It takes someone very special to look deep into the future and make striking predictions about what’s to come based oceans of data. They extrapolate all of this data and interpret our experiences and share our needs and wants. Ultimately, these game-changing predictions will change the lives of millions.

These visionary individuals have boundless inspiration that create solutions, patents, and products. Their drive is unmatched and their enthusiasm is contagious. In many cases these geniuses have spent countless hours researching and shaping a market. For the past several years Connected World magazine has coined these very unique individuals as Pioneers. They are the disruptors forging new pathways in this ever-emerging digital age.

These men and women are creating solutions in healthcare, sports, fitness, technology, building automation, transportation, smart cities, fashion, and technology and have been experimenting and researching ideas for IoT (Internet of Things) applications.

They are the new generation of innovators who have a notion of what is needed. Our Pioneers are solving real-world problems. They are creating solutions, reinventing systems, and creating amazing partnerships. We are starting to see profound changes emerging from these brilliant leaders and motivators that are sparking the entrepreneurial landscape.

What follows are some amazing educators that only measure their success by their ability to transform the lives of others through advances in technology advancement and through those they have inspired.  We hope you enjoy the profiles the follow as much as we enjoyed writing them.

— Daniel Feigl, associate editor and Peggy Smedley, editorial director


A Self-Sufficient IoT

The purpose of a sensor in the IoT (Internet of Things) is often to establish what is “normal,” and then detect when there is some sort of variation in that established normal. Sensors alert humans to many important systematic and network problems and come in handy when it comes to staying ahead of the game. Imagine the possibilities of a sensor that could not only pick up on an inconsistency, but also address the inconsistency all on its own.

herman_ted

Ted Herman professor of computer science at the University of Iowa

This is what Professor Ted Herman hopes to accomplish. In the 1980s, Herman began his career at IBM working in the software industry and developing new applications for systems and networks. As the decade passed, he began to become influenced not only by the innovations happening at IBM and other companies like AT&T but also by the imaginative realm of science fiction. Herman realized these ideas of robots and systems that could think for themselves would eventually become reality, and he set out to make his mark on the tech revolution.

Currently, Herman is an expert in computer science at the University of Iowa, headlining groundbreaking research in self-stabilization and embedded systems. His work has addressed the problems many IT professional face when overseeing large networks, in that they cannot always reach the problem right away. By developing devices and systems that can self-monitor, this ability to “self-heal” can keep systems running smoothly—or, at least, give humans enough time to step in and keep them running smoothly before a total rework is needed.

Much of Herman’s work specializes in creating these self-stabilized systems in healthcare. He is in constant contact with industry leaders to address patients’ ownership of and access to their personal data on various applications. After noticing many platforms suffer from brittle interfaces and connectivity issues, Herman began partnering with startups to deliver the sustainable platforms patients need in a more accessible way.

“Keeping up with rapid changes in standards, in the progress of wireless and sensor technology, and in new possibilities of low-cost processing and cloud models is a big challenge,” says Herman. “One must constantly have one eye in surveillance mode, while also maintaining a conversation with domain experts to know where the opportunities are.”

Herman’s innovations in self-healing technology draw a parallel to the many ways the human body heals itself from injuries or ailments. During the healing process, human bodies grow stronger, and it’s safe to say that the IoT systems of the future will follow suit.


Reaching for the Stars

Building something new is rarely an easy task, but Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is taking a universal approach to construction with the hopes of building a better world—literally. Khoshnevis serves as a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, and he is also the founder and CEO of Contour Crafting, which specializes in large-scale 3D printing technology for the robotic construction of buildings and other large structures.

khoshnevis-behrokh

Behrokh Khoshnevis professor of engineering at the University of Southern California

At Contour Crafting, Khoshnevis is developing solutions that sound like the stuff of science fiction films. He and his team are creating products that will allow for more efficient planetary and terrestrial construction for human outposts. The building solutions have been lauded by NASA and could be revolutionary as space stations continue to explore space and attempt to colonize this new frontier.

While Khoshnevis’ ideas reach far beyond Earth’s stratosphere, they originate back on his home planet. Contour Crafting delivers applications that address homelessness in countries around the globe. The goal is to provide better, faster building solutions in order to help the millions of people who have lost their homes due to natural disasters, or who have been displaced from wars or other ongoing conflicts.

