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Cornell University Engineers to design first public, statewide ‘Internet of Things’

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Cornell University engineers and researchers are designing the nation’s first statewide Internet of Things public infrastructure.

Thanks to a $1.5 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation, Cornell faculty will collaborate with community partners around New York – through Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in each county – to set up networks based on low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology, a form of low-frequency radio.

“We aim to create a public Internet of Things model that works here and then becomes replicable for other states,” said Max Zhang, engineering professor and the project’s principal investigator (PI). “We want to provide universal network coverage, ensure data privacy, promote responsible data-sharing, scale up successful Internet of Things implementations and spur technology innovation in underserved areas.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to everyday items being connected digitally. For instance, Zhang said, an IoT-enabled home thermostat can be controlled from a smartphone via Wi-Fi connections.

A public LPWAN network targets long-range, low-power and low-bandwidth applications. Examples include utility companies reading meters from a distance, government agencies observing traffic remotely, and farmers using crop or livestock sensors in fields or barns. Towns can develop road and flood monitoring to protect civic infrastructure, providing vital real-time information via networked connections.

Rural areas long have been plagued by poor cellular connections and limited broadband access. Telecommunication companies are reluctant to invest in rural areas, citing high capital costs and few customers.

“Lack of access to networked technology contributes to social, educational, informational and economic disparities,” said co-PI Lee Humphreys, associate professor of communication. “An Internet of Things contributes to greater social and economic opportunities, such as for young students to complete school assignments based on web information or for households to pay bills electronically.”

According to Zhang, developing new networked technologies can leapfrog traditional wired broadband and create innovation.

“You need to create a reliable Internet of Things infrastructure to handle a digital world; otherwise you’re in a cyber desert,” he said. “This is an opportunity for rural communities. You cannot have a digital revolution in digital darkness.”


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