Before cities and homes can be smart, researchers first explore how technologies can effectively and almost invisibly bring benefits to people’s lives.
Imagine entering a conference room that already knows you are today’s presenter. Before you reach the front of the room, your laptop is ready to project your slides onto an intelligent whiteboard that will automatically record the event and broadcast it to participants across the globe.
Or what if a greenhouse could know whether its plants are getting the right temperature and light for each kind of plant?
How about living in a home that can call for help if you had a serious accident?
These are things that Vida Ilderem, an engineer and vice president at Intel Labs, who has spent the last five years working on the Internet of Things, has already thought up, and, in some cases, built.
“The idea is for environments to have enough context to anticipate my needs and improve my overall efficiency and productivity,” she said.
Ilderem, who holds degrees in electrical engineering and physics, gets excited and her words speed up when she speaks about machines talking to one another. She talks of ubiquitous access, mobility and latency with passion.
At the National Taiwan University Intel lab that Ilderem helped establish in 2010, researchers are experimenting with an intelligent monitoring system to manage diseases, bugs and viruses in an orchid greenhouse. This could be critical for Taiwan, which is the world’s biggest exporter of orchids.
Ilderem said the team placed sensors in flowerbeds throughout the greenhouse to signal when the orchids needed to be watered and whether the temperature and amount of light the flowers received promoted optimal growth.
That experiment is working well and the technology is now being tested in farms throughout Taiwan, but Ilderem sees a bigger challenge on the horizon.
Today’s wireless networks are designed for human communication and mobility. But with the Internet of Things becoming reality, next-generation wireless networks will need to handle a broader range of data types — the sort generated by stationary smart parking meters, high-speed smart trains and the like. They’ll have to be versatile and energy smart for the hyper-connected internet-of-everything world.
“As we add intelligence of connectivity to things, we need to think about how we are going to support billions of devices sending information on the network at high speeds,” she said.
The more people come to rely on machines communicating with one another, the more costly information latency will become, she said. Just imagine a self-driving car that’s slow to receive a signal from a stopped vehicle in front of it.
Ilderem is currently leading a wireless communications team that’s looking at all kinds of communications, including human to machine and machine to machine.
Her team is currently studying how large amounts of data from multiple devices can be generated and collected, and how it can be kept secure while being shared and then crunched and analyzed.
While her work focuses on connecting the world, Ilderem says technology is about fulfilling curiosities and making the right choices.
“I want to be able to analyze myself and my family in health and wellness or study my moods and know what makes me happy or not,” she said. “But part of me also doesn’t want to be connected 24/7. I think we need to have that choice.”