In addition, Khoshnevis’ research has led him toward other innovations in 3D printing, biomedical, oil and gas, renewable energy, fabrication, and robotics. He is further exploring the role robotics will play in construction management, in addition to an idea called “telefacturing.” Telefacturing is based on the remote operation of manufacturing operations using IoT (Internet of Things) technology.

Khoshnevis’ desire to help those in need comes from a personal place. He was greatly impacted by the life and death of his father, and he believes the events that play out in peoples’ lives not only shape who they are, but also have far-reaching impacts. Khoshnevis believes human triumphs and failures teach important lessons about reality, and he hopes his contributions drive new discovery and bring something worthwhile to the world.

“Innovation is always valuable. It is because of innovation that human civilization has taken quantum leaps forward,” Khoshnevis says. “Connectivity has boosted our collective intelligence greatly, and, as (a) result, the creative thinking process today has a much richer access to synergetic information. I believe more people are becoming creative than in the past. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, everyone will be a Leonardo da Vinci. Imagine what a world it will be.”


Taking the IoT to New Heights

While many people look to the IoT (Internet of Things) to solve today’s problems by providing immediate relief to certain painpoints, there are those behind the scenes who know this race is a marathon, not a sprint. The folks in the latter camp are looking further down the road, anticipating the answers to questions that have not even been asked yet.

krintz-chandra

Chandra Krintz professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor Chandra Krintz is part of the forward-thinking group of IoT advocates. With more than 15 years of experience in programming systems for sensors and the cloud, Krintz constantly strives to discover what can be added to further improve solutions. As a professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Krintz, alongside her team, is designing and implementing open-source tools that can streamline the development of applications that connect and span the multiple tiers of IoT systems.

Krintz is also chief scientist and founder of her own company, AppScale Systems. She says she and her team founded AppScale in 2012 to commercialize the AppScale Cloud Platform, which is modeled after the Google App Engine. The platform enables quick prototyping, testing, and production. In fact, AppScale automatically deploys and scales Google App Engine applications without the need for modifications.

Krintz is also working to leverage connectivity to solve pressing issues in various industries, one of which is tackling sustainable food production. Currently, Krintz and her team are developing systems that link sensor data aggregation and fusion from separate devices (located on and off the land) with edge analytics. This will provide farmers with realtime data that will allow them to make more automatic decisions, become more efficient, and do more with less.

The goal is to be constantly thinking ahead of the problems, as industries can take unexpected twists and turns at any moment. Leaders need to be prepared to weather the storm, and Krintz believes emerging IoT solutions can provide the key to batten down the hatches.

“My team and I work on problems that are farther out than next week or next quarter or even next year. We have the freedom through computer science research to investigate and pursue solutions to very challenging problems,” says Krintz. “By doing so, we can identify those with potential for success (and those that are likely to fail), so that we can inform and facilitate industry and entrepreneurs and expedite innovation.”

Despite striving to constantly be ahead of the game, Krintz feels that while innovation may answer new questions, failure can incite much-needed lessons. Understanding and accepting failure can lead to newer innovation. The key is to always be thinking out of the box and trying to stay ahead of the curve. With that mindset, Krintz is set to remain a game changer for years to come.


Finding the Right Balance

Professor Vivian Loftness loves a challenge of the mind, so it’s no wonder she has taken it upon herself to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing major corporations today: energy. As corporations strive to become more productive and create new business, there is a constant push toward becoming more environmentally conscious. While many would shy away from such a task, Loftness is pushing the boundaries of what the workplace can achieve.

loftness-vivian

Vivian Loftness head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University

As head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, Loftness is leveraging her experience in architecture and design to delve into alternative methods of building and engineering. Her work has included research in technology for building enclosures, mechanical systems, lighting, and networking, which will allow companies to access higher levels of indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency.

It all starts with the physical space a company is occupying, Loftness says, as well as the environment around it. Achieving energy goals includes flipping building techniques upside down, and, instead of controlling systems through top-down designs, she suggests that a bottom-up network of things would be more beneficial. She adds that companies must transition from big machines for heating, cooling, and ventilation to a network of smaller machines with distributed intelligence.

Loftness says the key is to find the sweet spot between low tech design and dynamic high-tech solutions. Finding this sweet spot will be necessary to meeting the energy goals of the future, and again, though it may not be easy, it’s something she is definitely up the task of finding.

 

“I love numbers. I was trained as an architect who embraces design engineering as a significant part of our creative palette,” says Loftness. “I love the puzzle of understanding where energy is being lost or gained and seeking out innovation in design and operations that will reduce the energy demands while improving comfort and health.”

