IoT Forum guests walk past poster presentations Image by Ed Brennen
IoT Forum guests walk past posters of MassTech Collaborative-funded projects after breakout sessions at the Pulichino Tong Business Center.

By Ed Brennen

John Santagate, a 2006 Manning School of Business alum who now works as a research director at International Data Corporation (IDC), has a “smart” washing machine at home that he can connect to Wi-Fi and control with an app on his phone. While the machine does a fine job cleaning his laundry, he has yet to take advantage of its high-tech capabilities.

“I guess it can tell me what size my laundry load is, which is fascinating,” said Santagate, drawing laughs from the audience of 60 academic, government and industry leaders and researchers who were on campus recently for a forum called “The Internet of Things: Enabling Technologies & Emerging Trends.”

Santagate, a keynote speaker, used his washing machine as an example of the growing list of everyday items – from Fitbits, Amazon Echos and Nest Thermostats to light bulbs, refrigerators and cars – that are becoming connected through the Internet of Things, or IoT. He said it’s estimated that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices around the world by 2020, providing an ever-growing treasure trove of real-time data for the companies that make them.

Panelists speak at the IoT Forum Image by Ed Brennen
Panelist Mark Boden, director of material science at Boston Scientific, is framed by a video camera while Jeffrey Schwefler, head of network technology and security at MITRE Corporation, looks on during their discussion of IoT trends.

“It creates capacity for individual-level insights at the corporate level,” said Santagate, who has worked at IDC, a tech-focused global market research group headquartered in Framingham, for three years. He noted that IoT allows companies to monitor wear and tear on their products to improve future generations or forecast the need for replacement parts. “That’s tremendously valuable information for the manufacturer.”

Featuring a keynote address by Shiv Vitaladevuni, senior manager of machine learning in Amazon Alexa Speech, and panelists from Verizon, Boston Scientific and Oracle, the forum examined the technology and business needs that will advance IoT in the coming years. The event featured breakout sessions on sensors, electronics integration, data mining and advanced materials and manufacturing processes, and also explored opportunities for collaboration and funding.

“IoT is infiltrating all of our lives,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen, whose office co-hosted the event with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public agency that supports the state’s innovation economy. “It’s important for us to understand how what we do here at the university, such as data analytics, flexible electronics and health monitoring, can intersect with that.”

Arlene Parquette, executive director of the Office of Strategic Alliances and Industry Partnerships, moderated the forum and led attendees on tours of the Printed Electronics Research Collaborative (PERC) and the Nanomanufacturing Center – two of the university’s IoT-related research centers that receive funding from the MassTech Collaborative.

Shiv Vitaladevuni of Amazon speaks at the forum Image by Ed Brennen
Shiv Vitaladevuni, senior machine learning manager of Amazon Alexa Speech, discusses the machine learning algorithms used to develop Alexa's wake word.

“This allows us to not only demonstrate the resources that are available here, but also highlight the value of these collaborations,” said Parquette, who also took guests through the Pulichino Tong Business Center.

Katie Stebbins, vice president of economic development for the UMass President’s Office, said the forum was an opportunity to showcase the university system’s role in the state’s research and development agenda.

“As the largest public research institution in the state, it’s important for us to show that we’re a cornerstone both in the current and future economy,” said Stebbins, who was pleased that the event drew faculty researchers from institutions across the region, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Northeastern University, Tufts University and UMass Amherst.

For Jessica Valenti, manager of facilities information systems for Facilities Management, the forum was an opportunity to learn how emerging IoT technologies can help the university operate more efficiently – from occupancy sensors in buildings for heating, cooling and lighting to traffic monitoring for improved transportation networks.

Craig Armiento speaks during a breakout panel session Image by Ed Brennen
Craig Armiento, director of the university's Printed Electronics Research Collaborative, makes a point during a breakout session on electronics integration.

“My goal is to look more strategically at the concept of a ‘smart city’ and dialing it down to the university level, which operates as a tiny city,” said Valenti, who was particularly interested in hearing about the work of panelist Jose Escobar. He leads Verizon’s “Smart Communities” initiative, which leverages IoT technology to help cities, universities and businesses address infrastructure, transportation and public safety issues.

Valenti said her office uses time-lapse photography to understand the flow of pedestrians and traffic around campus, but “we would like to take that next step with the data and be able to analyze it so we can utilize our space most effectively.”

Santagate, who graduated from the Manning School with a degree in business administration and concentrations in finance and management, said corporations that are able to analyze and act on relevant IoT-generated data stand to gain a combined $400 billion in productivity benefits worldwide by 2020.

He added that the explosion of IoT-connected devices is leading to a data gap – with the constant stream of information outpacing society’s ability to process and understand it all.

“This is a big topic across universities – delivering that next generation of talent that can help solve this problem,” said Santagate, who serves on the advisory board for the Manning School’s Master of Science in Business Analytics program. “It’s good to see that UMass Lowell is focusing on it and also helping to cultivate that innovative thinking with the student body. That’s what the market needs: Students who are prepared to go out and be disruptive.”