Whether it’s managing our homes, monitoring industrial installations or artworks, or collecting data in agriculture, the IoT is going through a phase of constant development. The Internet of Things is one of the areas of expertise of EVA*, an Inria Paris team which deals more broadly with wireless network technology. Thomas Watteyne, an IT researcher and Inria’s coordinator for the F-Interop project, joined the team in 2015, after being awarded a PhD in France in 2008 and spending several years in California, where he developed a number of IoT applications at the University of Berkeley and at a Silicon Valley start-up
Interoperability - the strength of IoT technology
One way in which the reliability of this new technology is ensured is through its interoperability, i.e. the capacity of different brands or objects to respect shared communication protocols, without any errors occurring. “Given the ever increasing number of designers of objects and users, the IoT sector is expanding fast, with an explosion in the range of technological solutions available”, explains Thomas Watteyne.
Ensuring the interoperability of connected objects is therefore crucial for players in this field, who work together to devise standardisation rules for products, particularly within international trade bodies, such as the IETF**.
Three times a year, engineers, researchers and designers from around fifteen or so major industrial groups, start-ups and R&D centres come together to devise good development practices, to carry out compliance and performance tests on new materials, to test solutions or materials and to exchange results.
“These interoperability events, which are held over two consecutive days in the USA, in Europe or in Asia, are vital for the sector, but they are also quite restrictive in that they force participants to adhere to a particularly dense work schedule or require the transport of materials.” As a result, and given issues linked to cost or availability, it is difficult to involve all companies within the sector.
Digitising interoperability events
This was where the idea for the F-Interop*** project came from, a project funded as part of the EU’s H2020 programme. Allocated a budget of 4 million Euros over three years (November 2015 - October 2018), it brought together eleven academic and industrial partners, including Inria, from six different countries: Germany, the UK, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The goal was to develop a collaborative platform that would enable different contributors to participate in interoperability events remotely.
There are a number of benefits to this: it reduces transport costs, events can be held more frequently and you can have more participants. It also enables us to be more flexible and more responsive.
The development team - 12 individuals working full-time over three years - set out with a blank sheet of paper, working on all stages of the project: specification, programming, validation and distribution of the tool, which has since been adopted by multiple international standards organisations.
H2020 – Calls ICT :
Calls for projects for the second pillar of the EU’s H2020 programme. This second pillar reflects one of the EU’s three main priorities: “industrial primacy”. The philosophy of this pillar is to target investment in industrial technology that is key for the competitivity of European companies, to meet societal challenges, to optimise the growth potential of companies and to help innovative European SMEs to become major players. Calls linked to communication and information technology are just one part of this second pillar of H2020. More information can be found here.
Remote, but collaborating from start to finish
Currently hosted on servers at Pierre and Marie Curie University in France and the iMinds research institute in Belgium, the tool can be accessed by the entire IoT community, who are also encouraged to add to it by proposing new protocols or tests. This spirit of collaboration is one of the hallmarks of the F-Interop project, which has also incorporated occasional participants, winners of calls for papers launched by the consortium for the development of specific features of the tool.
Looking back on the project a few months after its conclusion, Thomas Watteyne gives it a glowing report card:
F-Interop, which also led to an association being formed to centralise development of the tool and distribution, made a significant contribution to the simplification of IoT technology.
For Watteyne, taking part in an EU project of this scope was without question a rewarding and fascinating personal experience for all of his partners. “Contrary to preconceptions, many American research projects, of a comparable size to their European counterparts, are carried out exclusively with university contributors".
The greater level of collaboration you see in EU projects is what sets them apart, while also making them more useful, stimulating industrial applications for academic research.
*EVA: Wireless Networking for Evolving & Adaptive Applications
**IETF: The Internet Engineering Task Force is an international standards organisation which devises and promotes standards for the internet.
F-Interop***: Platform for online interoperability and performance test.