Loftness remains fully invested in sustainable work environments that will eventually do wonders for those inside and outside the office. Loftness expresses the notion of biophilia, which is the need for humans to interact with nature. As a company is only as good as the space it is operating within, she wants to ensure the workplace of the future can adapt just as the people and machines inhabiting it can adapt.

In addition, Loftness is looking toward the IoT (Internet of Things) to drive “environmental surfing” that will maximize daylighting, natural cooling, natural ventilation, and passive solar heating through the use of smart sensors and controllers. Her hand in the IoT is not simply influential across a small section of industry. She also has a larger hand in national policy with the Adaptable Workplace Lab at the U.S. General Services Admin., and the Laboratory for Cognition at Electricity de France.


Empowering the IoT

One of the areas that has benefited immensely from the IoT (Internet of Things) is healthcare, because the technology has revolutionized the way patients are monitored and taken care of by doctors. Considering the huge strides already taken, Professor Govind Rao wants to take it even further by ensuring patients aren’t just given the right medicine or treatment, but are left with a feeling of empowerment.

rao-govind

Govind Rao professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

As part of Rao’s career that has spanned 35 years and 35 patents in manufacturing and environmental solutions, the past eight years have been dedicated to positively disrupting the personal healthcare space. As a professor of biochemistry and engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Rao’s research is aimed at giving patients better control over their personal health and enabling solutions that are specific to patients’ needs.

Normally when patients are evaluated on things like blood pressure or heart rate, these results are typically compared to the average mean statistic of the population. Since the individual profile and body type of the patient may differ than the average person, the aforementioned technique does not always accurately demonstrate where a patient needs to be in terms of his or her results. To accommodate for this, Rao and his research team have developed next-generation sensors that assess oxygen, pH, and pCO2, as well as glucose and glutamine to get better readings that will allow for more personalized treatments.

Rao is also working to ensure the latest solutions in healthcare reach the widest population possible, rather than being restricted to those who have the means to afford them. His work in non-invasive sensor technology for neonatal monitoring and the CAST initiative to deliver devices that operate in low-resource settings saves patients in rural areas time and money when getting the healthcare they need. In addition, Rao does not shy away from challenging the industry to address privacy and confidentiality problems that hinder patient empowerment.

“Much of the information tends to be firewalled, so there needs to be a way where you can access big data after stripping off personal identifies, as that will allow better decisionmaking to take place,” says Rao. “There has to be a balance; it’s great to encourage connectivity and this amazing interconnected cloud-to-reality space, but if it’s not done with security in mind, then potentially every note becomes a weak link.”

Though he has been part of the system for many years, Rao also challenges the paradigm of education. He makes it his job to encourage students to be flexible and to familiarize themselves with other industries, as they may never know where their research will be needed in the future. By exposing his students to research and development, Rao allows them to get the experience they need, while also supporting future innovation.


The IoT Melting Pot

One of the most popular phrases to describe the effect the IoT (Internet of Things) is having on normal products or services is that the IoT is “making things smart.” Smart devices, smart wearables, and even smart cities are on the rise, and, with major metropolitan areas continuing to grow in terms of population densities, infrastructure must also rise to the occasion if it is going to support a growing number of people living in a connected society.

ratti-carlo_small

Carlo Ratti codirector of the Senseable City Lab at MIT

Smart cities will be driven by the needs and wants of the people living there, and this is all part of the vision Professor Carlo Ratti has for the future. “We like to imagine that cities are becoming ‘senseable’—with its double meaning, both ‘able to sense’ and ‘sensible’. We like the word ‘senseable city,’ as opposed to ‘smart city,’ as the former puts the emphasis on the human, as opposed to technological side of things,” says Ratti.

Sensor technology serves as the backbone to much of the research and work Ratti has conducted throughout his career at various organizations. Just as cities are multidimensional, Ratti and his teams are diving into every level of architecture, urban planning and design, and infrastructure to understand how these can collide with emerging technological solutions. By entering the IoT, they have been discovering how sensing applications can drastically alter the way cities manage energy, mobility, and water distribution. This is where citizen engagement will also come into play. As these sensory systems can be accessed through mobile devices, citizens will have the chance to utilize applications that will allow for better urban living.

