Government and Corporate Programs Seek to Stoke IoT Innovations

Through programs such as the Global City Teams Challenge and Google's search for IoT research projects, public and private organizations are looking to move the Internet of Things from concept to reality.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 29, 2014

Last year, Sokwoo Rhee and Geoff Mulligan took leaves from their day jobs—running wireless sensor network provider Millennial Net and developing and promoting Internet-protocol communication standards, respectively—to launch the SmartAmerica Challenge, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project. Its goal was to help develop cyber-physical systems (which is government-speak for "Internet of Things") and to test specific projects and activities in a range of industries, from manufacturing to transportation to health care, with the hope of generating measurable benefits.

"We both had IoT backgrounds and were seeing fragmentation on every level, from standards to technology, with everyone doing their own thing," Rhee says of his and Mulligan's work on SmartAmerica. "So we tried to address that and bring all these different folks [from disparate industries] together to create a collaborative approach. We are focused on tangible solutions."

The Global City Teams Challenge kickoff event in September 2012
More than 100 organizations, from behemoths such as IBM and Qualcomm to unknown startups, joined the project, which put out specific challenges, such as developing more resource-efficient manufacturing processes with cross-industry benefits, or using sensor networks to optimize the distribution of energy on electrical grids.

"The White House is interested in showing the actual benefits to the end user of the IoT," Mulligan told me during a briefing this fall, in describing SmartAmerica. "Obviously the White House does not care about one protocol over another, but it does want things like the jobs and the environmental protections that come with some IoT and smart city technologies. So [SmartAmerica] reached out to show off what the IoT means to the U.S. economy and the daily lives of American citizens."

In June, SmartAmerica teams gave demonstrations of 24 different projects at the SmartAmerica Expo in Washington, D.C. The demonstrations involved autonomous vehicles, robots, security systems and unmanned aerial vehicles—all using a range of sensors and communication systems. The exposition was focused on incubating IoT technology, Rhee says. So to move beyond incubation and toward deployment of IoT technology, and to focus on deploying many promising applications within the umbrella of "smart cities," which touch on transportation, infrastructure and energy management, a new organization, called the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC), was formed.

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