Professor Pascal Perez may be an engineer, but it’s not the technology that comes first with his latest passion. It’s the people.

If the Digital Living Lab is to work, it has to be driven by the needs of the people of Wollongong and not simply by technology for its own sake.

As director of the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong, Perez is surrounded by the cutting edge technology of connections – from transport to water, energy to economics.

‘There are many such initiatives around Australia and the world,’ Perez said.

‘Most of these applications are focusing on technology and driven by the manufacturers.

The Digital Living Lab is all about letting people know what’s happening. In two years’ time, if you ask anyone in the street, they could tell you what Internet of Things is – and what it’s doing for them.Professor Pascal Perez

Using sensors that can cost as s little as $30 each, the worth of the network is limited only by the imagination of its users.

One of the first projects will use sensors to monitor the city’s stormwater network.

As David Farmer, general manager of Wollongong City Council, explains, the city’s topography – bounded by an escarpment on one side and the ocean on the other, makes it especially vulnerable to catastrophic floods.

‘Wollongong is a network of small streams that come off the escarpment very quickly, so we’ve got a real need to better understand how floods work and how streams rise and fall in various rainfall events,’ he said.

‘This is a great opportunity to collect a lot of data, and therefore further refine our flood models, and allow people to be more confident about the flood impacts on their property.’

Other ideas in discussion include putting sensors on the fridge and bathroom doors of elderly people, ensuring that they are both eating and washing properly.

This discrete monitoring will ensure both that they are safe, but will also allow them to lead independent lives for longer, and in a way that is cost-effective.

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For Catherine Caruana-McManus, who is helping to set up the Living Lab, the key component of the idea is the ability to generate jobs in regional areas.

Her company – Meshed – is involved in setting up connected communities all over Australia.

For her, the fundamental component of success is community engagement, coupled with open technology that can be adapted by the user.

‘All too often in our industry we see people pushing technology for the sake of technology,’ she said.

‘It’s about can we generate jobs in region through the Internet of Things, and we are living proof that that is possible.

‘There’s no reason why Australia can’t be a powerhouse in innovation, we have all of the ingredients, we have brilliant engineers and people and so open standard technology is absolutely the enabler for that.’

The Digital Living Lab should be operational by August.

William Verity

William Verity has worked as a journalist and author for Australia's premier publishers and broadcasters.
After a career as a print journalist, he is now freelancing and increasingly concentrating on work in all forms of radio and audio.
He has also taught a range media studies courses for a number of universities for almost a decade.