There may seem little connection between the Internet of Things/Everything and the search for answers on the origins of the Universe, so this begs the question: Why has Cisco chosen a team at Curtin University that is looking for such answers as one of its partner in the soon-to-established Cisco Internet of Everything innovation Centre?
The answer lies in the Square Kilometre Array, a global next-generation radio telescope project in which institutions from over 20 countries are participating. It will comprise two radio telescopes, one in Western Australia and one in South Africa. The Australian one will have 130,000 dipole antennas and the South African one 200 dishes.
Professor Steven Tingay from the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University—at a briefing session at CiscoLive! In Melbourne following Cisco’s announcement of its plan to set up a Cisco Internet of Everything innovation Centre in Australia with Curtin University and Sirca as its partners—described the SKA as “essentially the world’s biggest most complicated Internet of Everything. We are talking of millions of sensors connected to hundreds of thousands of telescopes spanning a geographic area of hundreds of kilometres, sitting out in the desert.”
He said: “This is an instrument that will connect petabits of data per second and through a hierarchical data processing infrastructure will reduce that to mere terabits per second that need to be ingested into an archive, stored, turned into information and then at the end of it you need analytics and a human-machine interface.”
“So this absolutely spans the entire spectrum of big data, signal processing, information theory and data analytics. … This is taking the IoE to ridiculous levels. We hope that at the end of this process we will gain some wisdom that we will be able to migrate into more practical applications in the everyday world.”
IoT on steroids
In short, the SKA is an Internet of Things on steroids and will present the same challenges as more modest IoTs, amplified many times over – in particular how to gather and extract valuable information from a network of many sensors.
Cisco ANZ CTO, Kevin Bloch, said: “The work we are doing with Steven and his team is world leading in terms of scaling to mega IoE.”
Astronomy is one of three verticals on which Cisco’s IoE Innovation Centre will focus, the others being Agriculture and Resources. “Australia as a country has a competitive advantage in resources and agriculture,” Bloch said, “Australia is number three in the world for natural gas. We want to help take it to number one. We will do that by bringing up more gas and liquefying it and we want to put intelligence into that.”
He added: “This is about making Australia a smart place, making Australia a competitive nation. This is not about resources, it is about resourcefulness. Putting intelligence into mining, into farming.”
For agriculture, he said: “It is not a sector that Cisco has focussed on, but it is incredibly important. The world needs to produce as much food in the next 50 years as it has in the last 500. And we have issues, such as the average age of a farmer in Australia being 60 years.”
The Australian IoE centre is one of eight around the world, each with a focus on particular verticals. “Japan and Germany are focussed on manufacturing. We have a centre on transport and we have a team across the world that is connecting these centres up,” Bloch said.
He described the role of the centres as Cisco externalising its innovation. “We are building the lab and putting in the required infrastructure end to end. … The objective in ANZ is to use the hub spoke concept where we open it to more universities and more partners. This is just the first phase.”
Cisco also plans to involve New Zealand organisations “We will put a spoke into NZ but there are some prerequisites,” Bloch said. “We want people who can solve problems and work with us as a partner.”