New research puts Internet of Things at forefront of public-private partnerships

The Department of Homeland Security's Sensors and Platforms Technology Center (SP-TC) says early warning systems and sensor technology has applications in the p...

New research in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies may help with national security issues, but it will also offer a wealth of benefits for business.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Sensors and Platforms Technology Center (SP-TC) studies and improves applications for IoT. While much of the focus centers on public safety and natural disasters, early warning systems and sensor technology has applications in the private sector.

“We try to take take a holistic approach to R&D, where we look at the technical, commercial and policy aspects to maximize the impact and the benefit of our investments,” SP-TC Director Jeff Booth said on Federal Monthly Insights — IoT Security.

One prime example of a public-private partnership in IoT research is the Capitol One arena. In the wake of COVID-19 ventilation issues, SP-TC worked with the arena’s management to install sensors that tracked changes in air flow and air quality that occurred during different sports and entertainment events. The team  developed a three-dimensional digital model of the arena to analyze  and improve air quality.  While air quality analysis had a direct use for arena management, DHS also had an interest in using the technology for public safety. Sensors installed in the building  give advance information about any public safety crisis to building security and law enforcement. That data could include everything from where a fire might be to the presence of an active shooter.

“They can provide that before the Blue Force arrives,” Booth told Federal News Network’s Jared Serbu on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Booth said the Capitol One arena offers a model of what SP-TC wants to achieve. Providing the arena with IoT technology to track air quality and public safety events benefits both law enforcement and business, enough to provide a needed cooperation on funding.

“The federal government can’t afford to fund everything, it’s just not practical,” he said.

Efforts by DHS to recover costs by applying its research in IoT to operations and public safety have involved numerous partners in several fields.

“In addition to the Cap One arena test that I mentioned, we’re also involved in a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as Stafford County, Virginia, and several industrial partners such as Verizon, Cisco and a large number of small businesses. The Stafford County community test bed already has in place test infrastructure including IoT Edge devices, conductivity, 5G transmission, zero trust architectures, appliances as well as data monitoring and collection capabilities.”

Wildfires have also provided SP-TC with a platform to partner with private companies. Last year, the center announced a partnership with  Breeze Technologies UG of Hamburg, Germany, and N5 Sensors, Inc. of Rockville, Maryland, for wildfire detection and air quality monitoring. The project involved putting sensors in remote areas to create an early warning system. The problem: How do you power it?

Booth said powering sensors creates a major challenge for IoT technology. The power needs to last, it needs to be sturdy, and it needs to be cost effective.

“We’re looking now at the wildland fire sensors. And we’ll be looking at different solar power configurations. The traditional flat screen if you will, solar is just really to test to see the efficacy of the sensors and their algorithms,” he said. “But ultimately, we’re going to need to look at solar panels and batteries that are more flexible, longer-life durations. You don’t want to set up fire sensors and with Santa Ana winds that all of a sudden the solar panels become more like wind sail. So we’re looking at flexible panels that could wrap around a pole as an example, as one mechanism to try to address that.”

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