This article is published in the June 2017 issue.

A Rural Lens on a Research Agenda for Intelligent Infrastructure

We hear all about “smart cities” but what about smart rural communities? We cannot forget about our rural populations, which we depend on for agriculture, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, and mining.

Recently, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) in collaboration with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) released white papers describing a collective research agenda for intelligent infrastructure. We will be blogging about each paper over the next few weeks.

Here, we highlight A Rural Lens on a Research Agenda for Intelligent Infrastructure paper.

Sparse population densities drive many of the challenges facing rural areas; these are problems that differ from high-density urban areas. They often lack the range of services that a city can provide to residents, such as robust public transit, and diversity of options, such as choices for healthcare. In terms of intelligent infrastructure, rural areas also challenge the dominant modes of thinking about the future of what it means to be smart: inviting consideration of different traffic patterns, pollution causes and locations, agricultural monitoring, aging in place, support for veterans, and so forth.

Designing rural intelligent infrastructure that is robust in the face of power outages, works in the heat of the Mojave and the wetlands of the Atchafalaya swamp, and is located 100s of miles from any form of significant data processing capability or IT experts, presents important socio-technological challenges.

Rural communities today experience the same disadvantage with Internet access today as they did with electricity access in the 1930s. They benefited from the Rural Electrification Act (REA) that fueled the development of infrastructure. Government investment in a rural Internet based intelligent infrastructure would position American corporations to partner in the development of applications and services, provide rural Americans with the same opportunities as their counterparts in the cities.

The paper outlines the next steps for rural intelligent infrastructure, which require basic computing research that can be applied to a rural community.

  • Internet Access: Novel Networking Innovations
    • To bring Internet access to rural areas, a number of wireless technologies have been trialed and failed, so more research is needed before this technology is ready for widespread utilization.
  • Distributed and Localized Computing: Local Clouds
    • To create rapid-response capabilities and resilience, rural areas will rely on a computation hierarchy that begins with highly localized computing and includes unlimited Internet-based cloud computation and storage as the top level of the hierarchy.
  • Rural Testbeds: Engaging Rural Americans
    • The rural United States has a staggering range of difficult terrain to support innovation in intelligent infrastructure. We need testbeds that will initially challenge our scientific and technological imaginations as we design solutions that can function in these environments and across these vast terrains.
  • Education and Workforce Development: Employment Opportunities
    • Americans need to be more than just consumers of a smart digital grid, they should be able to maintain and evolve it. In rural communities, this is even more important since it is the local population who may end up managing far more than just their own consumer needs

A National Agenda for Intelligent Infrastructure is not complete without explicit consideration of the needs of rural communities. And yet, Intelligent Infrastructure is often imagined as “smart cities” with bias towards urban needs. A Rural-focused Intelligent Infrastructure Act is proposed, where technological platforms and applications supported by the appropriate policy will empower rural communities.

Please read the paper for additional details on the research agenda on intelligent infrastructure for rural communities.

Stay tuned to learn more about the other intelligent infrastructure papers!

A Rural Lens on a Research Agenda for Intelligent Infrastructure