Building smart infrastructure: Graduate program trains industry-ready students

Computing science students examine Internet-of-Things applications to power the world.

Katie Willis - 29 July 2019

You pull into the nearly full parking garage, running late for your meeting. Instead of driving in circles looking for a spot, you glance at your phone, which tells you there's an available stall on the second floor. An application like this that relies on a sensor (in this case, parking lot cameras) to influence the real, physical world (such as by telling you where to park), is one small example of the Internet of Things, or IOT, at work.

A new graduate program in the University of Alberta's Department of Computing Science is training industry-ready graduate students in just such technology. The program, called the Dependable Internet of Things Applications (DITA), is an NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program, designed to facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the workforce.

"Many companies use a business model that involves deploying sensors and collecting data," said Eleni Stroulia, professor in the Department of Computing Science and UAlberta program lead. "We are training graduate students who will understand the entire pipeline, from software development to data interpretation."

Creating a smarter world

There are four core application areas for DITA: smart buildings, smart transportation, autonomous vehicles, and personalized health care. Stroulia's expertise is in smart buildings, including the Smart Condo project that she co-leads with Lili Liu in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"Consider a more simple application of building security," explained Stroulia. "One such application could be an application given to everyone who requires access to a certain space. With your pass or app, you are only able to access the rooms you need. It's not the same as just having an app that replaces a key. The trick is giving access to specific people for specific times, so that someone has access when they are invited but not any other time."

The DITA program is designed to train graduate students in all elements of the process of developing IOT technologies-from deploying sensors and collecting data to developing software and data interpretation-which are informed by strong industry partnerships.

Graduate students will gather practical work experience through internships with industrial partners, such as Schneider Electric and IBM Canada. Students will work on joint research projects and attend hands-on workshops on the latest technologies.

"These models can be applied anywhere with similar historical data and the necessary sensors," said Stroulia. "From conducting speedy evacuations to getting hungry students to leftover catering, the case for building a smarter world is strong."

DITA is a collaborative training program developed and delivered by York University, Polytechnique Montreal, Ryerson University, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, and University of Victoria. DITA is the fourth CREATE program in the Faculty of Science, where it joins the Alberta / Technical University of Munich International Graduate School for Hybrid Functional Materials (ATUMS), Diamond Exploration Research Training School (DERTS), and Quantum Nanotechnology Training in Alberta (Quanta).