The Military Internet of Things
The Internet of Things represents a large opportunity in both the consumer/commercial and defense industries, especially for software that handles all the data generated by intelligent machines.
The Internet of Things is all about intelligent machines connecting to people (what GE calls “Minds + Machines”) or to each other (machine-to-machine, or M2M). Such connected machines can be remotely controlled or they can collect and communicate valuable data. Sometimes the value of that data is obvious—such as status and diagnostics—or it only becomes valuable when that data is compared or combined with data collected from other machines or devices. This is why the concept of Big Data goes hand-in-hand with the Internet of Things.
So what are these “things” or “machines”? The answer is just about anything. They could be household appliances, irrigation sensors in a corn field, a cutting machine on a factory floor or an aircraft engine. Right now, companies are in the process of giving machines the intelligence and connectivity they need to participate in this connected world. An industry that has previously been known as the “Embedded Industry” is now referred to as the “Internet of Things Industry” and it is growing at a phenomenal pace.
The Internet of Things is a broad term, but there are various segments that have been identified or will be as machines become more connected over the coming years. In the defense industry, the concept of the Internet of Things has been around for some time. The planes and land vehicles, ships and weapons systems found in the connected battlefield were networked and sharing tactical data among themselves well before the Internet of Things gained momentum in commercial markets. And with the growth of autonomous vehicles, this connected battlefield is ever-expanding and reaching into more applications and machines. Embedded rugged computers are providing intelligence for military machines large and small. Sensor processors are helping to gather and process large amounts of data such as high definition video. Network solutions—rugged routers and switches provide the connectivity infrastructure and high-performance embedded computers (HPECs) process the big data generated by the connected battlefield.
Now that defense forces have experienced the benefit of the connected battlefield and beyond, they are aiming to connect even more machines. The concept of connecting every battlefield asset, whether large or small, human or machine has taken hold. This has led to an increased emphasis on SWaP for the COTS products we sell—how do you fit a computer and network switch into an ultra-small UAS, for example? It has also led to an increased emphasis on security—segregating classified and unclassified data, anti-tamper and information assurance.
As in the Industrial Internet—where connected machines allow higher efficiency, cost savings and increased safety in industries ranging from factory automation, mining, energy production and transportation—making machines intelligent and connecting them is only part of the challenge. The question becomes what to do with all the data that is collected? How do you turn it into meaningful information and get it to the right people at the right time? This is where we believe the investment in software for the Industrial Internet can help defense customers. Software that is used to analyze and optimize the operation of diesel engines in large mining vehicles could be applied to armored military vehicles for example. Or the tools and software that collects data from sensors installed in an aircraft engine and can notify maintenance crews in real time are directly applicable to military aircraft. Even the software that rail transport companies use to optimize the operation of locomotives—saving them millions of dollars in energy costs—could be applied to the operation of unmanned submarines, allowing them to execute longer missions further and further from port.
The Internet of Things represents a large opportunity in both the consumer/commercial and defense industries. The focus initially has been on hardware—embedding intelligence into machines. In the defense applications, the emphasis is on SWaP and security in this regard. There is a much larger challenge, and therefore opportunity, in software that handles all the data generated by intelligent machines, particularly as the Internet of Things matures and our connected world grows.
Christopher Lever is general manger, Embedded Product Management, GE Intelligent Platforms