Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Machines talk to each other

When you slouch on the couch, and use the remote to hop TV channels, you are unwittingly getting one machine to talk to another. This is a loose example of, what today has grown into a fledgling M2M, or machine to machine, communication industry.

The science of machine talk is telemetry -- transfer of data from one location to another. It’s been around for over 100 years. In the beginning, it was wired transmission, now it’s wireless. Collection of meteorological data using weather balloons is a good example.

Telemetry has now advanced to M2M as a result of the convergence of wireless sensors, internet and computers. Gartner says M2M is one of the top10 mobile technologies to watch. Beecham research says global M2M market in 2010 was $842m, and is expected to grow rapidly.

M2M is a play of intelligent machines -- sensors that detect and transmit data over a network to a server and PCs that have software to analyze and interpret the data. For example, there are bio-sensor baby pajamas with embedded sensors that send data such as heart rate, skin temperature, moisture and movement to the cloud. The data can be accessed via smartphone, tablet or computer.

Many companies are trying to leverage the M2M potential: for example, Sierra Wireless, Sprint, Cinterion, AT&T etc. Telit Communications is another, which began its India operations last year. Recently, it acquired Motorola's M2M division.

“A hospital can monitor a patient's health remotely even when he or she is at home. Integration between home care, outpatient care and hospital treatment improves medical results, and saves costs and multiple entry of data,” says Telit country manager Ashish Gulati.

Cab service management is another. “GPS tracks movement. But customized M2M software can collect any data that’s needed and analyze them, to benefit both cab service and passengers,” he says. Bus companies can use the technology to assess traffic congestion, passenger movement etc

Smartmeters is another example. Vinay Puli, MD of 3G Celllabs India, a Telit partner, says, “These technologies will not only help utilities in reducing transmission and distribution and related commercial losses but also help consumers to see on a real-time basis their consumption patterns leading to greater awareness that may result in reduced energy consumption.”

The huge benefits for individuals are bound to catapult M2M into a high-growth trajectory.

(This article appeared in the Wireless World column in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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