In the near future, 95% of Internet traffic will be conducted by machines talking to other machines.

This may be one of the most important economic and industrial trends in history, and Vanderbilt University intends to play  a leading role in this transformation.

Also known as “The Internet of Things,” the Industrial Internet connects objects and machines to each other without human interference or physical borders.  For example, an oil pipeline in Canada can be monitored in London while sensors detect potential leaks and send robotic assistance before any damage occurs; or a refrigerator equipped with computers can order vegetables, meat or juice with an online grocer and arrange delivery when supplies run low.

An Industrial Internet Consortium was formed earlier this year to set standards and answer questions about security.  Packed with corporate heavyweights such as Cisco, Intel, GE, AT&T and many others, Vanderbilt University joined the IIC  as the first  academic institution.

“By merging the ‘physical world’ with the ‘cyber world and connecting machines to machines and machines to the Internet, the Industrial Internet will result in huge productivity gains, reduced operating cost and sustained economic growth,” says Janos Sztipanovits, the Director of the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering.  “According to GE, the Industrial Internet could add $10-$15 trillion to the global GDP over the next 20 years.

Janos Sztipanovits

Vanderbilt participates in IIC for their expertise and experience working on several projects for the U.S. government.  “Vanderbilt is working on new foundations and common frameworks and standards for the Industrial Internet,” he says. “In several projects funded by the National Science Foundation and DARPA we developed new design technologies for cyber-physical systems that are constructed as the network of physical and computational components.

The ISIS center conducts basic and applied research in systems and information science and engineering. Applications of ISIS technology span a wide range of software-intensive systems from small embedded devices, through real-time distributed systems, to globally deployed complex systems. Software is increasingly essential to the functions of these systems, and it is also the primary means of adapting them to their environments and users.  The ISIS research interests lie in the theoretical foundations, modeling, design, engineering, and educational aspects of these systems.

The new standards and recommendations could take years to achieve.  “The technical challenge is to make the Internet time-aware, secure and dependable such that it can serve as fabric for a networked physical world,” says Sztipanovits. “Achieving this is hard because the current Internet evolved for very different purpose.

The Industrial Internet Consortium announced their membership earlier this year. Their goals can be described as follows:

As the digital and physical worlds collide, organizations need to be able to more easily connect and optimize assets and operations to drive agility across all industrial sectors. The IIC was formed to help achieve this goal by identifying the requirements for open interoperability standards and defining common architectures to connect smart devices, machines, people, and processes that will help to accelerate more reliable access to big data and unlock business value.

A recent story in the American newspaper the Nashville Tennessean featured Sztipanovits and discussed Vanderbilt’s role in this transformative technology.

What about the many ethical questions that’ll undoubtedly be bound up with this new use of the Internet? For example, where should the line be drawn about the information machines are allowed to know about us? How many human checks should be put on machine decisions? Who should pay when machines provide services humans don’t want — for instance, if I didn’t want more milk, should I have to pay for it if it arrives at my door? And most important, of course, is the question of the security of personal information.

Vanderbilt is looking to address these issues alongside dozens of corporations that make up the Industrial Internet Consortium,” The Tennessean noted. “The consortium was formed to create standards for the new Internet and foster collaboration between companies developing the infrastructure to make it a reality.

With 95% of the Internet’s traffic to be occupied by machine-to-machine communication, this could be one of the most important projects undertaken by Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering, a legacy that will affect the inter-connected world for decades to come.