In June 2022, a high-voltage power cable bridge in Yuen Long caught fire and collapsed, causing power failure for three days that affected about 175,000 people in Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai and Tuen Mun. Some schools in the affected areas also had to suspend classes because of blackout — the biggest power outage in Hong Kong over the past few decades.
“By deploying the Internet of Things (IoT), such incident could possibly be avoided. Power grid reliability is very important for us. IoT plays an important part in such situation because IoT can collect the data from the power line. If abnormal activities are found out on the power cable, we can possibly make some pre-decisions and maybe make remedy to avoid such kind of accident,” said Dr. Henry Dai, Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science in HKBU.
IoT describes physical objects embedded with sensors, processing ability, software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet. In today’s world, IoT is increasingly deployed in our daily life and across different industries, from a smart water meter to an ultrasonic sensor of a manufacturing product line.
With over 10-year experience in IoT, blockchain and big data analytics, Dr. Dai found that many people refuse to use IoT because of privacy and security concerns. “They think that IoT will collect and share their data, violating their privacy,” he said. Thus, he proposed to integrate IoT and blockchain as a key to protect user data and solve the privacy concern of deploying IoT since blockchain encryption can effectively secure and obscure data, systems and networks.
However, the poor scalability of the current blockchain system may not be fully feasible to IoT. “The throughput of the current blockchain is too slow comparing with our commonly used systems, such as Visa or Paypal, which can support several thousands of transactions per second,” said Dr. Dai, adding blockchain can only support around 7 to 10 transaction per second.
Improving the overall performance of blockchain has been the major initiative for the recent research project that Dr. Dai has been working on. His research team has established a new micro-payment network (MPN) away from the main blockchains. MPN allows two participants to establish a private channel for translations without resorting to the expensive on-chain operations in blockchains. “By using MPN, two users can conduct multiple frequent-yet-small transactions, so that the throughput can be greatly improved,” he said.
While such design can improve the translation throughput, it can maintain the compatibility with existing blockchains since there’s no modification on the current blockchain networks. “Any types of blockchain networks can be supported and fully adopted to this MPN. I believe that this may be the most feasible solution to the current blockchain IoT systems,” he said.
Dr. Dai will explore the in-depth fusion of blockchain with IoT, and apply it to the current medical and healthcare systems. COVID-19 has caused intense pressure on healthcare professionals and revealed the vulnerabilities of our existing healthcare system. The availability of bio-sensors, medical and wearable devices, with the advent of wireless communication technologies such as 5G or even 6G, could lead to the proliferation of IoT in healthcare scenarios like telemedicine, smart hospitals and pandemic quarantine. It can also be used to monitor the elderly’s health and safety, taking actions quickly when abnormal behaviors are detected.
“Once IoT is widely used, we can sense the environment or detect abnormal environment to make preventions and decisions as early as possible to avoid accidents,” he said. However, privacy would still be an issue. But Dr. Dai believes that the adoption of privacy-preserving technologies can further strengthen the privacy protection of healthcare IoT, dispelling the public’s misgivings about IoT.
Since he was a research student at WirelessLab in Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2004, Dr. Dai has concentrated on IoT. He later moved to the Chinese University of Hong Kong for his PhD study and started to work on the performance improvement of the wireless sensor network (WSN) – the predecessor to IoT.
“When I was a research student many years ago, wireless network just emerged at that time. Laptop and mobile phone were able to connect to the Internet by using wireless connection,” he recalled. “Wireless network fundamentally changed the world because you can actively collect the data from our environment to the Internet rather than just passively receive the data from the Internet. This is one of the major driving forces for me to conduct research on IoT.”
Dr. Dai later continued his research at the Department of Information Engineering established by Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Charles Kao. In 2009, He worked with the WSN research group of Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, gaining first-hand experience in designing and implementing IoT systems and identifying their fundamental limits.
Besides medical and healthcare applications, Dr. Dai believes that the emerging metaverse will be another promising field for IoT and blockchain. “In the Metaverse environment, there’s something from reality, something from the virtual reality, and fusion of AR and VR. IoT can help us change the data – we can wear some devices to change some objects in the virtual reality environment,” he said.
IoT and blockchain will also play a very important role when exchanging digital assets in Metaverse. “For example, we can trade virtual art pieces. How can we support this kind of decentralised transactions in the virtual as well as the reality environment? Blockchain can be a major infrastructure to support this,” he said.