The Internet of Things (IoT) will soon transform the way transportation and infrastructure operate in the United States, according to witnesses at the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security hearing on Tuesday.

“As no one owns the Internet, nor the controls or information that is transmitted across it, the same can be said about the Internet of Things,” said Robert Edelstein, senior vice president at AECOM. “IoT approaches will allow people and cargo to be transported more efficiently.”

Senators and witnesses alike expressed enthusiasm for IoT’s potential to improve freight, better public transportation, monitor infrastructure, and collect data on transportation operations.

“By increasing connectivity and real-time data flows between stakeholders, our transportation network and its users will gain productivity,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

Senators and witnesses also commended the Smart Cities participants, whose projects addressed issues of freight truck shipments, space within the cities, and other transportation issues.

There was heavy focus on the potential for automated vehicles, as a central part of IoT transportation changes.

“Automated vehicles hold the promise to dramatically reduce deadly crashes and reclaim millions of hours of lost time,” said Carlos Monje, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. “The time regained from not driving could be worth $1.2 trillion a year.”

“There’s a reason why the leading global Internet companies are looking at connected and autonomous vehicles, as they understand the issues are similar to the decentralization that created the Internet many decades ago,” said Edelstein, noting that cars spend most of the day sitting in parking lots, and that non-peak traffic hours see significantly decreased road use.

However, senators at a hearing in March expressed doubts that the automated vehicle industry would be able to equip their cars with the necessary safety and security features to go to market any time soon.

At this hearing, senators again addressed the concern that automated vehicles pose a security risk for users.

“The Internet of Things also leads to the Internet of Threats,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reminding the subcommittee of a security flaw in Jeep Cherokees that enabled an outside user to take over brakes and steering through the vehicle’s connectivity.

Senators also worried that the very regulation and governance posed by both Federal and state governments may impede IoT innovation.

“I’m worried about the lack of coordination between government agencies,” said Fischer.

“Obviously government silos are nothing new,” replied Seleta Reynolds, general manager at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She added that the Department of Transportation has done good work in bringing state governments, local governments, and private companies together to make progress on IoT and its regulation. “Public and private sectors are going to need to go way out of our comfort zones.”

Other concerns included a lack of funding for technology investment, as well as an absence of tech skill sets in the public transportation sector.

“We don’t have the skill sets inside government,” said Reynolds. “We desperately need those kinds of skill sets and capacity building inside the government, so that we can really come to the table as an equal partner.”

“We’re just not developing mass students the way other countries are,” added Jordan Kass, president of managed services at C.H. Robinson.

Overall, senators expressed the desire to foster and support IoT innovation and in a way that aids the needs of the transportation sector.

“Innovation is like a Whac-A-Mole: you try to hit it down and it pops up somewhere else,” Kass told them.

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