BODYNETS 2014 Prof. Fortino: "The future of cyber-physical systems will be based on the IoT"

With research interests that include distributed computing, wireless sensor networks, software agents, cloud computing and multimedia networks, years of experience within these fields, and over 200 publications in journals, books and at conferences, professor Giancarlo Fortino, the general chair of Bodynets 2014, is the right person to talk to not only about the conference itself, but about exciting future trends in the field.

Professor Fortino received his Ph. D. degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Calabria, Italy, in 2000 and has been Associate Professor of Computer Engineering at its Department of Informatics, Modelling, Electronics and Systems (DIMES) since 2006. He is a Senior member of IEEE, the founding editor of the Springer Book Series Internet of Things: Technology, Communications and Computing, and a co-founder and CEO of SenSysCal, a Unical spin-off focused on innovative sensor-based systems for e-health and domotics. Read what he has to say on Body Area Networks and his opinion about the conference.

The conference program was quite dense with various speakers involved, such as Prof. Guang-Zhong Yang from Imperial College London and Prof. Mischa Dohler from King’s College London. What are the main and, perhaps, the most contested topics and debates that have emerged from the discussions?

Prof. Giancarlo Fortino, University of Calabria, General Chair of BODYNETS 2014
Prof. Giancarlo Fortino, General Chair of BODYNETS 2014

The keynote speakers focused on different research topics, from wearable sensors to wearable robots (Prof. Yang), 5G networking for the coming IoT (Prof. Dohler), to middleware for Body Area Networks programming and management (Prof. Fortino and Dr. Gravina). All keynotes met with a lot of interest by the conference attendees. In fact, many questions were asked in anticipation of further research. Specifically, regarding the first keynote, the interest was mainly in how to manage wearable mobile robots and how to define effective missions in terms of specific goals to reach, such as surgery, care, health monitoring and such. 5G networking is a broad area and the interest was in how BANs can be supported by future 5G communications and integrated into the Internet of Things. Finally, my talk triggered a discussion on how to develop efficient and effective BAN systems with several questions on how to access and use the SPINE “open-source” project* to develop BAN applications. Indeed, all the conference talks were interesting and provided very up-to-date and timely research related to diverse topics, from activity recognition and healthcare applications to new sensor designs and antennas for low-level BAN communications, and future outlooks in the BAN world.

In your opinion, which direction will future studies on Body Area Networks take?

Bodynets 2014 was a great venue to discuss future studies that will focus on different levels – application, from new healthcare systems to context-aware activity monitoring; middleware, from efficient sensor programming APIs to mobile and wearable sensing management; networking, specifically energy-efficient protocols for BAN communications at routing, MAC and physical levels; device, notably novel energy-efficient sensor nodes and antennas devices; and signal-processing, energy-efficient and context-aware algorithms for diversified tasks in different application domains.

In which direction shall we move in order to develop specific opportunities that could lead to the implementation of cyber-physical systems (CPS)?

The next big wave will be the Internet of Things that will be able to integrate humans and “things” by means of a holistic, even extreme-scale, interconnection of self-organising sensors and smart objects. Thus, the next-generation of CPS will be profoundly based on the Internet of Things. BANs will play an important role in such a context, as they could be the wearable interfaces between humans and “things”, between humans and “smart environments”, made up by cooperating smart objects.

What are the most common limitations – if there are any – of studies published up to this day in the field of BANs? How can these limitations be surpassed or mitigated?

Bodynets 2014 provided an interesting big picture of the current developments in the BAN area. Of course, even though many new BAN research findings have, to date, been defined and actually implemented, even in commercial products, many issues need to be addressed to provide more robust and efficient BAN systems. Two main limiting factors are energy and dimensions. BAN systems usually need to operate 24/7 without any interruption. Let’s think about a system for monitoring assisted living’s physiological data. Of course, as wearable sensors are used, their energy, usually provided by a battery, needs to be carefully managed. However, a battery will eventually discharge. An interesting field of research addressing this issue is “energy harvesting from the human body”, so that body sensor nodes could be powered by the human body itself. Also, dimensions are fundamental, as sensor nodes need to be small enough to be worn and miniaturized to be implanted – think in-body nanobots. In this direction, research at device levels need to provide novel technological sensor platforms fully addressing the limiting factor of dimensions while guaranteeing enough computational power and resources. *