With emerging technologies such as Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence changing the world as we know it, STEMHub Foundation sat down with Nigerian-born inventor and Embedded System Engineer, Oluwatobi Oyinlola to discuss career paths in the field of IoT, his innovations, working with Elon Musk and more.
STEMHub Foundation: Only a few universities offer IoT as a degree program. How did you come about this career path?
Oluwatobi: I studied Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering at Tai Solarin University and the curriculum was largely engineering electronics, power electronics, and electronics circuits. I stumbled on embedded systems while googling physical computing back in school. But I could not really understand physical computing until it was connected to embedded systems. That was the beginning of my interest and career in Embedded Systems. After obtaining my Bachelors of Science, I worked for a couple of startups before moving to Rwanda to study at the African Center for Excellence in Internet of Things.
The African Center for Excellence in Internet of Things offers a research program on the Internet of Things and you can pick between two specialties embedded computing systems or wireless sensor networking. I picked the embedded computing systems. While I do not have a Master’s degree, I was accepted because of my background and research interests. I have got some published papers.
STEMHub Foundation: Can you give us a brief explanation of what IoT is?
Oluwatobi: Internet of Things is when you have your smart device and you want to access it remotely. The path to accessing those devices remotely through Bluetooth or the internet is IoT. That is the basic definition of the Internet of Things. (Read more about IoT here)
STEMHub Foundation: IoT brings about the connectivity of hardware and comes to mind when we describe smart homes or smart factories. Can you provide us with an example of how IoT is being harnessed to change the pace of manufacturing or business?
Oluwatobi: In Nigeria, I worked with a solar energy firm that provided pay-as-you-go service to consumers. We developed an IoT solution where consumers pay as they use energy. With this solution, we could remotely shut customers down after they consume the amount of energy that they paid for. We were based in Lagos and our customers were in Abeokuta, Ibadan e.t.c. So, this solution helped us reach more customers.
STEMHub Foundation: IoT faces a lot of privacy and security issues. Can you shed some light on some of the privacy and security concerns?
Oluwatobi: In the future, we will have billions of connected devices and security breaches are a huge concern. Right now, there are a lot of vulnerabilities with IoT and people are researching how to make IoT devices safe. Companies such as Cisco are working to ensure our devices are protected. While developers can give some level of assurance security-wise, devices are not 100% secure because all our data is connected to Google Data Center or Amazon Web Services. Hopefully, in the near future, we can have better security platforms.
STEMHub Foundation: How can we ensure that our connected devices are secured as we explore IoT for businesses and other things?
Oluwatobi: We can secure ourselves by limiting what we give these devices access to. Do not give them access to sensitive information.
STEMHub Foundation: You were involved in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project. Can you provide us with a brief explanation of your contribution to the development of Hyperloop?
Oluwatobi: I was involved in the avionics part of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project. Which is the embedded Systems Queue, whereby we had to program the flight control unit: the communication system that makes the Hyperloop move.
STEMHub Foundation: For early-career or experienced scientists or engineers considering exploring IoT to expand their portfolio, what skill sets or certifications are in high demand in your field today?
Oluwatobi: There is no specific certification for IoT right now. But I would advise that people have a clear understanding of programming: C C++ or Python. They also need to have a very good background in electronics either basic or advanced electronics. This will make it easy for them to switch from one microprocessor to another. While there are some online courses that one can buy on Udemy or Coursera that give certificates, there is currently no professional certification for IoT.
STEMHub Foundation: Most people who start a career have a mentor or a role model. Did you have a mentor or role model? If yes, how did this help your career? If no, how did that affect your decision making processes?
Oluwatobi: Well I do have mentors. Most of my mentors were in different stages of my career. One mentor is my project supervisor from my undergraduate days. He helped me to figure out my career path and encouraged me to try out this IoT career path. When I told him what I was passionate about, he predicted the future of IoT and advised that I get an in-depth understanding of IoT. He said if I did that, I would become the hottest cake in the world. This conversation took place about 10 years ago and he is still my mentor.
I have another mentor in the US. She connects me to bigger platforms in the IoT field across the world, helps with networking and recommends me for job opportunities. She also gets me involved in some speaking engagements in the US. The most interesting part is that we have not even seen each other physically, and only talk regularly on Skype.
STEMHub Foundation: Looking at Africa, there are so many problems to work on and we see this as an opportunity for inventors. Can you share with us some of your IoT-inspired inventions that are targeted at solving African problems?
Oluwatobi: I am currently working on two projects. I developed a solution that measures the level of gas and consumptions and gives fuel station owners accurate data regarding how much fuel they sell in a day. I did that for two years.
Also, right now in Rwanda, gas is expensive. So, I am pioneering a method of cooking using IoT, whereby people pay as they use LPG (cooking gas). We place IoT technology on top of the gas to measure the gas level and the dispensing rate. For instance, if you pay 500 naira you can access gas worth 500 naira. Our technology makes gas affordable and helps in reducing the use of charcoal and firewood which has adverse effect on the environment. We have some prior investment and it is a very innovative solution.
STEMHub Foundation: We know about your passion for giving back and your involvement with Intel. How has this contributed to your career growth?
Oluwatobi: Intel gave me a bigger platform to give back to not only my community but also the world. I have been able to go all over Africa to talk about IoT, met with more developers in my field and have access to one of the smartest guys in Intel. Therefore, I am networking and learning while giving back. I am also part of the Intel innovator program that allows participants to explore innovative technologies, test and give feedback on some new Intel technology.
STEMHub Foundation: Thank you for talking to us.
Oluwatobi: You are welcome.
Oluwatobi Oyinlola is a Nigerian-born inventor and entrepreneur. He is a Software Innovator at Intel, Embedded System Engineer and IoT Evangelist. He is currently implementing Pay-As-You-Cook technology to promote the use of affordable LPG in Africa.
Recently he has been working in the avionics sector with rLoop Incorporated (a company sharing the dream of realizing the fifth mode of transportation initiated by Elon Musk, i.e. the Hyperloop) applying some of his experience in Robotics. Oluwatobi was recognized as one of the Most Influential Young Nigerians in 2018.