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Interview: Wired vs. Wireless in the IIoT

Dr. Shipeng Li, CTO of IngDan, talks about IIoT networks, and offers his take on the ideal system.

Dr. Shipeng Li, CTO, Cogobuy Group and IngDan Technology

Dr. Shipeng Li is the CTO of Cogobuy Group and IngDan Technology , which has locations in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Shenzhen, Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Rome, Kyoto, making it the largest “Uber-like” Internet of Things (IoT) innovation platform serving entrepreneurial communities worldwide. A Deputy EiC of IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems for Video Technology and a Fellow of IEEE, Dr. Li is an influential and leading expert on multimedia and the internet, holding 178 U.S. patents and 330 refereed papers.

Dr. Li obtained his Ph. D. in electrical engineering in 1996 from Lehigh Univ., Bethlehem, Pa. He founded IngDan Labs in 2016. Previously, Dr. Li co-founded Microsoft Research Asia in 1999, which soon became recognized as the world’s “hottest” computer lab by MIT Technology Review. Among other positions, he was a partner of Microsoft Corp. and the Research Area manager/Principal Researcher for Microsoft Research before joining Cogobuy/IngDan.

How can sensing and connectivity be integrated into existing network lines?

Assuming existing lines such as phone lines, power lines, coax cable lines, or Ethernet, sensing in the IoT world essentially involves digitizing the analog world, then transmitting the data to other devices or processors through data networks. On the other hand, control essentially changes our world through quantified signals.

There are mature technologies that can convert existing lines into high-speed data networks. Therefore, if a sensing/control device happens to be co-located with a terminal of existing lines, it can easily communicate through the data networks over these existing lines.

However, the network interface devices of existing lines tend to be bulky and expensive. In addition, not every sensing/control device would be most effective at the terminals of existing lines. Therefore, most IoT devices tend to communicate wirelessly, not through existing lines.

What are key factors to figuring out if there is a positive ROI in retrofitting? For instance, high downtimes, supply-and-demand bottlenecks, etc.

The problem with retrofitting is not an economic one, but a technical one. My comments to the previous question partly address this issue. There are solutions, but it’s still a hybrid wireless-to-wired solution. Data terminals over existing lines could have a wireless data hub attached, be it Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Wi-Fi. Only through wireless connectivity to IoT devices could these devices be freely installed at their most effective locations.

Existing lines could serve as the backbones of the data networks. However, once again, since expensive equipment is involved in leveraging existing lines (except Ethernet lines, but existing Ethernet lines are only popular in newer houses), most IoT devices still prefer to use Wi-Fi connectivity to directly hook up with a data network.   

Are PC or PAC systems only necessary when you need to process more data, as in motion control or machine vision?

The power of IoT systems is not simply an aggregation of a bunch of IoT devices. Rather, it is derived from the intelligence amassed through the sharing of data among different devices and the collaboration between them. If we want to enable natural user interactions with the IoT system, we no doubt will deal with constantly big data from visual, speech, audio, and other digital sensors. On the other hand, we could not transmit everything to the cloud to process, or have enough time to process.

For example, if we are using computer vision technology to process human interaction with IoT devices, we need to put at least a significant part of processing on local computers. It saves bandwidth to the cloud, but more importantly, significantly lowers the response time. However, PCs or PACs may not be necessarily the only form factor we could use to process the data; other computing forms may be more convenient or pleasing, such as an Echo-like speaker with sufficient processing power.

Can you provide a detailed list of how to connect an Ethernet to a PC, or achieve wireless cloud connectivity?

Depending on what a user is looking for when setting up a wireless router—just like a router they might have at home—it would be easier to configure a wireless network to achieve cloud connectivity. If a user is connecting to IoT devices, such as some human-machine interface (HMI) to their desktop, and they have wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth or ZigBee, they need to have a Bluetooth or ZigBee to Wi-Fi adapter to bridge the data to an Ethernet or Wi-Fi network. Once data connection is established, it should be easy to achieve wireless cloud connectivity.

What are some of the differences in the IoT around the world?

IoT is a new market with huge growth opportunity worldwide. Almost every country has started efforts to move forward to grab this opportunity. In developed countries such as the U.S., developers tend to focus on only a few high-value products, and customers tend to be more educated on what they think are useful to them. Some of the IoT products tend to be mandated by building codes for energy-efficiency purposes, for example. Data privacy or security carries more weight than other things.

On the other hand, in developing countries such as China, developers tend to rush into already-proven markets. Customers generally pick more cost-effective IoT solutions. Many regulations or codes are not yet in place. As a result, with a lack of commonly agreed-upon standards, we see a much more scattered market with many more varieties of devices. Data privacy and security in China has not yet been seriously addressed, though it is improving over time.   

What are the positive and negatives of these differences?

The pursuit of cost-effective solutions and competition in a few hot areas could lower the price of IoT devices, thus accelerating IoT adoption. But let’s hope there is no security breach before these companies become big enough to have resources to secure possible loopholes in their products. Countries such as China have huge supply-chain support compared with the U.S., therefore it will help Chinese entrepreneurs to quickly iterate on their product to adapt to customer needs and market trends. IngDan is helping entrepreneurs of other countries take advantage of this huge supply chain in China as well, by providing an internet platform to bridge the supply and demand of the IoT industry worldwide.

What would you say is the ideal system, and why? What are the key factors of this system?

The ideal system in my eyes would have the following elements:

Data from different IoT devices, even from different manufacturers, could be shared by the whole system and each other’s devices. There are five levels of connectivity that needs to be addressed

1. Physical connectivity: Make sure that devices can communicate with each other.

2. Data connectivity: Data with a compatible format that can be shared with security and confidence.

3. HMI connectivity: HMI can be shared among devices.

4. Knowledge connectivity: Knowledge about the user and his/her environment could be shared.

5. Service connectivity: Service control and device status can be shared.

Control of data should be put in the user’s hands—the user owns the data—as should control of who/what device can access/use his/her data for how long in what services, etc.

Above all, the system should fuse the data, HMI, knowledge, and services provided by each IoT device, be it a sensing device or controlling device. The ultimate artificial intelligence (AI) that understands the user and help his/her life is only possible with the data fusion from all devices. An ideal system should be able to provide all levels of AI from notification to perception, to cognition, to prediction, to decision from these fused data and services.  

Physical connectivity is just one small first step to fully explore the potential of an IoT system. Therefore, instead of calling the ideal system as IoT, I would prefer to call it SoT (Society of Things), where devices can interact with each other at different levels and behave like a social society.

What else do you think adds value to an IoT sensing and controls network?

Protocols and standards are key to the success of IoT systems. Regulations are also necessary to enable ultimate data and privacy protection, and security. When thinking of building an IoT device, we need to think how this device could fit in such an IoT system. Randomly building incompatible hardware will only lead to failure.

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