The Internet of Things and Mechatronics

November 19, 2018

Products linked to the Internet of things are increasing in both number and popularity, but proper security hasn’t caught up with them yet. In 2015, reporter Andy Greenberg from Wired let hackers take over his Jeep while he was in it to illustrate the risks presented by the IoT. “As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission,” Greenberg later reported.

How did the hackers gain control of the car? They did so via it’s UConnect entertainment system. Similar tech is incorporated in many smart cars today to allow for additional features like GPS or satellite radio to connect to the car. 

If you aren’t convinced by that example, there are also plenty of other real-life examples of IoT devices being hacked.

“IOT products were designed at a time when security wasn’t an issue,” says Capitol’s chair of cybersecurity, Dr. William Butler. “When we incorporate them into new technology we need to be aware of the potential risks that are associated with that.”

For mechatronics engineers, multidisciplinary makers who often build or design products like smart cars, this wave of IoT products means being more cyber aware.

 Hands holding phone taking an image of house showing how internet of things connectivity applies

“When you are talking about smart cars or even smart homes, the internet of things is expected to disrupt how we live and work despite increasing security and privacy concerns. While mechatronics engineers aren’t going to be the ones developing security, they are designing and building safety devices and smart controls for those cars and homes,” Dr. Nayef Abu Ageel, Capitol’s dean of academics and chair of electrical engineering, pointed out.

Mechatronics is a field of engineering that combines electrical and mechanical engineering with computer science to give mechatronics students a well-rounded knowledge base for implementation and design. If it has moving parts, is powered by electricity, and needs a bit of programming to work correctly then a mechatronics engineer was probably involved. From washing machines to robots, mechatronics engineers design and build a wide variety of products and devices.

hand holding mobile phone showing internet of things and how it connects to mechatronics

With the potential to have their hands in so many things, mechatronics engineers are bound to encounter IoT technology. It’s about designing and building responsibly and understanding the risks.

Capitol Technology University has believed for a long time in promoting cyber awareness in an interdisciplinary way. A team of Capitol professors wrote a piece in 2016 for IEEE E-Magazinetouting the importance of teaching students in all fields about digital security. Among their observations:

Students must learn that the IoT surrounds them and is already a critical aspect of their daily lives. Business, engineering, computer science, and cyber security departments across the country must plan to address student awareness through revamped departmental curricula and interdisciplinary opportunities across departments. It is this generation of future workers who will be tasked to solve the issue of security within the IoT.”

Mechatronics engineers aren’t the only ones that will be affected by IoT devices, but with their critical influence over manufacturing technology, it’s going to be important to have responsible mechatronics engineers out there. Robotics, with the improvement of AI technology, is another mechatronics-influenced field taking off right now. Mechatronics and robotics engineers of the future will have to be cyber aware to responsibly do their jobs.

Dr. Butler sums it up best, “IoT products are out there, and everyone in every field needs to be aware of the implications of that.”

Categories: Cybersecurity