Internet of Things Hub announced

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More internet for our mobile phones. Photograph: Ian Meeks

Lancaster University will be one of nine universities involved in an “Internet of Things” Hub announced by the government.

The consortium has been assembled to research the “privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability and security” of the Internet of Things – and will receive £24 million over three years.

The Internet of Things refers to physical objects being connected to the Internet. Google’s Nest, for example, is pioneering the Internet of Things: with products such as a thermostat that can be controlled via mobile.

It is widely believed that the Internet of Things will be the next big thing for tech companies, with Lancaster Professor Rachel Cooper describing it as: “The next big digital revolution with billions of objects becoming connected to the internet. These devices will produce unprecedented volumes of data as well as posing significant security challenges and the need for innovative design solutions.”

But this, of course, raises concerns: should tech companies really be entitled to all this “big data” about our day-to-day lives? What if it falls into the wrong hands? How disruptive could hacks be?

A Government report from the Chief Scientific Advisor pointed to one example of a hack to the Internet of Things causing chaos: “The computer worm Stuxnet […] was designed specifically to attack an industrial control system operating Iranian fast-spinning centrifuges. Malicious code collected information and changed the behaviour of the system, causing the physical mechanism to tear itself apart.”

It will be the job of Lancaster University and the other participants in the research hub to find out more about the likelihood of such incidents, and find ways to prevent them. The university will work alongside Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University of Warwick, Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton and University of Surrey.

Digital Economy Minister for the UK Government, Ed Vaizey, said of the research hub: “UK universities are renowned for their creativity, and pioneering research and development. We want the UK to be a world leader in the adoption of Internet of Things technologies, and I know that bringing these universities together with partners from the UK’s thriving tech industry will be instrumental in making this a reality.”

Lancaster’s role will include investigating the security risks of the Internet of Things and seeking solutions, and “developing new design techniques” in the continuing development of the Internet of Things.

The Director of the Hub, Professor Jeremy Watson, described the aims of the consortium in making the UK a global leader in the adaptation of the Internet of Things. Watson hopes that they can “maximize the economic and societal opportunities of the Internet of Things by removing barriers to adoption.”

“Working with business, public, and third sectors will enable the PETRAS IoT Hub members to investigate questions of safety, security, privacy and trust within real life settings.”

“The UK has the potential to be the world’s most supportive environment for the development and deployment of a safe and secure Internet of Things. We will raise the bar using innovative collaborative and interdisciplinary research methods.”

The £24 million investment is made up of £9.8 million coming from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; an additional £9.7 million is coming from Small and Medium Enterprises, industry, Non-Governmental Organisations and public bodies; and a further £4 million comes from the participating institutions.

The investment is part of a £40 million investment programme from the UK government, which aims to increase the adoption of the Internet of Things technology in the country.