Dr. Kat Austen

How to make a non-evil IoT - Open Droplet at LOTE4

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  • droplet, LOTE4

Last week we had the opportunity to take Open Droplet to LOTE4: The Stewardship. Open Droplet was one of the five projects looking at physical assets, and the only one that involved Internet of Things. IoT got a pretty bad vibe going from the get-go because of the associated scary privacy and control problems. (Alberto gave me a steer to Bruce Sterling’s “The Epic Struggle for the Internet of Things” , which goes a good way to explaining the issues).

For session notes, see the Open Droplet session here: https://lote4.hackpad.com/Stewarding-Physical-Assets-EVxm8c6PyiU

The session was interesting. We had an involved discussion about other aspects of the project, from the sensor design and usability, to how best to convey information to the user.

Some useful new suggestions:

  • partner with hotels to raise awareness of this approach
  • consider representing the total household use

There was reiteration of the importance of these considerations:

  • open data and privacy
  • comparison as a motivator
  • proper use by understanding the water infrastructure
  • facilitating conversation around community stewardship of water, including water harvesting

However, we didn’t have that much time to discuss the IoT issues, which would have been great to explore with the EdgeRyders community. Internet of Things is happening, and could be very useful in terms of facilitating stewardship of physical assets. What we’re aiming for with Open Droplet is to create a device and system that helps connect people with water, an increasingly stressed resource, so that we can take better care of it as individuals and communities - and find new ways to do so. Part of how we want to do that is by following the principles of an Open Internet of Things.

I would love to extend the dialogue around these issues, and to have explored more the role of Internet of Things in creating social change, and looking at how sensing technologies can be tools to generate social and paradigmatic change. Due to timing issues the unconference session “How to make a non-evil IoT” didn’t happen. We were going to look at building on work to make Open Hardware solutions that explicitly avoid making Big Data for the sake of it. How do you quantify without compromising people? I’d like to continue that discussion here and on the EdgeRyders platform, looking at these and other questions:

  • Expanding IoT - What data do we need to have from city and infrastructure providers to give useful context to individual water use?
  • How do we responsibly approach the individual’s rights to their data
  • How do requirements for water stewardship vary around the globe? How do we accommodate these differences?
  • How do we facilitate community water stewardship through interface and sensor design?

First meeting with the UCL Students

Last month I had the pleasure to meet up in person with the students from Sarah Bell’s MSc Environmental Systems Engineering at UCL. Our team consists of Florian Abiteboul, Shanshan Tang, Cecilia Li, and Shibei Cheng and Anita Ponnathpore and it was a great first meeting. Having introduced the project, I’ve asked them to start off with the background research for a protocol to rapidly categorise cities in terms of their water infrastructure in order to see where Open Droplet’s approach might be most effective. When we meet this month, we’ll be handing over plans from the industrial research so that the students can then test calibration and flow detection in UCL’s toilets and showers.