Where is the IoT going? NIST examines gaps in research and infrastructure
The Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to disrupt and transform manufacturing and a number of other industries. Many companies are already experiencing improved operational efficiency, productivity growth, cost reductions and new revenue generation opportunities. These gains are likely to accelerate and spread throughout the economy as technological maturity and IoT adoption increases.
IoT and other emerging technologies can take 10 years or more to reach market saturation from incubation. The US federal government is accelerating this journey through targeted investments in research and development (R&D) and technology transfer as part of its “Lab to Market” process.
In fiscal 2020, the U.S. government invested $ 140 billion in a wide range of federally funded R&D programs, including emerging technologies. About $ 50 billion of that total was conducted in nearly 300 government-owned and government-operated (GOGO) laboratories across the country.
Some of these investments are likely to have extraordinary long-term economic impacts when transferred and operationalized by industry. As such, IoT has been identified as one of the growing areas of federal R&D investment and federal technology transfer, or the “Lab-to-Market” process. The IoT is now ranked as strategically important by each of the major US federal agencies that focus on increasing competitiveness, economic prosperity, and national security.
For the IoT to realize its potential and realize these benefits, a robust and secure technology infrastructure is needed. This requires answering two fundamental questions to ensure an efficient allocation of resources:
1. Where are the technology infrastructure gaps that prevent IoT technologies from being more widely adopted?
2. Where should the US federal government direct its resources and investments to address these gaps?
NIST steps up
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory body within the US Department of Commerce. Its role is to promote American technological innovation, competitiveness and the commercialization of federally sponsored research in all government agencies. NIST is at the heart of laboratory-to-market administration efforts, as the coordinator of the President’s management agenda Inter-institutional priority objective 14 and co-chairmanship of a sub-committee of the National Council for Science and Technology reporting to the Committee for Scientific and Technological Enterprise.
Given the strategic importance of IoT and in support of Goal 14, NIST felt it needed to understand the current state of IoT research efforts; focus on key technological infrastructure gaps; and assess where future government investments in research should be targeted to accelerate the adoption, deployment and economic benefits of IoT.
To answer these questions, NIST funded a research grant aimed at four key objectives:
1. Better understand the current state of IoT research efforts.
2. Assess major technological infrastructure gaps.
3. To quantify the benefits of filling these gaps.
4. Determine where future federal research investments should be made, whether that be in targeted research investments, private sector investment incentives, or other methods.
This new in-depth analysis is already helping answer some of the pressing IoT questions. This allows NIST to be better informed about necessary steps, future programs, smart initiatives and investments that can support long-term economic results.
A private California-based company, Strategy of Things, received the NIST grant to conduct this research study. The research team examines the opportunities for IoT in ten key sectors, including the manufacturing sector, which together make up a significant portion of the US economy.
Benson Chan, Senior Partner at Strategy of Things, is one of the expert team members for this project. Chan and his colleagues have worked with a network of allies, within government and the private sector, to ensure that this NIST research project helps key leaders.
Chan asserts that “IoT technologies have enormous disruptive and beneficial impacts on national security, economic prosperity, human security and well-being. But a number of barriers to technological infrastructure stand in the way. For this reason, Chan believes that, “As a number of established and start-up companies develop IoT solutions, the federal government is keen to work on the technology infrastructure gaps that the industry is examining. These include those that are not yet market ready, as well as those that no company has the interest or the resources to develop. “
IoT development phases
While the research is ongoing and will not be completed until early 2022, early results predict that the evolution of IoT will unfold in four distinct phases shown in Figure 1 below:
Each successive step builds on the infrastructure, capabilities, maturity of the solution and market uptake of the previous one.
Much of today’s best IoT applications are “point solutions” that solve operational inefficiencies and productivity. But, as the underlying technologies mature and customer acceptance increases, future IoT applications become more and more sophisticated. They are tightly integrated with, and with each other, information technology systems and operations. These future IoT applications are now part of a larger automated system of systems. These emerging solutions aim to enable fully automated operations in industry ecosystems, and they promise to generate transformative benefits that can only be envisioned today.
The drivers of IoT evolution differ at each stage of the evolutionary process. For example, today’s IoT applications use a small number of sensors. The data collected from these sensors is aggregated and analyzed largely through machine learning. IoT providers extend the functionality and utility of their solutions by building and leveraging their own ecosystems to create an “end-to-end” system.
The evolution of IoT is driven by technological advancements, interoperability between industries, government policies and regulations, and scale. Dozens of sensors in one factory will become tens of thousands in a future smart factory.
Today’s IoT systems are integrated with others to become “systems of systems”. Machine learning will be replaced by ambient intelligence, where each device is able to interact with each other autonomously and intelligently. With this integration, cybersecurity evolves into a broader concept of trust, which encompasses not only the integrity of data, connections and devices, but also decisions, reliability and availability, and fairness of outcomes.
In order to enable the future state of IoT, the research has identified some potential areas for future investment in technology research, as shown in Figure 2 below:
These technology areas were identified based on a study of the IoT accelerators shown in Figure 1. While there is research on these topics today, much of it is done independently in a few areas. Wider and Better Coordinated Research Agenda Needed to Accelerate IoT Maturity and Adoption in the United States
IoT is an emerging disruptive and transformational technology. For it to realize its full potential, governments must better understand the substantial economic, policy and national security implications of IoT. Its significance is too important to be left to organic evolution, or to mere chance. The US federal government, through its investments in R&D and policy development, now wants to play a critical role in accelerating the maturity and adoption of IoT. The extensive review process, organized by NIST and implemented by Strategy of Things, is already helping to bring key stakeholders together.
The next step in this effort is to offer a portfolio of opportunities for action. These actions can be taken by any of a myriad of government agencies, but also by a growing network of committed technology partners: private companies, universities, foundations, associations.
For 40 years in Silicon Valley, Gordon Feller has reported on emerging technology trends for many leading publications around the world: Time, Fortune, Gannett, Reuters, the UN, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the Financial Times and dozens of others. He was a Global Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and founded the nonprofit Meeting of the Minds. He has received several scholarships, including Prime Minister Abe’s scholarship.