IoT interoperability: challenges and opportunities

Michele Nati

Michele Nati is Lead Technologist on Personal Data and Trust at Digital Catapult

Michele Nati, Lead Technologist on Personal Data and Trust at Digital Catapult, talks* about the challenges and opportunities facing IoT interoperability, and how our F-interop project can provide solutions.

The IoT is promising us a hyper connected world, where every object of our daily lives (e.g., watch, fridge, car) will have the capability to sense and feel their surrounding environment, transmit information to the cloud and support us with feedback or an action, as result of complex artificial intelligence processes.

If we think about IoT as a body, and the artificial intelligence as the brain of a world full of smart objects designed to make our lives better, it is clear how this body can work better as more parties are able to talk and work together. To achieve this, different IoT systems need to be integrated.

Doing this requires identifying the right business model and the proper governance framework, to help data movement across systems and identify liability in case of issues.

However, at a technical level, interoperability still represents a significant barrier. Up to 60% of the value that IoT systems might unveil is currently locked by a lack of interoperability.

Up to 60% of IoT value is currently locked by a lack of interoperability

Up to 60% of IoT value is currently locked by a lack of interoperability

As many different systems become integrated, IoT faces various interoperability challenges before being able to create real cross-domain services with seamless movement of devices and data.

At least three different levels of required interoperability emerge:

  • Devices/Connectivity: where the basic ‘sensing’ of information fuelling the IoT services is produced and transmitted to the cloud. While vendors start to converge towards using a limited numbers of standardised protocols (for example, 6LoWPAN, CoAP, 6TiSCH), interoperability is still low due to the variety of implementations and devices.
  • Platforms/Data: where the information in the cloud is collected to make decisions and generate feedback and actions for a particular scope. However, problems can arise when such information needs to be combined with additional information, for different needs. For example, when trying to combine and complement data collected by different wearables.
  • Services: this is the level where a service using a particular IoT device and the generated information might be re-used in combination with different devices. An example of this is represented by the possibility to use the very same application to control my house smart lighting system (for example, using Philips HUE) and my friend’s similar system, (using LIFX) assuming I have authorisation to do so. However, the lack of stable implementations and variety of devices still undermines the promised interoperability.
F-interop is a three year European Horizon 2020 project

F-interop is a three year European Horizon 2020 project

It is clear that while interoperability is a problem for IoT, solutions and standards are emerging to solve these different levels of interoperability.

However, testing their effectiveness and correct implementation is still a challenge, augmented by the huge variety of devices, data services and communities emerging in the IoT ecosystem.

Boosting IoT Interoperability

A standard solution for IoT interoperability could result in many implementations, but its effectiveness needs to be verified and certified. Current practices for interoperability testing requires different vendors, developers and service providers to participate to physical events (so called plugfests, where each participant brings his/her own implementation to plug and test against existing ones). Such events require a lot of coordination, synchronisation, and an exchange of protected information for several days’ work.

F-Interop aims to mitigate this problem. F-interop is a three-year European Horizon 2020 research and innovation project that lowers these barriers by researching and developing online interoperability and performance remote testing tools for vendors and developers. These remote tools can support SMEs to test compliance of their implementation to a given ‘golden’ implementation/specification (conformance tests), as well as interoperability with other parties’ implementations (interoperability tests).

F-interop’s remote tools can help SMEs implement conformance and interoperability tests

F-interop’s tools can help SMEs implement conformance and interoperability tests

It reduces the hassle related to physical plug test events, encouraging small businesses to develop standardised, re-usable and interoperable solutions, potentially generating more value.

In addition, F-interop is developing an online certification and labelling mechanism in order to accelerate market adoption of the solutions tested.

F-interop is now organising competitions to partner with external businesses (with funding ranging from €10,000 to €100,000) to extend the core platform with new tools and to exploit the current open nature of the designed architecture and APIs.

We are currently planning dissemination and community engagement activities to promote the project’s aims, engage with third parties interested in applying for funding and to raise awareness of the possible tools the platform can benefit from. Our timeline is provided below.

Make sure you get involved in our F-interop project

Make sure you get involved in our F-interop project

We’re hosting a meetup on 18 July at the Digital Catapult Centre in London to present news on the F-interop project and to collect feedback from engaged communities.

If you are involved with one of the following communities (BLE, OMA LWM2M, 6TiSCH, CoAP/6LowPAN/RPL, IPv6 ready, Low Power Wide Area Network, Web of Things, Hypercat, COEL, 5G IoT) or new emerging ones (for example, Internet of Underwater Things) in the IoT ecosystem, you can engage with our F-interop project by registering here for our meetup.

*Michele’s blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Michele Nati is Lead Technologist on Personal Data and Trust at Digital Catapult. You can follow him on Twitter at @michelenati and F-interop @finterop. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult.

To find out more and sign up to our F-interop Meetup, click here.

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