There is a crisis unfolding in the United States. Infrastructure has become dated, decayed, and vulnerable to attack. A problem which the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates says will cost the country up to $3.6 trillion to address. So where does technology fit in to the United States’ next great undertaking?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to completely change every aspect of infrastructure as we know it. From transportation to energy production, there is an application for IoT technology. The world is more connected than it has ever been, and harnessing the technology at the core of this connection will present unique opportunities to usher in a new era of efficiency and security.
The Internet of Transportation
The U.S. highway system was arguably one of the most beneficial projects for the country’s economy that has ever been constructed. Built in what is known as “The Greatest Decade,” 1956-1966, America’s interstate highway system gave way to new opportunities for trade and the distribution of goods. But not only is it falling behind its competitors, it’s falling apart.
As the United States looks to rebuild its infrastructure, its highway system is a top priority, and in this massive operation, the U.S. has a chance to once again emerge as a leader in new infrastructure development.
The Internet of Things will have an essential role in the new highway system. With the development and rollout of self-driving cars, interconnected micro-sensors will provide connectivity between smart vehicles, creating a virtual highway on top of the physical highway. The development of this web of connection will be vital to navigation and safety of tomorrow’s self-driving fleet of cargo trucks and personal cars.
Additionally, the internet of transportation will provide a new opportunity to harness and distribute energy. Using piezoelectric crystals layered on the country’s new highways, energy could be generated from cars’ vibrations and with the addition of the expansive distribution of micro-sensors, energy can be connected to existing power grids, monitored, and secured, creating an entirely new source of power for U.S. cities.
While outfitting the country’s vast highway system with piezoelectric crystals and censors will certainly prove to be a massive project, U.S. cities are also looking to benefit from IoT tech. A number of cities have already begun integrating the IoT with basic infrastructure. These smart transportation initiatives include more intelligent traffic lights, data collection, and new routes for public transit outfitted with tech designed to reduce costs, increase safety, and alleviate congestion.
Transportation is only one aspect of the United States’ infrastructure challenges, but perhaps the most pressing is the country’s energy infrastructure, which has come under fire due to high profile pipeline leaks and its shocking susceptibility to malicious cyber-attack.
The Internet of Energy
It’s no secret that fossil fuels will reign as the go-to source of energy around the world for years to come, but distribution and management is currently a huge issue which stands to benefit from a tech overhaul.
The United States loses billions every year due to inadequate, old, or mismanaged energy infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago, there was a leak from the controversial Keystone pipeline, spilling up to 200,000 gallons of crude oil in South Dakota. Not only is this a costly problem for taxpayers, it is extremely detrimental to the environment. The Internet of Things looks not only to address some of these issues, but create even greater efficiency than previously thought possible.
Using smart sensor networks and artificial intelligence, oil and gas pipelines, nuclear plants, or even hydro-electric dams can be monitored and shut down the second there is an issue, giving way to a new era of safety.
In addition to the safety concerns which can be addressed by the IoT, the tech can completely transform the entire supply chain. In a system where getting from point A to point B is riddled with middle-men, unnecessary delays, and lost supplies, smarter monitoring of the chain will give way to cheaper energy and a more streamlined delivery of the end-product.
Renewables stand to benefit, as well. With a greater focus on smaller, smarter, and more independent grids, powered by renewable energy, the Internet of Things may very well be the answer the industry has been looking for. Producers and consumers will be connected in a new way, with the flow of energy carefully monitored and distributed in the most efficient manner possible.
With all of these interconnected sensors spread throughout tomorrow’s energy infrastructure, there is also a tremendous amount of data being collected. Using this data, it is fair to suggest that the industry as a whole will be able to be analyzed and improved over time. But building and maintaining this huge collection of data and connecting the country’s most critical infrastructure on such a level also gives way to a new challenge – protecting it against malicious cyber-threats.
The Internet of Blockchain
There have already been several high-profile attacks on critical infrastructure around the world, with the most notable being Ukraine’s wide spread power outages in 2015 and 2016, which highlights a pressing need for new solutions to secure our grids. While it’s not entirely clear exactly how vulnerable America’s infrastructure is to malicious attack, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has expressed its concerns.
John Wellinghoff, former chair of the FERC, noted: “We never anticipated that our critical infrastructure control systems would be facing advanced levels of malware.”
Enter blockchain tech. The decentralized nature of the technology creates a system which requires no approval from a single authority, and a ledger in which the blocks and transactions within the blocks created are auditable by anyone. Sending and storing the vast amounts of information created by the IoT becomes seamless and secure. Because the information sent is unable to be changed or redirected, potential threats to the infrastructure are decreased drastically. Single points of failure are eliminated and an overall more resilient ecosystem is created for IoT devices to run on.
Though security risks are greatly reduced with new technology, it is not entirely free from potential attacks. Social engineering is already a huge piece of the hacking puzzle. Pretexting, phishing, and even tailgating have all been used to gain entry to some of the most secure places on the planet. While technology has the potential to create a safer world, it's still up to the people in vulnerable positions to remain vigilant.