As cofounder of the Carlo Ratti Associati design firm, codirector of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, and partnering with several exciting startups all at once, Ratti maintains the same universal vision that guides his research, projects, and products through each of his endeavors. He embraces deviations from the status quo, as he feels that these deviations are what truly incite change. However, Ratti stresses the idea that while innovation can be artistic and satisfying, it is crucial to know how to differentiate a good idea from a bad idea.

Ratti believes innovation stems from diversity within an assembly of project or research teams—this includes cultural diversity as well as a diversity of background experiences. In a way, this sentiment mirrors how cities were built in the first place; they are a melting pot of cultures and ideas. Therefore, it makes sense that a similarly diverse group of innovators will be necessary to do the same once again as society moves toward smart cities. In Ratti’s view, it’s not just the large buildings and unique structures that make up a city—whether it’s smart or not. Rather, it will always be the people.


The Vision of IoT

Sanjay Sarma grew up in engineering and is even married to an engineer. At the turn of the century in India, his great grandfather was pursuing a career in engineering, and decades later, the prodigal son is continuing that legacy in exciting new ways.

sarma-sanjay

Sanjay Sarma professor of mechanical engineering at MIT

Sarma is a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, where he has worked for nearly 20 years. The bulk of his research at MIT centered on RFID (radio-frequency identification), where he and several colleagues cofounded the Auto-ID Center, and an initiative to develop an EPC suite of modern RFID sensors and tags. This led to further research with more than 100 companies, as well as establishing the industry standards and protocols used today in RFID manufacturing. During this time, Sarma also served as the founder and CTO of OATSystems, a company that was acquired by Checkpoint Systems in 2008.

Recently, Sarma invests his time in exploring and understanding the IoT (Internet of Things) and the value it can bring to business models. Much of his involvement includes research involving sensors and algorithms that will greatly impact connected cars, homes, factories, and even batteries. Furthermore, Sarma wants to address the role IoT security has played in recent world events.

 

“With IoT we are plunging into these things and not thinking about security, or we are not thinking about it in a complete way,” Sarma says. “I fear that this could lead to problems, but I also want to focus on the upside, but in a way that addresses these design principles upfront.”

Sarma’s tenure as a researcher and professor has deepened his appreciation of education and those with whom he has had the chance to work and learn. He admires the way society has changed thanks to the IoT and how it has created a more equal system of opportunity for those looking to get their feet in the door of a transforming industry. This has led to Sarma’s involvement in MIT’s OpenCourseWare, which supports the use of digital technology for on-campus teaching and online courses, as well as his work with edX, a not-for-profit company that serves as an open-source platform for the distribution of free online education worldwide.

Moving forward, Sarma advises his students to “think big clean ideas.” He pushes them to think clearly about their vision and the conveniences desired for future society. “It is my view that we are moving in technology generally from a tech-limited world to vision-limited era,” says Sarma. “So, in other words, if you can envision it than you can probably do it.”


Style and Substance

Two industries that often see trends change drastically during the course of a short period of time are fashion and technology. The tides in each industry change so frequently and so unexpectedly that it can be hard to navigate. And yet, Sabine Seymour is a trailblazer in both of these sectors.

seymour_sabine

Sabine Seymour professor of fashionable technology at Parsons School of Design

For nearly two decades, Seymour has been instrumental in making technology useful, but also personable. She really launched her career back in 2000 when she conceived the first biometric base layer for snowboarding. This led to extensive experience in building scalable technology innovations for automobiles, technology, and, ultimately, fashion.

Seymour became the first professor at Parsons School of Design to introduce a curriculum that blended the two industries—fashion and technology—together into what’s now called Fashionable Technology. She is also the founder and CEO of SUPA, a digital platform for clothing formerly known as SoftSpot.

Her goal has been to establish SUPA as the go-to AI (artificial intelligence) platform for biometric sensing, thereby merging digital health, sports, and fashion. With an app set for release to the public in 2017, Seymour says SUPA will set a new precedent for the IoT (Internet of Things) and smart apparel that can be used by popular sports and fashion brands.

 

“SUPA is an integrated brand providing sensors to the apparel industry and a mobile app that is completely seamlessly woven into our lives,” Seymour explains. “SUPA is a personal concierge—discreet and well connected—that energizes an active lifestyle.”

Seymour recognizes a correlation between early adopters and being athletic, and she uses that correlation to her advantage. Early adopters work anywhere anytime and are constantly connected, and the same can be said for athletic and body-conscious individuals. By connecting biometric sensors in apparel with ambient sensors, the idea is to help the wearer improve his or her performance from the gym to the office.

