock-in.

Q. What lessons has IIIT learned from its work and what advice would it offer to other institutions and municipalities?

SC: The work is still actively in progress, so we still have much to learn. However, with some initial efforts and results, we convinced the National Smart Cities Mission and Ministry of IT/Government of India to support a much larger endeavor and extend our Smart Campus work to a full-fledged Smart City Living Lab. This will be a 'live' testing and proving ground for Smart City innovations from research, start-ups, and even large companies.

We have also been able to get Government of Telangana onboard and with an offer to use the city's streetlight poles for installing sensors. The State Government has assured access to other resources as we need them to scale beyond our campus. In parallel, we have been able to also offer our campus plans to standards efforts like oneM2M.

It is little too early to offer advice as the second phase of the smart campus to now expand and setup a Living Lab has just commenced with final funding and approval secured in April 2020. Our experience so far is to start the work with whatever internal resources possible. Engaging with user agencies is key to get an alignment with problems that matter. We had access to PwC's Smart City practice team to get their perspectives and inputs on what problems are worth taking up.

Q. What will IIIT be working on next?

SC: Our immediate focus is to get the Living Lab fully functioning.  With experiences being shared from Amsterdam Arena, we are structuring the Living Lab, the activities, focus themes and processes to link research with the innovation ecosystem and end user agencies.

Over past two years, we held several workshops and hackathons around Smart City solutions. We now plan to scale that through an online MOOC program. We will curate the MOOC around oneM2M standards, platforms, tutorials, case studies, and Living Labs. We hope to engage a much larger base of students and young professionals through this.

A related plan we have is to setup Smart Campus extensions in other engineering institutions in the city, where we will have mini smart campus setup in their premises and work closely with us on projects. Basically, we aim to expand our scope and resources' reach in a structured way.