The Jetsons and the Internet of Things

By Deborah Collier

WasteWatcher, June 2017

“The Jetsons” was only on television for one season, 55 years ago, but it produced a lasting impression about an interconnected future.  The show didn’t use the term “Internet of Things,” but much of what took place fits into today’s technology. 

There were flying cars, jetpacks, robot maids, talking computers, moving sidewalks, and talking computers.  There are now vacuum cleaners and prototype cleaning robots; moving sidewalks (not everywhere yet); self-driving cars and prototype flying cars; jetpacks; and computers (plus mobile phones) that can answer questions.  There are also refrigerators that can tell consumers what they need; home security systems that can be controlled remotely; and dozens of other devices that are now and will be connected through the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT market is expected to grow from $289.2 million in 2017 to $1.721 billion by 2022.  As the number and type of connected devices increase, among the many issues to be considered is how to integrate the new technology with minimal disruption.

Increased broadband connectivity and wireless communications have enabled more devices to be equipped with communications capabilities.  These devices (or things) include household appliances, lightbulbs, heating systems, automobiles, and fitness trackers.  Individuals can use multiple forms of communication to remotely control these things. 

IoT has many other uses like assisting municipalities in developing Smart Cities, which can save taxpayer resources through improved management.  Cities like Boston, New York, and Pasadena, California are using IoT sensors to provide real-time information on dumpster capacity to provide for improved trash pickup at a lower cost.  Atlanta, Georgia is planning to use IoT to improve transportation, public safety, environmental sustainability, internal city operational efficiency, and citizen and business engagement. 

On June 6, 2017, the Sacramento City Council approved a public-private partnership to install smart technology to improve public safety at city intersections using technology as well as advanced signal controls to manage vehicle flow, decrease congestion, improve public transit, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Other industries that can benefit from using IoT are agriculture, banks, defense, food services, energy, healthcare, hospitality, infrastructure, insurance, logistics, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities. 

While all of this connectedness may sound great, there can be adverse consequences without sufficient planning.  On May 15, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provided a technology assessment to Congress entitled, “Internet of Things: Status and implications of an increasingly connected world.”  The report highlighted challenges to IoT, such as information security, privacy, safety, standards, and economic issues. 

According to GAO, cyber threats to internet-based systems, like IoT, have been on the rise.  Without adequate safeguards, these systems are vulnerable to intrusion, where bad actors can obtain access to sensitive personal information, commit fraud, disrupt operations, or launch attacks against other computer systems and networks.  GAO noted that in 2016, “hundreds of thousands of weakly-secured IoT devices were accessed or hacked, disrupting traffic on the Internet.” 

GAO also raised safety concerns citing several 2015 incidents, when vehicles were hacked through remote access to a car’s connected entertainment system, which enabled perpetrators to cut the brakes and disable the transmission on vehicles.  On June 5, 2017, Data Breach Today reported on continued vulnerabilities with new connected vehicles, demonstrating the clear need for further improvements to system security. 

GAO also found that information collected by smart devices, if linked to an individual’s personal account, could be sold to companies to target consumers with advertising or to determine insurance rates.  In addition to security concerns, GAO called for standards for these devices to use that will allow them to communicate easily. 

The means through which these devices communicate will also need to be prepared and available.  Spectrum, already in short supply, will need to be optimized to carry the signals among devices.  Some of this preparation is underway, as the mobile industry is developing fifth generation (5G) networks, which will operate over a series of small cell radio access nodes that have a range of 10 meters to a few kilometers. 

Reducing the burdens of building new infrastructure to bridge the digital divide for both wireline and wireless consumers across the country will also contribute to improved connectivity among IoT devices.  On June 9, 2017, Citizens Against Government Waste filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in two proceedings, Accelerating Broadband Wireless Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (WT Docket No. 17-79, FCC 17-38), and Accelerating Broadband Wireline Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (WC Docket No. 17-84, FCC 17-37).  In these comments, CAGW emphasized the importance of promoting the expansion of broadband to unserved areas of the country by increasing the availability of federally held spectrum for public auction, reducing the cost associated with pole attachment fees imposed by local governments, and improving the application process for new pole attachments to speed approvals.

Congress is also working to prepare a pathway to improve connectivity across the country.  On January 3, 2017, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) reintroduced the MOBILE NOW Act (S. 19), which would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC to make available at least 255 MHz of federal and nonfederal spectrum below the 6000 MHz frequency available for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use.  The legislation also provides for an expedited application process for the use of easements, rights-of-way, or leases in or surrounding federal property for construction, modification, or maintenance of communications facilities; and provides for Department of Transportation assistance in facilitating the installation of broadband infrastructure, when federal-aid highway funds are used to modernize transportation infrastructure. 

George and Jane Jetson would feel right at home with the IoT applications and devices available today and into the future.  However, continued innovation in communications capabilities must keep pace with new developments in technology.  As IoT is integrated into new devices, infrastructure must be prepared for increased usage as these devices come online.  It will take a coordinated effort between the government and private sector to ensure it all goes smoothly and has the desired outcome.  Otherwise, as Astro would say, “Ruh-roh!”

Sign Up for Email Updates!Click Here!

CAGW Names Sen. Bernie Sanders June 2017 Porker of the Month

Sen. Sanders is CAGW's June Porker of the Month for his foolish quest to impose a single-payer healthcare system on the United States.