Internet of Things Pilot Stars University Electric Cars

Connected cars that make you smile will help university researchers discover real applications for the Internet of Things.

by / April 3, 2014

University researchers have the opportunity to test drive an electric car pilot on their campuses as they look for real world applications for the Internet of Things.

Electric car manufacturer Innova Inc. and the nonprofit higher education consortium Internet2 are teaming up this year to bring connected cars to four U.S. campuses. These tiny cars are filled to the roof with social, mobile and network capabilities. And they just make you smile, said Shel Waggener, senior vice president of Internet2.

"The thing about higher education is it's never boring," he said. "Sometimes it's just a lot of fun."

The Internet of Things is fundamentally about how devices talk to each other, Waggener said. It's been hyped up with good reason because it has so much potential. But pragmatically speaking, universities need more devices in order to explore that potential. He hopes to see more connected devices in the near future, but for now, this pilot will allow universities to discover real use cases for connected cars. 

While the higher education community doesn't know what those use cases are right now, Waggener threw out some possibilities. For people with limited mobility due to injury or surgery, the cars could transport them between buildings. Universities could also instantly provide visiting faculty members access to the connected car and pre-loaded campus maps through eduroam, a roaming access service for education. 

"The whole point is to let people explore and experiment in new modes," Waggener said. "I think it's pretty clear that as more and more devices are connected to the networks, you can start having more and more devices talk to each other and make things easier for people."

Universities will immediately benefit from these cars because they will have access to sustainable vehicles that make a lower impact on the carbon footprint. The computers on wheels collect plenty of data that universities can use in their research on sustainability, urban planning and transportation, Waggener said. In the meantime, the company will be able to see how universities would use the vehicles on campus. 

The four campuses that participate in the pilot will decide who actually uses the cars, and pre-approved drivers can unlock them with their phones, which will allow the cars to recognize them. They'll automatically be connected to campus networks too. 

Here's how the pilot program works. Universities have until May 23 to apply for one of the four slots in the pilot. But they must be able to describe their campus carbon reduction plan and ongoing sustainability research projects that are being funded. And they also have to describe how they will collect data with the cars, what sustainability projects they will use the data for and how well they've done in the past on multi-campus research projects.

After filling out an application with Internet2, four campuses will be chosen to participate in the pilot. Innova Inc. will provide each campus with four cars that the company owns and insures, and campuses will be able to use them for a year. The data they collect and the research they complete will be shared openly with all universities so they can learn with them. After the year is over, the universities and the company will figure out what to do with the cars.

In the meantime, campuses will be competing against each other to see who can reduce their carbon footprint the most by using the cars, and who can find interesting use cases for them.

Waggener expects to see more partnerships between companies with innovative ideas — especially with the Internet of Things — and universities that can test how data collection will work with different devices.

"It takes it out of the lab and puts it into the hands of the students in a way that I just think is very exciting," Waggener said. "That's exactly what we're here for."

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor, CDE

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.

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