“I can’t imagine that five or 10 years from now, the military world won’t be full of devices that are talking to each other and talking to command and control systems and talking to everything.” – Peter Lenk NATO
One of the interesting things about the IoT is its origins in military research. In the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s, DARPA had a research programme working on distributed sensor networks – a technological precursor to the internet of things.
The researchers worked with sensors the size of shoe boxes to try to set up a system that detected and identified incoming threats on the battlefield. The solutions they imagined, the technology roadmaps they created and the form/function they gave to connected devices has influenced the IoT ecosystem being built today.
Through the eyes of military researchers, there is an enormous potential of a world of connected devices. Their work reflects these specific drives. Those drives are, worryingly, not dissimilar to those of today’s big-tech – monitor, command, control.
The Internet of Battlefield Things project and the Military Applications of the Internet of Things project will inevitably feed back into commercial research and development. By osmosis, so will their vision of technology. This is a challenge to building an internet of things that is human-centred.
War, like our society, is being disintermediated by robots and algos. The IoT (or IoBT) is at the leading edge of this. Researchers are designing a system that is pervasive, watching and plugged into command and control. Our commercial systems will mirror this innovation (see below).
It will take significant work to blunt the edges of such powerful technology deployed in a democratic society. If it is even possible to make it ethical, responsible and people centred.
IoT at War: Internet of Battlefield Things
Takeaway: The battlefield is a microcosm of the IoT system, full of different devices and heterogenous data. Army planners are focussed on unifying smart devices making them effective for surveillance, monitoring, targetting and automation. A commercial IoT imbued with military technology and research targets will err toward surveillance, tracking, monitoring and behaviour-changing technologies. People will get lost in this vision.
The Internet of Battlefield things is a US Army research programme. The benefits of a network of sensors connected to data interrogation, algorithms and human soldiers are potentially great.
There is no aspect of war and conflict untouched by the IoT so the Army want to take the lead on integrating the industry’s diverse research paths. The military’s ability to centralise research and unify purpose are potential game-changers for a more pervasive IoT built around tracking and surveillance. Once they exist, the technologies will be commercialised.
The IoBT is the realization of pervasive computing, communication, and sensing where everything will be a sensor and potentially a processor (i.e. increased number of heterogeneous devices, connectivity, and communication) where subsequent information is of a scale unseen before.
NATO seem pretty being able to talk with civilian smart cities as well as their own military platforms to plan and execute.
NATO militaries may, for example, adopt smart city technologies for smart bases, he adds. Or within smart cities, NATO forces may tap into existing civilian systems, such as smart traffic control capabilities. “Everybody who thinks about it for a little while sees a lot of potential, but there are questions that need to be answered before we rush into things,” Lenk offers.
The military vision could be the technology roadmap for any major tech giant in the IoT space. With public money on offer, companies’ visions of the IoT will begin to coalesce with research funders.
The military will wrestle with responsiblity questions which we will come to in a subsequent edition.
Military Industrial Innovation
Takeaway: No development makes it to the warzone without progress on two essential sites of innovation for the military:
The cost of getting batteries into the battlefield is not worth it for any military. A low or no power sensor that is permanently monitoring data is a major enabling technology for an Internet of Battlefield Things (and for business). Hence:
The difference between LPWAN devices and N-ZERO is in the persistent sensing the military needs for its sensors. Commercial low power sensors can be scheduled to send data at specific intervals to conserve battery life. DARPA wants to go further with sensors that are asleep-yet-aware and can be woken at a moment’s notice, and also with RF receivers that constantly listen for signals but consume little power when a transmission isn’t happening, the blog notes.
Where will all of this lead? Probably not to a product that soldiers can use in the field right away. “I suspect what we’ll have are significant field demonstrations, but someone else will need to come in and productize what we’re doing and operationalize it either for the Department of Defense or the commercial IoT,” Olsson says. “And I fully expect applications in both.”
Military-Industrial initiative will shape the IoT we spend 95% of our time interacting with.
We can expect to see public or military funding go into systems that secure the IoT in the medium term. As the Army recognise themselves the sensor networks they will come to use are as likely to be grey (unaligned/civilian) or red (enemy) as their own systems. So security at a market level will ultimately be addressed by the IoBT and other military research projects to try to make devices more secure and robust.
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