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Back to Blog • Posted on November 20, 2014 by admin
It’s a staple of the science-fiction film industry to imagine life in the future and depict that vision on the big screen. Part of the genre’s appeal, it serves many narrative purposes but also allows directors to utilize the latest in graphic technology to show moviegoers a life sometimes desirable, sometimes not, (depending on whether they’ve decided to end the world or not; don’t worry, we’re not going down that road right now).
In the more upbeat sci-fi movies, humanity has typically achieved a level of technological superiority that allows a lot of the more menial tasks in our life to be automated. Machines are not just present but active in our day-to-day comings and goings, and we’ve achieved an almost symbiotic relationship with them.
You’ve seen it before, and if you haven’t you’ve probably imagined it: you get home from work, close the front door and your house comes alive. Self-moving vacuum cleaner picks up the residue left behind from your dirty shoe, fridge pours you a cup of ice water, stove turns on and starts to cook dinner without you touching it, all while you sigh and plop down on your couch to relax after a long day. Later on, after dinner, the dishwasher turns on by itself while the fridge notifies you that dessert has been served, all while the shower in the bathroom turns on and sets the water to exactly the right temperature. Later that night, the bed–automatically warmed to your desired sleeping temperature–adjusts the mattress pressure to your preset comfort level. You fall asleep and your alarm both sets itself and goes off automatically. You get ready in a closet that already has your clothes laid out for you, then walk into a kitchen that already has breakfast and coffee ready, the newspaper “laid out” digitally on the dining table that doubles as a multi-touch computer screen. Outside, you get in your car and tell it you want to go to work, and it takes you there, hands free, while you sip your coffee and gaze at the sky, and when you arrive it drops you off and goes and parks itself.
Sounds nice, right?
While this may seem like something straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel, recent technological advancements have made it so a future like this is not only foreseeable, but inevitable thanks to the increasing development of machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. While we still haven’t reached a point where your kitchen can read your mind, the future of daily activities, personal appliances–and technology as a whole–is closer to making sci-fi a reality than ever before.
So what exactly is M2M? And how is it possible it can make the above scenario a reality?
Simply put, M2M technology is an umbrella term that encompasses an entire field of research into how devices can communicate with other similar devices through wireless or wired means, without the need for human intervention.
In other words, machines communicating with other machines, on their own.
While this oversimplifies the actual goal of the movement, this is essentially what M2M is all about: connecting all devices and making device automation a central part of the average citizen’s livelihood.
Still relatively young though, M2M and the scientists working on M2M technology are still developing and rolling out various new pieces of hard- and software for this purpose. But that isn’t to say M2M technology isn’t already having an effect on various industries.
“While M2M is still in its infancy,” says Mobeen Khan, AT&T’s Director of Mobility Marketing and one of their primary advocates for increased use of M2M technology. “The expanding industry is already having an impact across a variety of sectors that are investing heavily in this technology, including transportation, industrial production, healthcare, automotive manufacturing and government.”
Which is to say that M2M technology has already been implemented in various industries, both commercial and non-commercial. It’s even present in some of your houses already, in the form of smart-thermostats and washer/dryers that can be controlled wirelessly from your computer or phone. And with a foot in the door already, history dictates that it’s only a matter of time before M2M is the primary focus of U.S.–and global–tech industries.
M2M capability has been around for a while. A simple formula for understanding M2M involves the various components necessary for it to work:
Start with a device, the main device in the M2M path. Connect that device to a gateway–a piece of equipment that’s purpose is to make sure the device is connected to the third component of the process: the network. From there, the network connects the device and gateway to the M2M application, which in turn sends commands back through the network telling the M2M device what to do.
When everything works together, what you have is a scenario where pressing a button on an app on, say, your smartphone, will make–for example–your TV turn on and switch to your favorite channel, or set your AC to your preferred temperature, or tell your stove to start baking that lasagna at 425 degrees. The ultimate goal being that you can take care of all these things from the same app system, without even having to be in the house.
