F-Interop Open Call: Lessons learnt

As more devices, networks and platforms come to market, their lack of interoperability has emerged as an obstacle to achieving true IoT benefits. Michele Nati, Lead Technologist on Personal Data and Trust at Digital Catapult explains how the F-Interop programme is attracting SMEs, keen to showcase ideas that will help to resolve this issue.

Whilst walking through his corn field in the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice uttering these poignant words, “If you build it, they will come.” The thought process behind those words being, if you put enough thought and energy into a project, you increase the likelihood of success.

Creating success in the Internet of Things (IoT) interoperability arena will be dependent on adopting a two-pronged approach. Firstly, build online tools and services to reduce the barriers for SMEs wishing to develop, test and certify interoperability of their (IoT) solutions. And secondly, leverage SMEs expertise in building just such a platform. A hand and glove approach if you like.

To facilitate and support the first part of that reciprocal approach, the EU H2020 F-Interop project was set up. A European initiative, this three-year project is designed to research, develop and support online tests for emerging standards and technologies of the Internet of Things in order to create a workable platform and realise the end goal of boosting IoT interoperability. The predominance of benefactors being SMEs.

Getting it straight from the horse’s mouth

It stands to reason that in order to ensure that the platform became both workable and easily accessible to SMEs, F-Interop needed to enlist the help of a variety of these organisations. To tap into their expertise, F-Interop organised an Open Call. This initiative, facilitated by Digital Catapult, was designed to apportion up to 100K EUR budget to SMEs developing interoperability tools.

After 6 months of widespread publicity designed to find the right companies with relevant expertise for the task at hand, the F-Interop open call closed earlier this year on January 25th. Once the deadline had passed, Digital Catapult received a very satisfying 24 unique proposals eligible for evaluation, spread across four distinct categories. Category A – New tools (15), Category B – New tests (5), Category C – Platform evaluation and report (3), Category D – Plugfest events (1). Proposals included applicants from 13 European countries, with Greece, UK and France leading the way. 

The secret behind why certain SME proposals were successful

Worth noticing was that applicants who actively engaged with Digital Catapult and related F-Interop initiatives (meet-ups, webinars, open call brief) during the preparation of their proposals, were successful in receiving funding. In fact, the success rate of groups that engaged with us more than doubled when compared with those who chose to engage less or not at all (42% versus 20%). In total, 70% of the successful proposals showed at least an interaction with Digital Catapult.

Among others, the submitted proposals covered different technical ideas, spanning across the development of:

  • HW and SW tools to measure energy consumption of IoT devices against specific implementation of interoperable protocols;
  • Tools and tests for remote interoperability of 6LoWPAN, RPL, 6TiSCH, MQTT, LWM2M, OneM2M, LoRA communication protocols,
  • Tools for testing conformance of standards for secure access to IoT devices (e.g. IETF ACE, 6TiSCH Join);
  • Integration with semantic interoperability validators for OneM2M and Web of Things ontologies;
  • And integration of tools to measure trustworthiness of IoT devices and to classify privacy level of information exchanged between IoT devices.

Opening up further opportunities for a new pool of SMEs

After the first F-Interop open call it did not go unnoticed that only three Category A and three Category B proposals, and one Category D proposal was awarded funding. Hence it has been decided that funding of around 10K EUR will be made available for additional projects.

We will award a new pool of SMEs with a second open call when the F-Interop platform will be more mature, so it will be easier to understand the functionality to test and the community to involve in plugfest. The selection process will be very lightweight and we will favour SMEs active in IoT standardisation efforts. So, stay tuned, take the best of the lessons learned from successful proposals, take advantage of the dissemination events Digital Catapult will arrange, and apply for a new opportunity to get involved with F-Interop.

Lessons learned as to why proposals were not successful, despite many displaying good technical ideas are worth noting. Some proposals were too academic and lacked the tangible solutions that would solve real world IoT interoperability challenges. Others fell short of displaying active involvement of participants in standardization and open source communities. And alarmingly, there were some that exposed the risk of being able to successfully complete the proposed work, augmented by a lack of basic understanding of possible integration aspects and challenges.

To the winners go the spoils

Congratulations must go to those SMEs whose applications were successful and who are now able to draw on valuable funding to help them build their platforms that will ultimately be used to tear down the barriers and pave the way for other SMEs to develop, test and certify interoperability of their Internet of Things.

Michele Nati

@Michelenati

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