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Mr. Affan Dar from Microsoft Azure delivered a seminar on the Internet on Things (IoT) - 7th January, 2019

An Internet of Things (IoT) seminar was held at the NUST School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science in collaboration with Elixir Technologies on Monday, 7th January, 2019. Mr. Affan Dar, from Microsoft Azure, USA, gave a talk on “State of Industry: Internet of Things (IoT)”.

Mr. Affan is an engineering leader in Microsoft Azure IoT Plaform group responsible for building and running the Azure IoT Hub service, Azure IoT Device provisioning service, Azure IoT Edge, device SDKs and the end to end user experiences.

His talk was mainly focused on the recent and emerging industry trends in IoT and related use cases such as agriculture, smart spaces, and industrial automation. He discussed some technical case studies and IoT solutions that his team has worked on with various leading industries such as Smart food processing by Buhler, farm irrigation platform by Schneider Electric, factory automation by Rockwell Automation, Digital signage by LG Electronics, building management by Crestron, and smart thermostat by Johnson Control.

He also discussed the importance of Machine Learning and mentioned it as a key trend in IoT from the perspective of Industry, where, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM are investing. The IoT devices generate petabyte of data and it not possible for humans to process such a large scale of data in a short amount of time. In that context, machine learning is a prerequisite or required technology to be able to process and analyze data and come up with some actionable insights. He added that all of big cloud providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce have built out their structures and frameworks for deploying and training machine learning models to IoT devices.  He also discussed the concept of Digital Twins, where an entity in the physical world is modeled in the cloud as a virtual entity based on the composition of different sub entities. It gives developer a higher level of abstraction which is more useful and domain specific.

He discussed the importance of Edge computing in the context of reducing the amount of data sent to cloud, minimizing latency involved in data processing and effective management of cloud resources. He mentioned, currently industry is moving to towards a hybrid approach of cloud & Edge to drive some sense into this system.

He also discussed the security aspect of IoT and highlighted that IoT devices are more vulnerable to security attacks than normal web application mainly due to the physical access to device. He discussed one of recent security attack, MARAI, bot net attack, where every router became a bot and was in the control of the security attack. He also discussed the challenges associated with IoT security such as ability to remotely patch firmware and software on a device, ability to remotely quarantine a device from the network as close to the device as possible and employing machine learning to detect anomalous device behaviors.

Towards the end he shared the industry concerns related to simplification of embedded device development as it is not the mainstream and for industries it is always hard to find right set of engineers for embedded system development. Due to lack of expertise in this area, the industry giants such as Microsoft, Google and IBM etc., will not be able to get a return on their investment as fast as they want. Due to complexity of supply chain, it is hard to mass produce the embedded devices. The talk ended with a Q & A session where the participant from Elixir Technologies as well as SEECS faculty and PhD students interacted with the speaker for sharing their concerns and thoughts related to IoT.

Mr. Affan also visited IoT lab, where, Dr. Rafia Mumtaz demonstrated her IoT projects and explained their potential benefits from the perspective of society, further research, and commercialization. Additionally Dr. Hassan Aqeel Khan, discussed the possibilities of research opportunities in the domain of machine Learning and its applications for Microsoft. He discussed a number of interesting applications of IoT and talked in detail about how Machine Learning could be used to derive maximum benefit from IoT devices in the near future.

Dr. Syed Taha Ali also shared his ideas related to block chain with Mr. Affan for a potential collaboration.