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An exclusive interview - Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah

Prof. Dr Shaikh Fattah received his PhD degree in ECE from Concordia University, Canada in 2008. He was a visiting Postdoctoral Fellow and later visiting Research Associate in the Department of EE at Princeton University, New Jersey, USA. He received his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from BUET, Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he is currently serving as a Professor in the Department of EEE. He is also serving as Director of Institute of Nuclear Power Engineering at BUET.

He was the winner of Concordia University's Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Prize in Engineering and Natural Sciences in 2009 and was selected as one of the Great Grads of Concordia University in 2008-2009. His PhD program was enlightened by uncountable awards. He was the first prize winner in the SYTACOM Research Workshop in 2008. Recently, his papers received Best Paper Award in BE track of IEEE TENCON 2017, Malaysia and in BSP track of IEEE WIECON-ECE 2016, India and the Best Interactive Poster Session Award in ICIEV 2014. Many projects and theses under his supervision have been awarded prizes in Concordia University and BUET.

Dr Fattah has made remarkable contributions to IEEE and especially IEEE Bangladesh section. He recently received the prestigious ‘IEEE R10 Outstanding Volunteer 2018’ award. He was the Chair of IEEE Bangladesh Section during 2015-16 and now serving as Nominations and Appointments Chair (2017-18). Previously he served as Vice-Chair and Secretary of the section. He is the Chair (2017-18) of IEEE EMBS Bangladesh Chapter and Founder Chair of IEEE RAS Bangladesh Chapter and IEEE SSIT Bangladesh Chapter. He is the founder Vice-Chair of IEEE IAS Bangladesh Chapter and IEEE SPS Bangladesh Chapter. He is also the Education Chair of 2018 IEEE Humanitarian Activity Committee and Editor of IEEE Power and Energy Society E-news.

 

IoT for BD: Sir, being an iconic figure, you have been leading so many endeavours in local, regional and global arena. If we want to know about IoT, which things you would like to mention first with regard to your magnificent experience across the globe?

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: IoT- ‘Internet of Things’ implies a concept where everything has to be connected via the internet so that you can have access to everything, everywhere anytime. The absence of IoT in this era would be like imposing restrictions on various functions of our life. For example, you can now monitor and control the access in a building or the operations in any industry without being physically present there with the help of IoT. That is a great advantage we can get being anywhere around the world. Influential companies are investing a lot of money in the IoT sector and in the innovation of sensor technology. Basically, with low-cost sensor technology innovation, IoT is getting a very large popularity all over the world and now we can imagine every device being monitored and controlled with the help of IoT. Before deploying a technology to the mass level, we need to think about its sustainability and in many cases,  we may consider the use of IoT which can help obtaining the sustainability. People have to feel the need for a certain technology and then you have to come and fill the gap with it. Unlike the developed countries, we are not habituated with a lot of facilities that can make our lifestyle better. For this reason, it is not visible to the majority of mass people that how IoT can switch the mode of those facilities at the first place. Lack of automation in our country has made it harder to develop IoT based technologies where the developed countries are already many steps ahead in this case because the automation was there long before. As a result, IoT is getting a huge market there and they are developing a large number of IoT based devices. People getting IoT facilities in those countries can move around the world and still have access to their house and workplaces. Educational sectors, health sectors, electrical appliances, security matters can be easily dealt with from anywhere across the globe. These are the things I would like to mention about IoT because I would like to experience them first.

Dr Fattah and his family with IEEE President James A. Jefferies

IoT for BD: In the current scenario, which particular sectors in Bangladesh do you think can be benefitted most by IoT?

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: Bangladesh is a country with a large population which has created an abundance of manpower. That is why whenever we stress upon automation, we go through a lot of concerns regarding the local people being jobless. Labour being highly available, automation is not taken seriously. But we have to understand that IoT can enhance the speed of overall development in our country. For example, our health sectors are going through outstanding improvement because the Government has taken initiatives to build health care centres with modern facilities in rural areas. These health care centres can be monitored via IoT so that government can always stay updated with the needs and can take instant steps.