Before we continue though, let’s take it back a few years to reveal how we got to the point where M2M became a feasible thing.
The core concept of M2M technology has been around since the 60’s when computer networking first came onto the market, making it even older than cellular communication. In fact, the first iterations of M2M were actually used to help telephones and computers communicate.
In 1968, Theodore G. Paraskevakos invented the first caller line identification system (not patented until 1973). This invention was the precursor to modern day Caller ID, and presented a real problem for Paraskevakos at first. Tinkering with the idea of knowing who was calling a phone before the callee answers it, Paraskevakos tried various scenarios with telephones, experimenting with the available technology until it dawned on him that–for his idea to work–the phone had to have some sort of intelligent computing device installed that would allow it to read the incoming phone numbers.
So Paraskevakos got to work. And after testing his idea in a Boeing facility in 1971, he finally came up with a working system. Field tests ensued, with Paraskevakos installing the Caller ID system through two different phone companies: one in Leesburg, Alabama, the other in Athens, Greece. The tests were extremely successful, with various phone companies around the world impressed by the results. Paraskevakos and his invention were on their way, but even he couldn’t envision the doors that his invention opened, tuning developers into the notion that machines can intelligently communicate with each other.
However, it would be over two decades before M2M got a proper introduction to the world when, in 1995, Siemens created an entire department within the company’s mobile phone unit whose only purpose was to develop the “M1”: a GSM data module that would allow machines to communicate with each other wirelessly.
For five years this department worked on the technology, expanding on previous research to open whole new pathways. By 2000, the mobile unit had broken off from Siemens to create a totally separate unit called “Wireless Modules.” And by 2008, members of Wireless Modules left Siemens for good to create a company called Cinterion Wireless Modules.
Siemens/Cinterion’s original M1 modules were initially used strictly for commercial purposes, installed mainly in businesses for use in devices that could benefit from M2M tech (i.e. POS devices, terminals, vehicle telematics, remote monitoring, etc.) And so it happened that a small effort from one company to expand their wireless capabilities grew into a new way of life for many others.
Over the next few years, the increased use of M2M technology within various businesses like General Motors and Hughes Electronics corporation pushed the term into mainstream use, especially when company executives started to see the long-term benefits that could be gained. Diversity became a necessity, with variations of M2M being used in everything from the automotive industry to cellular to healthcare.
Today, M2M is present in many devices used by companies and individuals alike, from GPS technology to smart cars to cell phone SIM cards to the embedded Java necessary to operate the Internet of Things (closely related to M2M, more on that later).
The industry’s grown so much, in fact, that a few companies have been able to capitalize off the products necessary for current M2M capabilities, as well as future innovations. For example: Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corporation recently contracted with NASA to develop automated M2M intelligence for various uses such as wireless and wired tools and sensors, robotics, spacecraft, and other parts of the space group’s tech. And again, in 2009, AT&T and Jasper Technologies signed a joint agreement to develop their own M2M technology, the ultimate goal being to improve connection between consumer electronics and wireless networks. And even more recently, companies like Kika Enterprises have moved to the forefront of the wireless tech market, specializing in various M2M-optimized products like Embedded Modules, Cellular Routers, Fixed Wireless Terminals and various other mobile communication devices.
The rise of M2M has even spurred some companies to join forces, with service providers KORE Telematics, Oracle, Deutsche, Telekom, Digi International, ORBCOMM, and Telit coming together to form the International M2M Council (IMC).
“The vision of the IIC is to manage the collaborative efforts of industry, academia, and government to accelerate growth of the Industrial Internet,” says Mobeen Khan. “Reducing this perceived fragmentation in the industry and breaking down the barriers.”
With M2M gaining more and more public recognition–and the implications of it far-reaching–companies worldwide are joining the movement to expand the market in the near future.
“Over the next five years we will see a sharp increase in M2M revenues,” said Mobeen Khan. “According to global analyst firm, Ovum, the M2M market is set to treble over the next few years with M2M service revenues set to grow to $44.8 billion in 2018. [And] by 2019 we are set to see three key industry verticals invest heavily in the technology: energy & utilities, healthcare and manufacturing.”
