Semantic Technologies to address interoperability challenges of IoT

April 14, 2021 by Thomas Thurner

We had the chance to talk to Laura Daniele (TNO) about her research on the Internet of Things. Another topic which is reflected in this year's SEMANTiCS 2021. 

Thomas: One of your areas of expertise is semantic interoperability in the Internet of Things. What are the most pressing challenges in this area and how do semantic technologies contribute?

Laura: The main challenge in the Internet of Things (IoT)  landscape is the fragmentation in terms of existing platforms, protocols, and standards. In this landscape, there is no Winner-Takes-All and it is important to avoid vendor lock-in to provide the consumers with the flexibility to integrate their IoT devices/solutions of choice with one another as they like. Therefore, cross-platform interoperability among various platforms from different vendors is essential. By using semantic technologies it is possible to address this interoperability challenge at the semantic level, rather than at the technical communication level, as it used to be in the past.

The promise is to provide a way to understand, link, and harmonize the concepts in the message data structures exchanged by the multitude of existing platforms, regardless of their specifics at the underlying technical level. The IoT industry perceives semantic technologies as promising to enable the missing interoperability, but they look at the community of semantics experts for clear guidelines and success stories on how to concretely implement their solutions. In addition to cross-platform interoperability, another major challenge consists of cross-domain interoperability. IoT comprises various vertical domains (think of smart homes, buildings, energy, cities, agriculture, industry, etc.) and in our interconnected world not only is crucial to share data and become interoperable within each of these domains but especially across these domains. That is where the full potential of combining data still needs to be unlocked. Cross-platform and cross-domain interoperability are the big challenges also addressed by the recently started H2020 Interconnect Large Scale Pilot, funded by the European Commission, which involves an ecosystem of 50 partners consisting of R&D and consultancy, smart device manufacturers and associations, IoT/ ICT providers, Distribution System Operators  (DSOs), retailers and end-users, that in the next four years will use semantic technologies to enable interoperable solutions connecting smart homes, buildings and grids in seven different countries in Europe (

Thomas: IoT often comes with severe privacy issues. How can we as consumers protect ourselves from privacy intrusion but at the same time profit from the technological benefits and promises?

Laura: Indeed IoT comes with privacy and security issues. Solving the interoperability challenges mentioned above from a technical point of view will not be sufficient if privacy and security issues are not addressed in the first place. The good news is that current IoT approaches to incorporate security- and privacy-by-design, also leveraging recent advances in trust management, trust delegation, using role-based access control, and privacy preference management. These approaches take into account end-user acceptance already at early stages. Therefore, solutions to guarantee us security and privacy in IoT are on the way. At the same time, I think is important to understand, for us as consumers, that if we really want to benefit from the multitude of value-added services arising from combining data (including services that we cannot even imagine yet!), it is inevitable that we need to provide data. Some of us will be willing to provide more, others less, it is a personal choice to which extent we are willing to accept “privacy intrusion” in our lives. In any case, the key is to make informed choices, being aware as much as possible of what data we share and for what purpose.

Thomas: Together with Tabea Tietz from FIZ Karlsruhe, you are this year’s Workshop and Tutorials Chair. Any recommendations to submitters on what makes a great workshop?

Laura: First clarify if you want to organize a workshop or a tutorial. A workshop allows for external submissions, presentations, and publications of the accepted contributions. It stimulates discussion among experts in a certain field. A tutorial gives the opportunity to transfer the knowledge of experts on a certain topic to the audience. In both cases, clearly set your goal, trying to be simple and realistic. We tend to get enthusiastic about everything, but a program too full and intense can confuse the audience rather than provide clarification. Think thoroughly about who is your audience. A combination of academic experts and industrial practitioners is usually a recipe for success. Make clear what you want your audience to learn and take away once they leave the room. Make your event interactive, too many and long presentations are fun for the speakers but less for the audience. Think of a format to actively involve the audience and stimulate interesting discussions, for example organizing a panel of experts or groups for discussion. High quality is essential for us, so make sure you think (and explicitly mention in your proposal) the quality assurance criterion that will be used to select the papers for the workshops and the presenters for the tutorials (for example, peer review or review/evaluation by event organizers). Finally, promote your event as much as possible already in the early stages. Tabea and I are looking forward to lots of great submissions, see you in Amsterdam!