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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

The Internet’s Next Big Idea: Connecting People, Information, and Things

Internet of Things (graphic credit: ©XtravaganT - Fotolia.com)

By Chris Greer, Senior Executive for Cyber-Physical Systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the early 1990s, a Web page consisted of crude, rainbow-colored, text-filled boxes that “hyperlinked” to more text. Today, your Internet-enabled smartphone not only gives you access to libraries’ worth of information, but also helps you navigate the physical world.

Cyber-physical systems, also called the Internet of Things, are the next big advance for our use of the web. They allow complex systems of feedback and control that can help a robot coordinate with a dog or human in a search-and-rescue operation or help health care providers evaluate the recovery of patients after they leave the hospital.

The Internet of Things is still in its infancy. To mature, it will require public-private collaboration across disciplines and economic sectors. Today, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., an event conceived by Presidential Innovation Fellows Sokwoo Rhee and Geoff Mulligan from the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is demonstrating what’s needed to make the Internet of Things a reality. At the event, 24 teams representing more than 100 organizations from academia, industry and government who responded to the fellows’ SmartAmerica Challenge are demonstrating how the Internet of Things can improve health care, emergency response, transportation and more while fostering jobs and economic growth. Some of the teams also showcased their ideas at the White House yesterday.

In addition to smart emergency responses, we could soon have smart manufacturing that brings production right to your neighborhood, getting you the parts you need faster while supporting local jobs. Affordable technologies could create smart homes that include automated safety alerts and a community awareness network to protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations. And smart vehicles could not only communicate with one another and traffic signals, but also with pedestrians to prevent collisions. These are just a few of the projects led by the SmartAmerica Challenge teams.

As a next step, we hope these teams and others across the United States and around the world will join NIST and collaborating organizations for the SmartAmerica/Global Cities Challenge. We’ll ask them to work together in creating the building blocks of smart cities. Our goal is to cut in half the time and money it will take for cities to deploy advanced engineering and information technologies to better manage their resources and improve everything from health and safety to education and transportation. Progress will require standard ways for all of these devices and systems to communicate, and that will take coordination among the people building the information technology, physical devices and communities.

Several SmartAmerica teams also announced today that they plan to continue their collaborations, expand deployments of their new technologies, and introduce new products. One team is even supporting a local version of the SmartAmerica challenge in Austin, Texas. This demonstrates the amazing power of a nation that is truly “open for business.”

It’s not a coincidence that these are public-private partnerships. The components of our everyday lives are becoming ever more interconnected. The smoke detector you buy from a private company may soon connect directly to your municipal fire department, just as heart-rate monitors now can communicate with your doctor’s office.

Such collaboration accelerates innovation and it means the Internet of Things will not need decades to mature as the Web did. It’s already bringing rapid changes to the way we live and work. And best of all, it’s bringing economic opportunity with it.

The Apprentice: A Tale of Life, Love and Much Else

Guest blog post by Stacey Wagner, crossposted from the NIST Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by apprenticeships – really!  I was an avid reader of history, ancient and otherwise, and apprenticeships always meant adventure.  One could apprentice with Greek philosophers, British knights, Teutonic alchemists, and farmers, tradespeople and barbers (who were also doctors).  You could apprentice in a household or a business.  And once your apprenticeship was complete, you commanded respect as a trained and educated person with skills to play a useful role in society.

Apprenticeships have always been a stepping stone for both a good job and a great story.  Those tantalizing tales I read as a kid centered, mostly, on a young person’s indenture to some mysterious craftsperson and it always lead to mischief: wild chases, first-time love affairs, and messy screw-ups.  But they also led to the apprentice learning about life, love and labor – specifically the skills to be someone you weren’t before, but better.

The master-storyteller, Walt Disney, even got into the act when he produced the iconic movie, “Fantasia,” with a scene called The Sorcerers’ Apprentice, which to this day still spooks me.  There are also plenty of modern-day books about apprentices: “The Apprentice” (Lewis Libby), “The Apprentice” (Tess Gerritsen), “The Apprentice Series” (James Bryan Smith) and “Rangers Apprentice” (John Flanagan), to name just a few, and a TV show by that name as well (I know I don’t need to tell you who stars in that!). In the modern vernacular, the term sorcerers’ apprentice, was immortalized by “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797.