I attended a conference named International Conference on Sustainable Development where I came to know that Columbia University of USA is working with our ICDDRB and it made me proud that they are reporting a notable improvement in the health sector of Bangladesh. I attended another session where the Indian representative was presenting the role model of the Bangladeshi health sector as the one that should be followed in their country as well. It was amazing to know that a big reason that contributed to this development is automated information collection in the health care centres. In the same manner, the government has taken initiatives to bring the power stations under one umbrella. By doing that, we can monitor the production condition in a single panel from anywhere and all the stations can stay connected. This can be done by IoT technologies where certain sensors will be always collecting information and giving feedback. The customers are already getting benefitted by the smart meter reading. So, the power sector can easily take steps to implement IoT. People are coming up with innovations every day. We are not far away from feeding the energy grids from the local users. In these cases, we need IoT more than ever.

Agriculture can be a great field where IoT can be implemented. Farmers can operate or at least know about the necessary parameters of their field with the help of their cell phone. In North America, a single farmer looks after a huge land with the help of IoT based sensor technologies, so the scarcity of manpower is being neutralized. By launching IoT technologies in Bangladesh agriculture sectors, irrigation and other cultivation activities can be automated. A common trend can be seen in a lot of villages where the farmers leave the country to work in middle east countries. As a result, their lands are not being cultivated. But with the help of IoT, they can monitor their lands sitting in a completely different country and give instructions to cultivate them. Also, the farms can be automated. The village people can do different jobs and at the same time continue farming with the help of their family members. That’s not a dream anymore. We are expecting these kinds of technologies very soon.

Industries are already equipped but what we need is proper supervision. Due to the shortage of skilled manpower our industries are facing huge losses every year. We have to spend a large amount of supervision. On the other hand, supervision can be automated with the help of IoT. I believe that IoT can make a huge industrial revolution in our country.

IoT for BD: You have been a strong advocate to foster industry-academia collaboration in Bangladesh. How do you feel about its effective role, especially in Bangladesh context?

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: Our country is improving in different aspects. Industrialization in our country is moving at a very fast pace but a matter of concern is we are completely dependent on foreign investments in technologies. If we try to find out about the maintenance and proper operations of these machinery, then we will end up finding a loophole. Though we are going through rapid industrialization, we are not moving towards sustainable development. The first condition for sustainable development is capacity building. If we rely on importing technology all the time, our country will not move towards sustainable development because we have to stay dependent on us for the maintenance of the technologies. We need to start innovating our own technologies. They may import some technologies where it is necessary but rebuilding the low-cost machinery can be the start of something revolutionary. In this case, the industries can get the greatest assistance by collaborating with the universities and this is the established path for this particular purpose all over the world. A country’s weather condition has a notable impact on any machine’s performance and life expectancy. For enhancing the quality and efficiency according to the country’s need, researchers from different universities come up with innovative ideas. It is known as R&D-research and development. If an industry tries to run R&D itself, it will never sustain. It needs researchers. University is such a platform where you have at least three strong entities - teachers, students and researchers. I said researchers separately because not all teachers and students may be in research, but definitely, there will be a group of students and teachers who are always busy with research. In a university, there is the scope of finding a researcher. Therefore, industries should have an R&D department because ultimately, they are producing something. For this purpose, some practical, as well as some theoretical knowledge or research background, is needed which a university is able to provide. This is industry-academia collaboration. The necessity of this collaboration should be felt first by the industry and they can only realize it if they are aiming to gain sustainable development. If they are looking for an improvement for 1-2 years, then importing, using and selling is enough. However, if they want to develop a plan for 20 years, they will have to think about how much they are investing in an imported machine and its warranty. Now due to any unavoidable circumstances, the foreign company may decide not to help with servicing of the machinery. Therefore, the industry must have their own ability to work and repair these devices. This could be one of the many reasons why there should be an industry-academia collaboration so that the research may help out at such times. So, the first thing that we could do is encourage the industries for sustainable development and make them realize that they need the help of universities for research and development.