Yet another focal point of Seymour’s research is in the emerging wearables market. Another of Seymour’s companies, Moondial, serves as a consultancy firm with Fortune 500 companies to develop wearable prototypes and other new products, while also laying out manufacturing plans for launch.


A New Sense of Power

As a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Joshua Smith encourages freedom and exploration when it comes to studying new forms of connectivity. However, he insists his team work under one principal rule: no batteries.

smith-joshua

Joshua Smith professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington

Whether it’s a flashlight, a computer, or something much larger, Smith is aiming to discover new ways to power and connect anything and everything using the energy around us. The goal is to develop sensing and computing systems that aggregate energy from radio waves and communicate with one another through the use of “ambient backscatter.” Ambient backscatter enables information to be transferred by reflecting pre-existing radio waves.

The bulk of this new technology comes from Smith’s own company, Jeeva Wireless. Alongside cofounders Shyam Gollakota, Vamsi Talla, Bryce Kellogg, and Aaron Parks, Smith is looking to commercialize ultra-low-power communication, which will connect devices that could not previously be synced due to power and financing limitations. With various pilot programs set to launch in 2017, Smith hopes the technology will disrupt the IoT (Internet of things)/M2M marketplace in new and exciting ways.

Throughout the course of his career, Smith has developed sensing solutions to protect information processing via FiberFingerprint, which created smarter documents that leveraged unique signals for user identification and authentication. He also served in a directorial position at Escher Labs, where he was instrumental in research that created sensing car seats that assess the weight of the passenger and adjust airbag safety settings accordingly. This technology was later implemented in popular GM and Honda vehicles.

With 30 patents related to robotics, communication, security, and sensor technologies, Smith thinks of himself as an inventor.

“Personally, the people I find most inspiring are the great scientists like Faraday, Maxwell, or Einstein, who have had fundamental insights into how things work. Even though I am more of an inventor than a scientist, what inspires me most is understanding the essence of a phenomenon. There is a two-way street between engineering invention and scientific discovery, because some of the best scientific discoveries are based on inventing a new model of how something happens. And, of course, new scientific discoveries usually enable new inventions.”

Just as he strives to leverage the energy around us, Smith also strives to surround himself with a strong team that can help him tackle issues head on. He believes in the “power of wishful thinking.” If a team isn’t finding the right solution to an aspect of a project, by continuing to work together on various other areas of the project, this may very well lead to the answer that was needed all along.


A Kansas Royal

Picture the quintessential salt-of-the-earth farm boy from Kansas with aspirations to change the world. This may call to mind an image of Clark Kent, the iconic superhero, but Superman can’t claim to be the only person for whom the former statement is true. Professor Gregory Thomas, for instance, hails from the same Midwestern state and, similar to his heroic countryman, Thomas is assuming the mantle to build a unique and enduring legacy.

Gregory Thomas, professor of design, director of Center for Design Research

Greg Thomas professor of design in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Kansas

Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Thomas has made a name for himself serving as a professor of design in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Kansas, among other roles at the university, which includes acting as the director of the Center for Design Research. Thomas started out collaborating with university and industry partners and eventually expanded to him working on various research projects across the country, including work on adaptive information displays in vehicles.

Instead of being faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, Thomas is working to improve his own metropolis by advancing sustainable connected cars and transportation systems and developing solutions for smart grids and connected energy platforms. Despite the enormity of these ambitious projects, Thomas never forgets his humble roots, and he is working to bring healthcare and diagnostic solutions to rural farming areas in Kansas. As many of these people are far removed from state-of-the-art facilities, Thomas wants to ensure all patients have access to the latest advanced treatments no matter where they live.

Thomas says he likes to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture in order to gain a better sense of how different industries can benefit from the emerging IoT (Internet of Things)/M2M space.

 

“Ultimately, design is about identifying a problem and solving it by assembling the appropriate knowledge, resources, and people; this is easier done today with the myriad of resources that are currently available or are in development. It’s our role to understand how these can be used in a way the maker may not have originally intended,” says Thomas.

Thomas’s desire to give back to those around him extends to his students. As his work has led to sponsored projects for Bayer HealthCare, Ford Motor Co., Intel, and Sprint, Thomas makes it a point to help his students obtain real-world experience and to give them the tools they need to be prepared once they graduate. He encourages these up-and-coming innovators to establish critical thinking skills, know the history of the space, and do their homework about where the current landscape of the industry and subsequent job market is headed.