Countdown to Net Zero: NIST Test House Pursues Energy Surplus in Final Month

Countdown to Net Zero: NIST Test House Pursues Energy Surplus in Final Month

Heading into the final stretch of a year-long trial run, the experimental net-zero energy house at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., must overcome an energy deficit of 154 kilowatt hours—equivalent to about $20—during the month of June.

The facility was designed to produce at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. At the end of May, the research residence still owed on its total energy bill, which averaged less than $2.00 a month over the first 11 months. In contrast, the monthly expenditure for electric power alone averaged $129 for Maryland households in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

So, the "countdown to net zero" is on. For those interested in keeping score, NIST is posting a running daily tally of net energy use through June 30. Each day's results will be reported on NIST's NZERTF web page, under Recent Research Results, and highlighted on NIST's Twitter account (use the hashtag #Countdown2NetZero). 

Better Materials for Safer Sports: Time to Use Our Heads

A simple example of making a material fail "better": By fine-tuning the thickness of the connecting spokes in a sheet of acrylic, we can change how it transmits force when fractured. With thick spokes (left), fractures propagate in a straight line and concentrate the impact. Thin spokes (right) divert the fracture across the sheet, diffusing the impact.

Guest blog post by Dr. Laurie E. Locascio, Director of the Material Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

On Thursday, the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, President Obama highlighted both the need for greater national awareness of the risks our young athletes face from traumatic brain injuries and the need for increased research on how to combat these potentially life-altering injuries.

In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments in the United States treated more than 250,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents—a figure that’s risen by 60 percent in the past decade.

At the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we recognize that the use of advanced materials in protective equipment, such as helmets, can play a critical role in this effort. For that reason, NIST is investing $1 million per year for 5 years on tools to accelerate the development of advanced materials that can provide better protection against concussions for the athlete.

Sports equipment often leads the way in adopting new advances in materials—think of carbon nanotubes in high-end tennis rackets and golf clubs. But modern materials science offers the possibility of specifically designing new materials, from the ground up, that are tailored to the special needs of helmets and other protective equipment.

As an example, “shear-thickening suspensions”—specially designed particles suspended in a liquid polymer—can be a high-tech shock absorber that instantly adapts to offer greater resistance to stronger shocks. You’ve encountered a sheer-thickening suspension if you’ve ever tried to stir cornstarch in water quickly.

Other possibilities include micro- or nanostructured materials that either absorb shocks by crumpling in specific ways, rather like some automobile components are designed to protect passengers in a crash, or that selectively deform to channel the energy of shocks away from highly sensitive areas, like the skull. Self-healing polymers and shape-memory metal alloys can both provide reinforcement and extend the longevity of the equipment.

ExporTech™ Helps Manufacturers Develop Strategies for International Markets

ExporTech™ Helps Manufacturers Develop Strategies for International Markets

With more than 80 percent of the world market residing outside the U.S., there is clearly great opportunity for U.S. companies to find new customers and grow. But it is much easier to enter or expand into new global markets with partners who have resources and can help guide the way.

As part of the Commerce Department’s efforts to help U.S. companies increase exports, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) and the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) U.S. Export Assistance Centers offer ExporTech™. Since 2007, ExporTech™ has assisted hundreds of businesses across the country to increase export sales, establish new partnerships, expand production facilities and hire more employees.

The program brings in partners such as District Export Councils, state trade offices and other federal, state, and local agencies to efficiently connect companies with a wide range of experts that help them navigate the export sales process.

Manufacturers can sign up for ExporTech™ through their local MEP center and, over the course of nine weeks, each company is guided through the development of an export strategy, both through group workshops and individual coaching. At the end of the program, the business has an export plan that is vetted by a panel of experts. Many participants generate export sales within six months of completing the program.

ExporTech™ builds connections to a team of export organizations that help participating companies find the right markets and implement their export growth plans. It amplifies the impact of other export programs, helping companies get the most out of tradeshows, ITA’s Gold Key services, country visits and trade missions.

