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James Cook eyes IoT leadership with industry partnerships

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James Cook University's campus in Cairn.

Australia’s James Cook University has grand plans to carve a name for itself as a leader in IoT education, and is leveraging strategic partnerships with industry titans like Huawei and more recently, Software AG, to realise its ambitions.

Recognising the potential of the technology some years ago, the institution went about designing a special degree programme to help students land jobs in the burgeoning field.

To do that, it recruited Wei Xiang, a professor and researcher specialising in the areas of wireless technology and IoT. The aim, according to Xiang, was to teach students everything about the IoT ecosystem, from data collection to communication and most importantly, analysis.

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The professor, now the Founding Professor and Head of Discipline of Electronics Systems and Internet of Things Engineering at the university, reportedly gained accreditation for the course from Engineers Australia in 2016.

He then organised the programme, which is a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) course that offers a major in Electronic Systems and IoT Engineering, and touted to be the first of its kind in Australia. (However, La Trobe University recently said it was the first institution in the country to offer an IoT-focussed course.)

The course takes a three-pronged approach to teaching IoT. The first part of the learning is electrical engineering, which helps students understand sensor technologies.

Next, a hands-on IoT platform offers them the opportunity to design and test different IoT use cases around the world. Finally, big data courses help them understand how to apply analytics tools to their IoT data.

The final nail on the head was striking mutually-beneficial partnerships with industry leaders that would not only provide the IoT platform but also work with the university on IoT-related projects and help educate learners. 

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For this, James Cook picked enterprise software firm Software AG and its Cumulocity IoT platform. The firm is involved in the fourth year of study via a hands-on capstone design project on an industrial application of IoT in areas such as environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, smart cities and healthcare.

According to Prithvi Moses, the solution architect at Software AG who helps run Cumulocity IoT workshops at the university, the platform is 80 percent pre-programmed so students only need to customise 20 percent after decided on the devices to achieve their objectives.

“Students are able to create IoT projects, using real sensors and applying them to real-world problems in a matter of weeks rather than months,” IoT Australia quoted him saying.

The first batch of students in the four-year degree programme will be graduating at the end of 2019.

Xiang says the job prospects for students are looking very positive, given the growth potential of the industry. 

“We currently have about 12 students in their final year, and all have had at least one job offer and at least one student has received three offers so far,” he said.

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James Cook’s partnership with Huawei is another feather in the cap for the university in its quest to set itself up as a leader in IoT education.

In an arrangement with the firm struck in 2017, the institution was provided IoT technology and funding to host a dedicated NB-IoT lab to research and develop applications, smart devices and sensor networks.

Also billed as an Australian-first, research carried out at the lab aims to advance the firm’s global IoT development efforts.

In addition to supporting the creation of the university’s IoT course, Huawei also committed to offering students the opportunity to visit its headquarters in China and its Sydney outpost.

“We all know that IoT is going to be the major game-changing technology of the future and NB-IoT will be the major driver of this ICT revolution,” Xichu Zhao, CEO Huawei Australia said at launch.

“Working closely with strong partners like James Cook University, we can help build a stronger and better IoT ecosystem.”