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The Internet of Things goes to school

News Analysis
Aug 30, 20173 mins
Internet of ThingsSensors

University campuses are a popular proving ground for IoT deployments, ranging from campus lifestyle to classroom environments.

It appears research universities are a great place to test Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. That’s because they often comprise a microcosm of a wide variety of organizational and technical environments.

Gordon Wishon, CIO of Arizona State University, explained the reasoning to Campus Technology this way:

“The enterprise of a large research university has some component of every industry vertical in the larger world around us. We not only support academic and research operations, but also very large business enterprises with retail operations, transportation, healthcare, ticketing, supply chain.” 

IoT isn’t only theoretical

And IoT on campus isn’t just an academic exercise. ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium, for example, uses sensors connected to Wi-Fi and cellular networks to monitor everything from temperature and humidity to leaky faucets and noise levels (think cheering contests). And the school is apparently working on tracking parking availability and concession/restroom wait times and making the information available to mobile phone users. 

“We built the backend infrastructure to support those proofs of concept,” Wishon told Campus Technology. “We have been working with industry partners such as Intel and investing in the infrastructure we think we will need to support the broader deployment of IoT technologies.” 

IoT on campus

Of course, ASU is hardly the only school diving into IoT. Last year University Business described a number of on-campus IoT applications, ranging from campus washing machines texting students when their clothes are ready (something similar is already in use at SUNY Binghampton) to aggregating data from wearable devices to track student traffic patterns in order to plan sidewalk construction. High-value applications could include sports trainers automatically tracking information about student-athletes’ weight and body fat percentage, as well as environmental factors such as air quality to optimize training routines. 

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University Business also notes that Penn State connects and controls some 350 buildings with an automation system the lets school workers remotely monitor and control electricity, lighting, plumbing and HVAC systems. 

IoT in the classroom

Finally, the 2017 NMC Horizons Report for Higher Education (pdf) notes that while “applications of IoT have potential to enhance many aspects of campus life, including safety and efficiency,” the technology also offers opportunities to enhance learning and student welfare.

“By tracking student movement and activity, leaders can take action to facilitate group learning opportunities outside of lecture delivery,” the report notes. And it cites “researchers at the University of Texas Arlington’s LINK Lab [who] are studying how emotions affect learning, using wearables to monitor biological factors that correspond to emotional states. At the University of the Pacific, Kinect sensors in classrooms are tracking students’ skeletal positions to investigate correlations between postures and learner engagement.”

Put it all together, and it’s clear that IoT is finding an accepting home in college and university campuses. That creates opportunities and poses challenges for university IT staffs, who have to deal with still-evolving technologies, uncertainty about the number of devices that will be involved (not to mention their hard-to-predict bandwidth demands), and complex security and privacy concerns.

But what better place to explore the role and benefits of IoT than a university environment full of smart people all trying to learn something new?


Fredric Paul is Editor in Chief for New Relic, Inc., and has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite, InformationWeek, CNET, PCWorld and other publications. His opinions are his own.