To date, there have been more than 90 ExporTech™ programs in 28 states with more than 500 participating companies. Those companies have hired an average of five new employees, seen nearly $800,000 in average export sales increases, saved an average of $50,000 in costs and investments, and seen new and retained sales of $400 million.

ExporTech™ is just one example of the Commerce Department’s commitment to helping more American businesses export to more markets. Just yesterday, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced NEI/NEXT – a data-based, customer service-driven initiative that will build on administration-wide achievements under the National Export Initiative (NEI) to help all businesses reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside the United States. To learn more about NEI/NEXT’s strategies to help U.S. businesses capitalize on new markets, visit http://www.trade.gov/neinext.

NIST Awards $9 Million in Grants for Advanced Manufacturing Technology Planning

Awarded to 19 industry-driven partnerships, NIST advanced manufacturing technology planning grants will support technology roadmapping efforts across a wide spectrum of industries and processes

The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today awarded 19 advanced manufacturing technology planning grants totaling $9 million to new or existing industry-driven consortia to develop technology roadmaps aimed at strengthening U.S. manufacturing and innovation performance across industries.

The grants, awarded to universities and other nonprofit organizations, are the first conferred by NIST's new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech)Program. They range from $378,900 to $540,000 for a period of up to two years.

The funded projects will identify and rank research and development goals, define workforce needs, and initiate other steps toward speeding technology development and transfer and improving manufacturing capabilities. Project collaborations span a wide variety of industries and technologies, from flexible-electronics manufacturing to biomanufacturing and from pulp-and-paper manufacturing to forming and joining technologies.

"The AMTech awards provide incentives for partnerships to tackle the important jobs of planning, setting strategic manufacturing technology goals, and developing a shared vision of how to work collaboratively to get there," said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. "These are essential first steps toward building the research infrastructure necessary to sustain a healthy, innovative advanced manufacturing sector—one that invents, demonstrates, prototypes and produces here, in the U.S."

Technology roadmapping is a key component of all funded projects. Each consortium will engage manufacturers of all sizes, university researchers, trade associations and other stakeholders in an interactive process to identify and prioritize research projects that reduce shared barriers to the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States.<--break->

Commerce Department Collaborates with Regional Partners to Make the U.S. a Magnet for Advanced Manufacturing and Good Paying Jobs

This week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker met with the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Steering Committee 2.0 and the Manufacturing Council to discuss issues affecting the health of America’s manufacturing industry, including progress on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

In his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union Addresses, President Obama called for the creation of a nationwide network devoted to innovating and scaling-up advanced manufacturing technologies and processes to create good paying jobs and spur economic growth. These efforts, known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) consist of regional hubs, bringing together companies, universities, community colleges, and government to accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for making new, globally competitive products. The President has asked Congress to authorize a one-time $1 billion investment—to be matched by private and other non-federal funds—to create an initial network of up to 15 hubs. Over the span of 10 years, he has proposed building out NNMI to encompass 45 such hubs.

Significant progress has already been made to accelerate the development of the NNMI. In January, President Obama announced the selection of the Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute, headquartered at North Carolina State University, to lead a manufacturing innovation institute for next generation power electronics. It is focused on enabling energy-efficient, high-power electronic chips and devices by making wide bandgap semiconductor technologies cost-competitive with current silicon-based power electronics. President Obama also announced two additional institutes in February – the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, headquartered in Chicago, and the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute, headquartered in the Detroit area. These announcements build on the NNMI pilot – the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, now known as America Makes – launched in August 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio.

NIST Research Offers Guide in Formulating Cancer Treatment Drugs

NIST Research Offers Guide in Formulating Cancer Treatment Drugs

Potentially valuable drugs slowed down by sticky molecules may get another shot at success. Joint research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Genentech, the University of Delaware and Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) has revealed the reason why a certain class of proteins tends to form clusters that lead to high viscosity in drug solutions.