The second thing that I would like to talk about is incentives. Let me elaborate. Let us assume that an industry decides that they would rather hire researchers instead of collaborating work with universities. I can tell you that this may not be sustainable because universities can guarantee researchers for as long as necessary which may not be the case for hired researchers. In any university, there is a flow of researchers in teachers and students, meaning that even if some go abroad for work or academics, there will be many others who can step on their shoes and continue the work for the industry. For example, in our EEE department, there are 60 faculty members, more than 40 of them are PhD holders, thus it does not matter if 5-10 of them are leaving, others are still there. This is why they should work with a university so that they can ensure the availability of qualified people on research. In developed countries, the Government gives incentives to industries. For example, say an industry has to give 1 crore taka worth tax a year, but if they use 20 lacs on research and development, they can get the tax rebate. Thus, they are basically getting service worth 20 lacs, without actually paying for it. This could be applied here as well.

IoT for BD: IEEE Bangladesh Section is celebrating its 25 years. As a pioneer for almost every segment of IEEE Bangladesh Section, how do you feel about the future role of IEEE Bangladesh Section in strengthening IoT in Bangladesh?

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: Obviously, IEEE Bangladesh Section has 36 universities where we have very strong student activities. IEEE Bangladesh Section is the pioneer of promoting IoT in all universities. We have arranged many workshops, seminars in various universities and in different organizations to promote IoT and make people understand the benefits of IoT. I believe the strength we have is the connectivity with more than 50 Universities. IEEE Bangladesh Section has this strong connectivity with all these public and private universities, where we can encourage the students who will probably work under various organizations and industries soon. In this way, whenever we are organizing an event or workshop, IEEE Bangladesh Section provides experts from various institutes both from here as well as from abroad. They may even provide training for working with say, sensors. In IoT, the first step is the interfacing of the sensors and the second step is data collection from the sensors, data managing, transferring etc. We need experts to help us deduce whether IoT can be deployed all over the country, and also to train people on working with microcontrollers and various software, managing data in the cloud, data preserving, handling, data architecture. Not all student is an expert in all these areas where IoT is playing a role. There should be a strong background in computer architecture, data management, communication and security network protocols, device fabrication etc. It can be seen while deploying IoT applications, that it has at least 4-5 major steps, and students are not necessarily experts in all these areas, so they need training.

Data management is a big issue, because every second, there will be a lot of incoming data from different centres, so big data handling will be required. These large amounts of data then must be stored in clouds, which is yet another big area. Then comes the question of security of those data, and finally the use of data from multiple access points with secure entities which a big issue is also. One particular university may not have experts in all these various areas, but IEEE Bangladesh Section provides the platform where all big universities in Bangladesh may collaborate. On top of that, we have technical societies, such as Computer Society, Robotics and Automation Society, Industry Applications Society, Power and Energy society etc. IEEE has almost 40 societies and these societies can share their expertise from outside which is very expensive in general, but IEEE provides it free of cost. To promote IoT, I believe that IEEE Bangladesh Section is playing a significant role by training the students and professionals. Since this is a global organization, everyone can put their full trust in it.

IoT for BD: What suggestions would you give to the young generation, especially to those who are looking to build a career in IoT?

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: Firstly, I have already talked about certain things like Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, NeuroComputing, and just like these are buzzwords, IoT is also a buzzword.  One has to fully understand what it is, and the stages involved in working with it. It is not possible for a single person to be an expert in all the areas that I have talked about, but at least the basic knowledge is required to succeed. The young generation should come forward first to enhance the applications of IoT in every sector of our country because unlike developed countries there are at least 10 sectors where IoT can easily be deployed and we may see a radical improvement in production and efficiency in those sectors. Ultimately, the major role has to be played by the young generation. My request to them would be to train themselves with the fundamental know-how of IoT starting from sensor technologies, data management, microcontroller-based system management, monitoring and finally device, data, network communication, security protocol and then they may start thinking of this as a career path.

IoT for BD:  Thank you very much, sir, for the wonderful words.

Dr Shaikh Anowarul Fattah: You are welcome.