Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication has its historical roots in SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems, where computers monitor and control industrial processes via sensors and devices connected on wired or radio frequency networks – typically installed in confined areas or relegated to highly esoteric industrial functions such as natural gas pipeline management. Today, more and more devices “talk” to other devices using multiple technologies and protocols, many over the same cellular networks consumers use to call friends and family. This enables connections to be made automatically and securely across vast distances with relative ease.
To illustrate further, M2M has even made its way into outer space, where NASA Mission Control uses it to keep tabs on a spacecraft’s every operation. On-board sensors constantly transmit data about many functions back to Houston: cargo bay doors opened; oxygen stores adequate; main engines activated, and so forth.
Here on Earth, the initial phase of M2M adoption took place in “blue collar” activities such as fleet management or tracking assets inside of shipping containers, where cellular networks track vehicles and products moving over wide areas. The definition of M2M has evolved still further in just the past couple years. M2M is bubbling through into higher-value applications that are reaching ever closer to the consumer, including remote wellness management (e.g. telehealth), utility meter reading (AMI), home automation, pay-as-you-drive insurance and point-of-sale processing. (You know how you can suddenly use your credit card at the self-serve car wash and parking meters? That’s M2M).
And, with the debut of eReaders like the Kindle and iPad, M2M is even crossing over into a mass-market opportunity for consumer devices, providing an access delivery point to consumers, which is sure to drive an ever increasing use for M2M applications and innovation in the areas of consumer automation.
M2M is expanding in the business-to-business sector, too, connecting devices that can optimize business processes. Over the near term, we will see a blossoming of new devices tailored for very specific uses, from wind monitoring to taxi payment terminals to medical monitoring, and I am excited to see these devices bring the productivity of M2M to more business applications. We’ve come a long way from the little black box under the hood of an eighteen wheeler or in the command module of a space craft to power M2M the rest of us consumers can leverage for improved quality of life.