Tomorrow’s engineers need to learn IoT
Future engineering careers will depend on present education in cyber-physical systems and IoT integration.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the jobs landscape. The interconnection of physical “things” is due to the increasing integration of “cyber” with hard technology. More and more sensors and intelligent controllers are being embedded into objects that are being increasingly integrated with our clothing or worn on our bodies. They gather data and communicate with artificial intelligence.
Far from being novelties, IoT applications involving cars, fitness wearables, appliances and industrial machines are now mainstream. The Internet is ubiquitous and we treat it just as we treat electricity. Agnostic to the energy source that created it, we expect immediate access to electricity. We plug our devices into sockets and assume that they will function instantaneously.
Our activity and heartbeat are monitored using sensors and apps. We don’t often get directions from static paper maps. Instead, we use GPS apps, which also provide real time traffic and congestion information. As news is freshly unveiled, we access it on the web and then connect immediately with others over social media to discuss its significance.
In the workplace, we collaborate over the “cloud” to generate and share documents. Our work and careers advance as we find internships, jobs and other opportunities online. We submit our resumes electronically through email or cloud-based drop boxes.
To do all this, we use our interconnected wearables, smartphones, tablets and computers. Estimates suggest that there will be more than twenty billion IoT connected devices by 2020 and at least triple that number by 2025. These interconnected devices will bring jobs in telecommunications, networking, industrial machines, infrastructure, enterprise system, cloud computing, fintech, urban planning, therapeutics, health services and much more.
The changes that are being induced in the global economy require that organizations of all kinds improve digital access, connectivity and productivity. This digital focus will reduce technological and economic barriers, promote innovation, increase prosperity and, ultimately, enhance the quality of life for all of us.
The worldwide IoT market is predicted to be $14.4 trillion by 2022. The Canadian IoT market alone is expected to be worth more than $6.5 billion by the end of next year. Hence, to meet this significant demand, there is an urgent need for the problem-solving expertise of smart systems engineers who have the sophisticated and up-to-date training, skills and knowledge that are immediately required.
A sampling of IoT jobs posted by Honeywell, Rogers, Microsoft, Siemens, ecobee (co-op), Huawei and Schneider Electric reveal the market’s need for these skills. Similarly, civil engineering jobs now involve mobile applications for smart structures, IoT in construction and corrosion detection in concrete structures and real-time wireless sensing of the properties of concrete.
The lucrative jobs of the future demand that all engineers know about cyber-physical technologies. However, many students graduate without touching IoT teaching and learning tools like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
A Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer that can not only be used in electronics projects, but used for managing spreadsheets, word processing, browsing the internet and playing games. Likewise, an Arduino board reads inputs – light on a sensor, finger on a button, or Twitter message – and turns these into outputs – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online.
Integrating these nifty IoT tools into a project-based engineering curriculum is much simpler than rocket science. There are free teaching and learning resources available for both Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
On Amazon.ca, a Raspberry Pi Kit for Dummies costs about $120, which is roughly the same price as for an Arduino Starter Kit. For those wishing to begin early, there’s Carrie Anne Philbin’s book for children, Adventures in Raspberry Pi.
Engineering students in Canada are likely learning about IoT both within the classroom or outside of it. Graduate engineering student are learning about information security and privacy for smart systems. They may have discussed IoT with their professors who are building a smart home to enable the elderly to live longer with independence and dignity.
My advice to all students, at McMaster and beyond: If you don’t learn about cyber-physical and IoT integration in the classroom make sure that you get it outside the curriculum. Your future career could depend upon this.
Ishwar Puri is the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University.