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Military hops on the 'Internet of Things'

The U.S. military has been thinking about the 'Internet of Things' -- networks of devices that talk to one another. But there are some major obstacles.

We’ve been talking lately about the "Internet of Things” -- networks of devices that talk to one another. A fridge that knows when you get home and cracks open a beer for you, or a car that turns into a hotspot so you can get online with your tablet.

The U.S. military has been thinking about the "Internet of Things" as well, but there are some major obstacles. The Defense Department doesn't always operate in countries that have the necessary network infrastructure. And the bigger a network gets, the more congested it becomes.

To solve these problems, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is requesting creative ideas for building what are called "ad hoc networks".

"The ad hoc networks that we use are a like a conference call," says Mark Rich, program manager for DARPA's strategic technology office, who adds the calls can get crowded.

"Think about if you had 50 people on a conference call, it’s a very different experience than if you have three or four."

Rich says this type of network sharing isn't sustainable for the years ahead, when 50 people on a conference call will become 5,000. So rather than working to expand network capacity, DARPA is searching for wholly new kinds of networks.

"We'd like to back up and really look for new thinking and how might we do things differently, as opposed to extending the kinds of network services that we have today," Rich says. "So the start-up culture is something that we very much promote."

To hear more about DARPA's new projects, click on the audio player above.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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