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As Smart Projects Take Shape, Officials See Cleveland’s IoT Collaborative as a Regional Boon

With recently awarded grant funds in hand, the IoT Collaborative is taking aim at making the region smarter and more responsive with the help of two uniquely situated universities.

The Cleveland region is set to explore Internet of Things (IoT) technology with help from two area universities.

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University have joined forces with the IoT Collaborative to focus on the researching and testing of IoT devices and projects related to smart city, health care, energy and other areas. The collaborative is funded, in part, with a $1.75 million grant from the Cleveland Foundation awarded in late January.

“We really found it as a way for economic improvement,” said Leon Wilson, chief of digital innovation and CIO with the Cleveland Foundation. “And also, bringing a lot more brain talent into the region. But equally important, is where they were focusing their energy in: manufacturing, energy, health care.”

About three or four years ago, the electrical engineering department at Case Western Reserve University saw the ability to overlap IoT and data and analytics at the boundaries of the different disciplines, and set out to begin exploring how these could come together in a new area of study, said Ken Loparo, chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department at the university.

“As a result of thinking about, ‘What are the emerging challenges and opportunities that we face in a number of application sectors like manufacturing, energy, health care, critical infrastructure, and cities and communities?’ it became obvious that the whole idea of the Internet of Things and the deployment of sensors that are communication enabled, that are interacting with the physical world … that led us to create something that we call ISSACS (Institute for Smart Secure and Connected Systems), and it’s all about sort of the Industrial Internet of Things,” he explained.

When Loparo uses the term “Industrial,” he’s not referring to consumer products of even manufacturing, but the widescale deployment of smart technology across an area such as a neighborhood or city.

“We’re really talking about the ecosystem that would evolve around connected devices in what we call a cyberphysical world ...,” said Laparo. “You’re sucking data from that physical world, doing something with that data.”

Organizers of ISSACS knew they wanted the research to reach well beyond the halls of the electrical engineering department at Case Western. So they reached out to numerous other departments — arts and sciences, law, business, engineering, social sciences and others — to bring multiple disciplines and perspectives under an initiative to study IoT and smart technologies.

ISSACS then began exploring funding sources and opportunities, which is what brought the team to the Cleveland Foundation.

“They were extremely excited and supportive,” said Laparo. “They were looking at developing sort of their own digital strategy for Cleveland; but they wanted us to think outside of just CWRU, and to think of things as the city of Cleveland and northeast Ohio as a region.”

The Cleveland Foundation encouraged a collaboration with nearby Cleveland State University (CSU), which has a privacy and cybersecurity center in its law school and focuses on the legal and regulatory aspects of data privacy and security. CSU also includes a college of urban studies, which often works with various cities and communities.

“So we partnered with Cleveland State and formed an academic partnership,” said Laparo.

The IoT Collaborative was born.

The partnership among university, private and public sectors has the potential to grow the Cleveland region as a place for research and development, officials explain.

Exploring IoT-related research in say, health care, opens up opportunities to expand bio-medical and other related industries in the Cleveland region, said Shilpa Kedar, program director for the Cleveland Foundation's Economic and Workforce Development.

“We think that not only grows the industry — the bio-medical industry here — but also directly impacts the quality of life of the citizens,” she added.

The money provided by the Cleveland Foundation will be used, in part, to “attract star faculty,” said Kedar.

“Attracting star faculty will require a lot of startup funding, and that’s where the bulk of the dollars, we expect, will go,” she added.

The collaborative will determine what projects and what research angles it pursues.

“We are not in any way being prescriptive around that,” said Kedar. “That is truly going to be a function of what corporations step up and decide to engage with the university.”

The collaborative has two projects involving Cleveland — both in the beginning stages — related to roads and buried infrastructure and another related to the opioid crisis in the region.

“This is a great opportunity for us to engage without community partners,” said Laparo.

“We’re also trying to make the campuses sort of living laboratories. Because very often, when we end up talking to people in the city and community about deploying technology within the city infrastructure, they would really like to see it deployed someplace else first,” he added. “And so the campus just becomes a wonderful opportunity to begin to test out some of the infrastructure and use it as a demonstration site.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.