Regardless of its increasing popularity, it’s nearly impossible to mention M2M without touching on the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT, by definition, is the process in which companies connect embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure, with the ultimate goal being to automate tasks. The technical software side of M2M, IoT moves the internet as we know it from our computing devices and places it into almost every personal device we own. So, basically, IoT is the connection process that needs to take place between the internet and physical machines for worldwide M2M capability to become a reality.
IoT coincides with M2M, and therefore needs as much attention as M2M with regards to development. The process doesn’t come without its own issues though. Making way for IoT and the continued growth of M2M tech requires the internet as we know it to change, switching protocols from the existing version four (IPv4) to the newly developed version six (IPv6). The new protocol is significantly expanded with the necessary space to give each M2M device its own IP address, something which IPv4 isn’t currently capable of doing.
With an estimated 26 to 30 billion devices expected to be connected to IoT by 2020, M2M’s success is very much dependent not only on its own personal development, but on the success of both IoT and the new IPv6.
Looking past the current state of the industry though, the potential applications for IoT and M2M are vast, especially in regards to commercial industry.
For a general idea of how crucial M2M could be, all you have to do is think about the way a stockroom operates. In the past, stock rooms were an exercises in tedium. Time consuming, requiring stacks of paperwork, little room for human error. With current implementations of M2M though, all a business owner has to do is possess a network-connected device with a specific purpose to read a certain piece of data in the room (i.e. temperature, number of an item, etc.). Once the sensor gathers the information, it uses the available network–wireless or wired–to relay its readings back to a software program that then takes that information and translates it into readable data for the business owner, cutting the physical and mental inventory work down significantly.
For years, this is how tech has functioned in the way of M2M. Current and future developments in machine-to-machine innovations go even further though, expanding from being just commercially viable to having applications for personal devices to communicate with various other personal appliances.
In the automotive industry, M2M stands to make a huge splash by improving car production efficiency and also giving producers access to information that can let them know if anything is wrong with their product before it ever goes to market, which could significantly lower recall statistics (and the accompanying financial losses). Within the vehicles themselves, M2M also stands to improve embedded wireless connections, innovations that have already been implemented through AT&T and Ford Focus Electric to give driver’s a way of monitoring their car through a mobile phone app, even allowing users to check on their car’s charge settings and plan trips more thoroughly.
M2M can also be used for monitoring various critical systems like gas and electricity with Smart Meters, which can also help prevent fraud. In fact, some companies like Britain’s Telefonica have already won contracts to install Smart Meters around the country.
In advertising, wireless M2M technology can be utilized for remotely updating digital billboards, allowing firms to transfer ads more efficiently and have more flexibility when it comes to scheduling specific days and/or times.
But no industry has or will see more benefits from M2M than healthcare. With a term already coined–telehealth–the industry stands to see much more efficient processes as a result of M2M tech. With hospitals strapped for time and space, M2M gives doctors and nurses a method of remotely monitoring patients, allowing them more accurately diagnose medical issues and also know when it’s okay to send patients home or not. With the American Heart Association reporting that nearly 5 million Americans are living with heart failure–with 600,000 new cases diagnosed each year–remote M2M technology makes heart monitoring in particular less inconvenient, more precise, and more constant since sensors wouldn’t require cumbersome external devices. In fact, current and future heart patients excited for the developments don’t even have to wait; heart monitor manufacturer ReliantHeart recently released it’s HeartAssist5 Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD), which comes with the HeartAssistRemote technology that allows patients the freedom to travel worldwide while still having their hearts monitored remotely from any cell tower within range, no matter the carrier.
With such wide-ranging potential for the M2M industry, it’s no wonder why companies like Kika have seen such an increase in the demand for their own mobile components, which could prove crucial as M2M becomes more and more mainstream.
One thing is certain though: the future is here, and it’s name is M2M.