On 6 January the UK’s Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, announced the PETRAS Consortium, describing it as “a new interdisciplinary research hub to drive forward UK research in the Internet of Things (IoT).” The consortium is made up of nine leading UK universities that will work together over the next three years to explore critical issues of IoT around privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability, and security.
The minister’s announcement said: “Funding for the Hub includes a £9.8 million ($A20.4m) grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which will be boosted by partner contributions to approximately £23 million ($A48m) in total.”
This initiative however is only part of the UK Government’s IoT programme, IoTUK, launched in September 2015 and described as “an integrated £40 million ($A83m), three-year, Government programme that seeks to advance the UK’s global leadership in IoT and increase the adoption of high quality IoT technologies and services throughout businesses and the public sector.”
UK aiming for IoT leadership
But if you really want to flag when the UK Government ‘got’ IoT you have to go back to CeBit in March 2014 when Prime Minister David Cameron opened the event with German chancellor, Angela Merkel. In his speech he said: “I see the Internet of Things as a huge transformative development – a way of boosting productivity, of keeping us healthier, making transport more efficient, reducing energy needs, tackling climate change. … We are on the brink of a new industrial revolution and I want us – the UK and Germany – to lead it.”
He said also: “We need the ideas to turn the Internet of Things from a slogan to a fact. So I have personally tasked the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser to explore what more we must do in this area.
“We’re making available £73 million of funding to put the boosters under research. And I can announce today that we are launching a new European Internet of Things grant fund – valued at up to £1 million for companies that are grabbing these new opportunities.”
According to Tech Crunch, the funding was made up of
- Future Cities programme 2014/15 — £18.5m
- Enabling Technologies for energy 2014/5 — £3m
- Connected Freight — £4m
- Digital Health — £5m
- Location Based Services — £5m
- Reimagining the High St — £6m
- Secure Remote Working — £3.5m
One initiative the Chief Scientific Adviser took after receiving Cameron’s instruction was to initiate a review into IoT, Internet of things: making the most of the second digital revolution, published in December 2014.
The report had three main objectives:
- to explain what government can do to help achieve the potential economic value of the Internet of Things;
- to set out what Internet of Things applications can do to improve the business of government – maintaining infrastructure, delivering public services and protecting citizens;
- to distil this evidence into a set of recommendations.
In March 2015, a year after Cameron’s speech to CeBit, the AIIA held its first IoT summit in Canberra. It would have been a great opportunity for the Government to show that it really ‘got’ the importance of IoT and the importance of government leadership, but here is the best that then communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, could manage in his speech at the event.
Aus Govt focus: regulatory environment
“Obviously the Government has a role in promoting and investing directly in research and new uses for the Internet of Things. But at a higher level, we also want to make sure we are setting the right regulatory environment for these technologies to flourish. That is why we are working with bodies like the ACMA and Communications Alliance to ensure that we get the settings right.”
Shortly after Turnbull was elevated to Prime Minister, in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, headed: Australia needs to be in vanguard of Internet of Things, Intel Australia managing director, Kate Burleigh, said: “Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he wants to “ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future and is putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it. A good place to start then would be to commission the development of a national Internet of Things strategy, to identify strategic areas of focus as well as challenges.”
That was pretty much what the number one recommendation of the UK Scientific Advisor’s review said over a year earlier: “Government needs to foster and promote a clear aspiration and vision for the Internet of Things. The aspiration should be that the UK will be a world leader in the development and implementation of the Internet of Things. The vision is that the Internet of Things will enable goods to be produced more imaginatively, services to be provided more effectively and scarce resources to be used more sparingly.”
Time for Australia to act
Seems like a good place to start, and the sooner the better. Remember a few years ago when technology became an election issue and Labor’s clarity of policy was a welcome change from years of Coalition dithering and false starts? The issue that time around was broadband policy. Leaving aside the debacle that ensued, there is probably sufficient interest in IoT and its potential to affect the lives of individuals through wearables, monitoring of aged relatives, smart homes, etc for the ALP to get some mileage by highlighting government inertia on the issue, and coming up with some decent ideas.