The newly published results* could help drug companies create a variety of cancer and autoimmune disease treatments based on monoclonal antibodies, whose stickiness can make them difficult to administer through thin needles.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are Y-shaped protein molecules that hold great promise for disease treatment. In principle, the tip region of two of their "arms" can be engineered to deliver attacks on tumor cells without harming surrounding tissue, making mAbs less dangerous to the body than standard chemotherapy, that kills both healthy and cancerous cells. However, a roadblock in the way of their bright pharmaceutical future as a subcutaneous injection—the preferred delivery technique—is their high viscosity: in solution, some mAbs become so viscous at required high concentrations that they are nearly impossible to inject.

Early Career Commerce Scientists and Engineers honored by White House

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

The Commerce Department is home to some of the world’s leading scientists and engineers that are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our planet and doing great work to ensure our nation remains the global epicenter of innovation. Earlier today, President Obama honored six NIST and NOAA engineers and scientists with the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) at a ceremony at the White House. The award is the highest honor given by the federal government to outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers. The Commerce scientists are part of a group of 102 scientists from across federal agencies that received the prestigious award.

PECASE awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The winners represent outstanding examples of American creativity across a diverse span of issues—from adding to our understanding of the most potent contributors to climate change to unlocking secrets to some of the most pressing medical challenges of our time to mentoring students and conducting academic outreach to increase minority representation in science fields.

Big Data is Big Business for Commerce

Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms (center) along with Erie Meyer, Joel Gurin, Waldo Jaquith, and Daniel Castro at the Center for Data Innovation hosted “The Economic Benefits of Open Data” event

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Big Data and Open Data are all the rage these days. However, Commerce was into Big Data before Big Data was cool. As far back as 1790, we began collecting data on patents in the U.S. and the Census Bureau conducted the first Decennial Census the same year. In 1870, the National Weather Service was created – which today is one of the biggest data producing agencies around.

Back then, our economy was based largely on agriculture. Over the years, our economy evolved through the industrial revolution, later giving rise to the strong service sector. Today, we are at the nascent stages of the next era in our economic growth, the information age. On a daily basis, there is an ever-increasing amount of data becoming available, and the demand for data is increasing exponentially. We have before us both great opportunity and fascinating challenges to understand how best to harness this national resource. This is a key focus of Commerce’s Open for Business Agenda.

You may not know it, but the Department of Commerce is home to many agencies that are your primary source for data that you likely use every day.

For example:

  • How many people live in the U.S. or in your hometown? You might know the Census Bureau is the authority on population, but did you know the Census Bureau’s data goes well beyond just population? Census also produces huge volumes of data on our economy, demographics, and fascinatingly insightful data describing our communities – or, if you are a business, your customers.
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis is a little know agency that produces key economic data and many of the closely watched economic indicators that move markets, drive investment decisions and guide economic policy. Do you know which industries are the leading sources of income in your community, or to your customers? BEA data can tell you.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is your primary source for weather, ocean and climate data – they are collecting data every minute of every day from land, sea, and even spaced-based sensors. When you hear the local forecast or hear about severe weather warning, that is NOAA data informing you about your environment in real time.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, locally known as NIST, is our nation’s authority on broad swaths of scientific, cyber, and physical data – including, officially, what time it is.
  • We also have data on patents going back more than 200 years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a gold mine of inspiration for innovation.
  • Other agencies in Commerce provide data on economic development, minority businesses, trade, and telecommunications and the Internet.

On any given day, the Department will generate in excess of 20 terabytes of data, and sometimes much more. Yet, we think we can do more with this resource. We want to take every step we can to open access to it to the entrepreneurs and innovators of America, as we are pretty convinced that there is huge unmet value and potential. We understand that a huge part of the value of data is when it is not seen alone, but as part of a rich tapestry of information. We believe that there is great opportunity to solve problems, innovate new businesses, and improve data-driven decision-making, and we are committed to that path.

That is why I was so glad to be a part of today’s launch of the Open Data 500 Project, housed out of the GovLab at NYU. This exciting project has verified what we were certain must be true: That hundreds of American companies are using Commerce data every day to innovate and deliver important goods and services to their customers.