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Setting the Standards - Internet of Things Splashes into Gov

The Internet of Things is slowly making its way into the government space. But what is the Internet of Things exactly and how can the government optimize the technological advances to help the government run more effectively and efficiently?

Sokwoo Rhee and Geoff Mulligan are Presidential Innovation Fellows at NIST. As part of their fellowship they have launched the Smart America Challenge as a way to create standards around the Internet of Things. Rhee and Mulligan sat down for an extended interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program. (Rhee and Mulligan will both be panelists on the DorobekINSIDER LIVE Internet of Things program tomorrow, you can still register here. You can also register for the IOT event in August.)

What is the Internet of Things?

"The Internet of Things is about things, (stuff) that is interconnected to the internet. These are things that are connected to do sensing. Things that are set to know where things are, or what the current environment that they are in and what they are doing. The internet of things is about knowing where cars are on the road and how fast they are going. An extension of that, that Sokwoo and I are working on is called Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) which takes that information and brings it back into controlling the environment, controlling the area around the cars," said Mulligan.

  • Example: "If you have been in DC at 3am, you get to a stoplight and you think why am I stopped here? There are no other cars around. What Sokwoo and I are working on for the Smart America Challenge, is about being able to have the car communicate with the traffic lights in the city, such that rather than having to stop, you don’t have to stop if there are no other cars around. You car could communicate with the traffic lights."

San Fran has tied parking meters to sensors? Boston is measuring for potholes based on sensors in your phone. What's next?

"In NYC about 30% of the traffic, is actually people looking for parking.  If you can reduce the amount of time it takes to find a parking space than traffic issues will be much alleviated," said Rhee.

  • Example: "Street bump in Boston is an interesting IOT application, but if you extend that back into the car, if you know where those potholes are, then maybe you can get your car to slow down so you are not busting the tire when you go over it. Or with a slight movement of the steering wheel you could actually have the car move around the pothole that you might now have seen," said Mulligan.

What is the Smart America Challenge?

"Smart America Challenge was conceived by Geoff and me when we first came into the Presidential Innovation role last June. What we realized is that there has been a lot of investment that has gone into developing new technologies and making specific applications more beneficial. The government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on basic research for cyber physical systems, but what we realized is that they are very sector specific. For example, there is a medical CPS that is making tremendous progress, but it is all about medical stuff. There are tons of investments going in to make transportation systems applicable to CPS. There are 2,800 cars running right now in south Michigan, it is a test bed of the future of cyber physical systems based cars, but what we realized is all of these projects are not talking to each other. A lot of these sector specific systems can be interconnected or federated. We believe that one plus one can be more than two," said Rhee.

  • Key Insight: "We put a challenge out to corporations large and small, to academic institutions, and to the federal government itself to say there are all of these sector specific test beds and programs that have gone on, we put a challenge out to say combine those and do something that you weren’t able to do previously so that we could show the huge gains that are going to made in manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, that gains that could be had across America by the deployment of these cyber physical systems," said Mulligan.

You guys are trying to set up some standards so that when people are creating these systems they can all work together?

"We want to be the ARPANet for CPS integration. There is a duality to nature and to our project:

  1. "One we want to get the Administration, the legislature and the American public excited about what is on the horizon, by showing them what can be done today."
  2. "The second half is the technological things. Sokwoo and I are both techno-geeks. If we could lay the groundwork the way the ARPAnet laid the ground for the internet. Back when Vint Cerf was creating the internet he never imagined things like YouTube. Similarly, we can foresee what is coming in the next revolution, but if we can lay the groundwork, things can start to be interconnected, then some kid is going to come along and say oh my gosh I can do this and fundamentally change the landscape of American manufacturing," said Mulligan.

"All the teams competing in Smart America are all composed of multiple companies, government agencies and institutions. A lot of them are sector specific and by definition are using different types of communication portals and different types of connectivity. But by forcing them to work together they naturally agree on some sets of the common languages and they communicate effectively because they have to. That is the benefit and one of the outcomes we are expecting to come out of this competition," said Rhee.

Sign up for DorobekINSIDER Live: Internet of Things in Government coming up on 3/19. 

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Tags: DorobekINSIDER, Internet of Things, IoT, citizen engagement, communications, digital government, tech

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Comment by Scott Kearby on March 19, 2014 at 2:03pm
Thanks for the link Thomas ... that's exactly what I was talking about.
Comment by Thomas Buchanan on March 19, 2014 at 10:47am

Scott - Interesting point about the need for security as more and more things become wired up. I was actually just reading a presentation specifically on that subject by Jeff Greene over at Symantec. A little scary, but he does a great job of explaining things in more detail - https://www.rebootcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Gre...

Comment by Scott Kearby on March 19, 2014 at 10:19am

Inter-connected things/stuff has great potential, but it can be a double-edged sword.  If all is working as designed & intended then it can make life better ... but if some one hacks the system, then they can control the things from afar.  And if they control things, then they can cause bad things to happen ... crash cars & planes, impose traffic gridlock, shut down electric power, turn off water & sewer pump stations, etc.  Those who are connecting the things to the internet should be very, very careful & put security up front ... and even good security can be hacked. 

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