IoT for Good: It’s all about Human.

This time, I was fortunate to attend IoT for Good: Connected, Inclusive, Smart Cities”, a HubWeek event.

I have a passion for the three areas below. If you find any of the following resonating with your aspirations, you should have been at this event:

  • community development via social-impact-oriented real-estate projects
  • social impact through data and technology
  • profitable and equitable goods/services

Under the grand theme of developing and designing Internet of Things for good, the event was broken down into demo booths of social-impact-oriented initiatives and TED-style talks of speakers from varying organizations from Verizon, MBTA, Continuum, Supernormal, and our very own, the Lewis Institute of Babson College.

But, in case you weren’t able to make it, I’d like to share what I learned.

  1. Babson College has been maintaining its reputation of #1 in entrepreneurship education for its balance between teaching strategy and skill.

How’s education business related to IoT innovation?

Well, IoT has been a hot topic in the business world during the past decade. It seems that possibilities are endless when it comes to a small beacon — an object with a sensor that collects data — introducing a whole new lifestyle to us. IoT products such as Fitbit, Nest, Alexa have attracted a large customer base because a)their technologies function well and b)they deliver values.

The technological portion of IoT innovation is achieved thanks to the rise of available data and subsequent resources in the STEM fields. The value-add, however, is possible only if the product is born with a philosophy behind.

As as a senior at Babson, I’ve taken courses about a wide array of topics from accounting, software design, game theory to future trends, marketing analytics, cloud/platform market, philosophy or race & racism in the U.S. All of these classes can be categorized into either strategy or skill. Through these classes, I’ve been able to either pick up the very skills I need to make things happen (i.e. accounting, finance, software design, data analytics) OR learn how to come up with a bigger picture. (i.e strategic decision making, Clouds & Platforms & Networks, Future Trends & Entrepreneurial Ventures, etc.) In addition, Babson’s multi-cultural, inclusive and diverse environment helps you base your aspirations on solving social problems.

I believe that such curriculum is very intentional as one needs to be well-equipped on both sides of strategy and skills. Similarly, IoT for good entails a profound understanding of both how technologies work and how they can be utilized to elevate the quality of life. While IoT can bring much convenience to life, it can also cause a lot of troubles without proper context.

2. Scaling up the innovation in IoT entails a marriage between public and private sector.

Just as how Babson approaches entrepreneurship education with its balance in teaching strategy and skills, “IoT for good” comes with collaboration from both private and public sectors in multiple avenues. In many cases, companies need various governmental support including medium for communication, legality, collecting data, so that their technologies can be leveraged the most. On the other hand, municipalities need technologies so that the data can be used for good.

Collaboration between Verizon and City of Boston on “Vision Zero Project” attests how such marriage can amplify IoT for good. According to Mayor Walsh, in the city of Boston,

Unfortunately, an average of two pedestrians are hit by cars every day — people like you and me who are simply trying to get across the street. Almost as many people riding bikes are treated by our EMS and every year thousands of drivers are injured, put in danger, or delayed by collisions with other vehicles.

In order to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes by 2030, the Boston municipalities have implemented a series of initiatives under Vision Zero. Aligned with such vision, Verizon has partnered up with the city of Boston in enabling its technology to prevent accidents. Specifically, Verizon has installed a system of 34 sensors on pole mounts, roadways, and other traffic arm sensors to collect data on how vehicles, bikes, and people interact with each other. By using 12 cameras and 2 LED light poles, Verizon has also been running a pilot to discern any patterns with varying conditions.

Such analysis has accumulated high-quality data that has already led to much less accidents via some changes like flip-flopping bike lanes and parking areas on Beacon Street.

3. The future of IoT must be warm and humane, not cold and dystopian.

On a daily basis, we come across a variety of numbers, graphs, and technological jargon, some of which may bore you out. However, I could easily tune in to the speakers and demos from this event since they provided a profound context behind their innovations.

Despite varying messages given, their core message was on the same page: creating an IoT product/service must be very purposive in delivering social innovation from the very beginning. Albeit counter-intuitive, focusing on a very specific problem that end-users face in their everyday life will not only make a company prosper, but also activate a bigger IoT industry as a whole, compared to making decisions on market analysis.

Although it seems promising that there will be more exciting and impactful innovation in IoT, some may find this new world — wrapped with big buzzwords like big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning — rather daunting and doubtful in its effect. Well, that’s exactly up to us. As students, consumers, and innovators, we must strive to a)become literate in technology & data and b)imagine how such innovation can be used for good, in our own way.

Our lives are already inundated with so much data. And yet, we’re just at the beginning of being able to extract and utilize it for things that matter. We live in an era where we can put proper sensors on the whole planet Earth. Before thinking about how we can do all of that, the question must always remain important from the beginning to the end:

how is this innovation helping us becoming more human?