Learning about the IoT (Internet of Things) and how devices and data can improve businesses isn’t reserved for on-the-job training anymore. Universities are realizing the importance of training the next generation of tech leaders within their walls, and there are some really exciting academic programs and industry partnerships to show for it. Going forward, this trend will continue. As the IoT touches every aspect of life and business, no university will want to leave their students in the lurch by not offering the benefits of a connected campus and a tech-infused college experience, not to mention an IoT-informed education—or even an IoT-focused education.

In one example of how industry and academia are intertwining, AT&T recently announced it’s entering a strategic relationship with collegiate marketer Learfield to help expand its reach within higher-education institutions. The company says it’ll be working with Learfield’s Campus+ division to help build “technology-intensive campuses” that improve how students learn and find new ways to connect with each other. This could take the form of supporting research and development opportunities that further on-campus learning and recruiting and mentoring opportunities that help students succeed beyond the classroom.

Individual courses and labs are also making universities more IoT-focused. In December, eight multidisciplinary teams made up of graduate students in NC State University’s Product Innovation Lab as part of the Jenkins MBA graduate practicum course showcased startup company concepts, many of which featured IoT solutions. The teams spent several months working on their concepts, which included researching and understanding market needs, conceptualizing and prototyping a solution, and creating a viable go-to-market plan. Winners received six months of free access to RIoT Labs, a North Carolina-based hardware, wireless, and software prototyping lab with the tools for full-stack IoT prototyping and access to mentors and programs for startup entrepreneurs, to further their projects.

Projects included a solution for analyzing drone inspection data, a VR (virtual reality)-enabled concussion assessment for collegiate athletes, and an open-source platform for diagnosing and reporting outbreaks of emerging diseases. The winning team, Chirp, came up with an innovative fire-detection system for homes, which could cut fire-responses times in half thanks to smart monitoring and early detection.

By exposing students to the IoT on campuses and in classes, labs, and curriculum, universities are investing in the future of the industry. By forming industry partnerships, they’re helping to create a viable talent pool and creating key relationships that could foster open communication between academia and real-world businesses. Universities, through their research programs, are also helping to solve real-world business problems right now.

A team of researchers at the University of Manchester, for instance, recently published their discovery of a low-cost method for producing graphene-printed electronics. The discovery could reduce the cost of conductive graphene inks, making it more viable for IoT applications, including sensors, wearable electronics, and beyond. This and other research projects taken on by universities support and encourage innovation, thereby advancing the space in a big way.

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