The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects accessed through the Internet, as defined by technology. These objects contain sensors and other components to interact with internal states or the external environment.

When those objects are connected and can sense and communicate, it affects how and where decisions are made, and who makes them. According to the Business Insider, the IoT consisted of 1.9 billion connected devices in 2013, and 9 billion by 2018.

Several sellers to government are showing how governments can harness the Internet of Things. San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems, the  manufacturer of computer networking products, high-end network routers and services, recently explored ways that governments could use the IoT in disaster response.

Foster City, Calif.-based Streetline is harnessing the power of the IoT to tackle an unsolved urban problem: parking. Streetline’s smart parking technology detects the presence of a car through a network of ultra-low power wireless sensors located in individual parking spaces. Data from these sensors is then made available in real time via various cloud-based applications. The company has announced the release of its next generation parking data and analytics platform, ParkSight 2.0.

GPN asked Sidney Perkowitz, the Candler Professor of Physics Emeritus at Atlanta’s Emory University for his take on the IoT, and how governments can participate. Perkowitz writes often about science, technology and culture. His latest book is “Hollywood Chemistry.” Go here for details. Here are Professor Perkowitz’s views.

GPN: How can federal, state and local governments participate in the Internet of Things? What kinds of tasks can the Internet of Things handle for governments?

Sidney Perkowitz: The IoT is a way to keep track of objects by tagging them with wireless chips, and also a way to dynamically exchange real-time data with sensors and devices for communication and control in the real world.

Governments could use the IoT to keep tight inventory control on stored or stockpiled items such as emergency supplies; to manage real-time data gathering systems, such as a network of weather stations; and to manage systems that must respond to changing public needs, such as water distribution networks.

GPN: Are governments using the Internet of things in 2014?

SP: Government uses in 2014 or projected in the near future that I’m aware of include: water and waste management, and traffic and parking management. Electric grid control is a big semi-governmental area too. Presumably, there are surveillance and military applications that are not public knowledge. There must be some existing government inventory applications also, but I don’t specifically know of any.

With companies like Nest Labs that was recently bought by Google, that are developing Internet connected “smart” devices, there will be a good range of IoT technology available for government use. But one caveat: much of this is new technology, and needs to be carefully tested before it can be fully relied upon. A malfunctioning traffic control system is a much bigger deal than a bad Internet download! (Remember the automated baggage handling system at Denver International airport that went berserk on its first use).

The Internet of Things created countless new connections at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. Check out the latest connected devices across the show floor in this video.


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