Jason Hope discusses the aviation roots of modern Internet of Things technology

Most people think of the Internet of Things as being a relatively recent and cutting-edge development. Many of the technologies that are broadly encompassed by Internet of Things are viewed as being the absolute state-of-the-art of high-tech. Things such as self-driving cars, which use radar, GPS and other high-tech platforms to keep cars on the road, are almost entirely new developments, with nothing similar having ever come before them.

But Jason Hope, one of Arizona’s most prolific internet entrepreneurs, sees things quite differently. Hope has been pointing out that many of the technologies that currently make up the Internet of Things have their origin in things that have been operational throughout various industries in the United States for decades. One of the richest sources of innovation of devices that currently make up Internet of Things technologies has been the aviation business. Since the early 1960s, the aviation industry has been a primary source of development of both computers and high-tech beacon technologies.

Hope points out that well over half a century before the first self-driving car was even able to drive on the highway, aviation pioneers like the Boeing Company were building aircraft that were capable of completely autonomous flight, from takeoff to landing. One example is the Boeing 727, which, in the early 1960s, was capable of landing itself in what’s known as Category III weather, which means weather in which visibility is so poor and winds are so perilous that the pilots themselves cannot see the runway or adequately control the plane.

This technology made heavy use of beacons, computers that were able to use radio waves to automatically correct for the course of the aircraft and transponders that allow the aircraft to communicate with ground equipment. In the case of the 727s autoland system, it marked one of the first applications of a portable computer system that was able to perform mission-critical tasks quickly enough to implement viable autonomous system.

Many of the technologies used by self-driving cars today, such as the computer algorithms that correct for the car’s course, are direct descendants of that 727 autoland program, started by ingenious engineer’s at America’s leading aircraft manufacturer 55 years ago.