Universities Are Primed to Capitalize on the IoT’s Transformative Potential

As colleges strive to attract the best students, they must provide an autonomous experience that is intuitive, personalized and connected; the Internet of Things can help.
Published: November 3, 2019

Usually, the imagery evoked by the Internet of Things (IoT) is of an industrial setting with several connected devices exchanging intricate insights to streamline complex manufacturing processes. Or one might imagine the future of personal transport undergoing a paradigm shift in which, thanks to the IoT, smart connected cars can provide a seamless and heightened experience with minimal human intervention.

However, the IoT has a variety of possible use cases, and one of the more compelling examples is taking shape at universities and campuses across the globe. As colleges begin to dedicate sizable investments to differentiating themselves in order to attract the best students, it has become imperative for them to provide an autonomous experience that is at once intuitive, personalized and connected.

As the vision of smart cities, smart factories and smart cars begins to take shape, leading universities are placing the same impetus on smart campuses. In fact, Stanford University, Curtin University, Arizona State University and the University of San Francisco are just a few examples of colleges that have made significant strides in their IoT journeys.

A Smart Campus Starts With Smart Buildings
There are several applications of the IoT within a typical university campus, but one of the more compelling is making buildings smart to optimize energy consumption and reduce operational expenses. On a busy day, a classroom or lecture hall could contain up to 300 students at a time. Imagine the amount of productive learning time that is lost due to suboptimal classroom conditions or functional equipment not working correctly. Furthermore, it is imperative to track the consumption of electricity and water on large campuses to mitigate carless use and contribute toward energy and cost savings.

An IoT platform, for instance, can collect data about temperature, humidity and air quality in order to proactively provide for a more comfortable classroom environment. It can also control projectors, HVAC systems, curtains and blinds in a building to ensure things are working seamlessly in the background. Lastly, from an energy-consumption perspective, it can identify the intensity of lighting required in a facility based on the number of people present and the nature of tasks being carried out.

Making Campuses Secure With the IoT
Even with surveillance cameras and other technology elements in place, it becomes difficult to regulate the inflow and outflow of people. Often, it is difficult for these systems to differentiate between students and external visitors, which necessitates the involvement of “boots on the ground” supervisors and placing trust in students to not facilitate external access.

An IoT platform can build in an integrated entrance-management system that can provide facial recognition-based access control to various parts of the campus. Facial recognition and advanced video analytics can be used to provide better surveillance, detect unattended bags, prevent intrusion into restricted areas and identify abnormal sounds, among many other things.

For instance, the University of San Francisco has instituted a Cisco-driven IoT-enabled solution that helps in facilitating ease of surveillance through advanced analytics and facial recognition. The university is spread over a 52-acrre campus containing 10,000 students, of which 3,500 live on campus. Managing such a large pool of students can be a challenge, especially as human behavior can allow for vulnerabilities to creep into a well-designed security system. For instance, students can leave doors open in the residential halls, allowing for unauthorized access. Tail-gating or door-surfing also continue to remain challenges, especially when there is a large group of people entering a building.

An IoT platform that is open, scalable and interoperable with different systems can help in addressing these challenges and controlling security breaches. The University of San Francisco has worked with Cisco to put in place an intelligent facial-recognition system that can aid in effectively tracking multiple human faces in an uncontrolled environment across non-overlapping cameras. This is known as facial recognition in a crowd, which enables comparisons against a comprehensive student database to determine who is not authorized to be there. Such an interoperable IoT solution allows the university to push out rich data into the field, to command centers and to anyone else who is using a tablet or a smartphone and needs to be informed about unauthorized access or entry.

Facilitating Autonomy for Intuitive Student Experience
As students seek to learn and thrive at a university, it is imperative for them to do so in an environment that encourages them to be free and unencumbered. With most colleges spanning several acres, adjusting to campus life for a freshman can be quite overwhelming.

An IoT-powered indoor navigation system can help students map their paths to dorms, student centers, hospitals and libraries, in order to make life a tad easier for them. In addition, the ubiquity of smartphones and watches provides several possibilities for universities to integrate such devices into the ecosystem to provide their students with rich and contextual data about upcoming lectures, student performance, health statistics or lunch options available at the cafeteria.

IoT Enables Universities to Tap Into Their Reservoir of Data
There is an ocean of data available at each university, and it can be the key to unlocking highly personalized learning experiences for students. With the ubiquity of connected devices spread across a campus, there has been a significant increase in the volume of data-driven insights that can contribute toward improving decision making and student performance.

The University of Southern California has already made strides in this direction by using an IoT network of devices and sensors to assess the cognitive engagement and emotions of its students. The data extracted would be married with more traditional assessments to enable timely interventions by teachers, who would now know exactly what kind of help their students need, and when.

Connecting the Dots Across the IoT Ecosystem
As with any technology that is poised to be a game-changer, the successful adoption of the IoT is dependent upon connecting the right dots across smart devices and gateways, IoT platforms, reporting dashboards and business layers. A university that is looking to get started on its IoT journey would do well to collaborate with an experienced technology services partner that has a strong IoT focus coupled with a nuanced understanding of the world of education.

Viswanath Subramaniam is the director and enterprise domain head at Happiest Minds. Vish, as he is popularly known, is the company’s EduTech domain head and is closely invested in the education space. Having worked in the education industry, Vish has a deep understanding of how institutions are looking to use technology as a key enabler in facilitating better learning experiences. At Happiest Minds, Vish works with some of the largest e-learning and publishing companies across the world to help them leverage the latest technologies in creating better learning experiences.