ASU class shows the future is here

Herberger students explore network connectivity of everyday objects – known as the Internet of Things


Student at keyboard

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If science has its way, your refrigerator will be able to sense if milk is missing and send a signal to your smartphone, which will then remind you to fetch a gallon from the grocery store.

It’s a concept called the Internet of Things, and it’s much closer than you might think.

By 2020, it’s estimated that more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, revolutionizing consumer habits, the way we conduct business and how we chose to connect with the world.

In Tempe, a cutting-edge class dedicated to figuring this all out is drawing to a close. It’s the first section of its kind at ASU and one of only about two dozen across the nation.

It’s so new that “the overreaching goals of a class like this haven’t really come to pass yet,” said Chandler Berry, a 21-year-old, senior informatics major. “It’s a very current and useful class.”

Computer scientist Tejaswi Gowda, who teaches AME 394The class is taught through the School of Arts, Media and Engineering in the Herberger Institute For Design and the Arts Programming the Internet of Things, says the class emphasizes that the future’s already here and there’s nothing to fear.

“Life will be easier and more efficient through automation,” Gowda said. “The positives are many.”

According to Gowda, the Internet of Things was first coined in 2013 and is a $3 trillion market-in-the-making. It basically means everyday objects will have connectivity through wired and wireless connections working mainly on sensors and actuators, becoming a type of information system without human intervention.

The benefits could mean improved medical outcomes; smarter energy consumption; better traffic-flow optimization; fixing problems before they become catastrophes and shopping at the touch of a button.

The trick is, it’s all got to work and hopefully benefit mankind. And that’s where the nine ASU students taking the class come into play. They’ve collectively decided it’s their future, and they get to design it.

Computer science major Akhila Murella, 18, said smartphone tests for pregnancy, infectious diseases and potentially cancer are possible within five years, giving low-income populations and the uninsured access to better health care.

“This could be done through a smartphone rather than go and see a doctor and explain their symptoms or go through a battery of tests,” Murella said. “The smartphone could send all the data to their heath practitioner in real time.”

Anisha Gupta, a 20-year-old computer science major, said she wants to use her skills to help change the world and was inspired by a hackathon team using a network of sensors to notify authorities when bridges in India were close to collapsing.

“Technology can be used for people who have lost hope, especially for those who are older and don’t understand its power,” said Gupta, who is working with classmate Michaela Foote on a Google Open Source project called Paco, which monitors health and nutrition.

There are drawbacks to these advancements in this technology, chiefly security and job replacement. The more reliant we become on technology, the more risk there is for hackers Gowda said.

“Most everything will be connected through the Internet, which means people will try and disrupt your system or steal your data,” Gowda said. “Each device has to be built with security in mind and follow industry standards, best practices and cryptography.”

Automation also has its critics, who worry about skilled labor being replaced in mass numbers. Berry, the informatics major, said the advancements indicate a shifting economy. He also said he sees an upside.

“Yes, those jobs might go away, but new jobs would be created,” he said. “They would be specialized and require more education, but we’re not there yet. We’re still catching up.”

Digital culture major Foote said we are on the cusp of a technological revolution and life as we know it is about to change and improve.

“It’s a very cool world we live in,” Foote said.

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