Our geeky blog readers will easily recognise the Matrix references in the title of this post. We’ve not changed our company profile, but we couldn’t resist referencing one of the greatest films of all time before talking about a more serious topic - Machine to Machine technology (M2M).
By Jonathan Wilkins
Science fiction would have us believe M2M will inevitably lead to a dystopian future where humans only serve to power a network of sentient machines. In reality, we humans are pretty much in control, despite the ever increasing degree of automation and evolving M2M technologies.
Earlier this year, Analysys Mason delivered a forecast report predicting that at the end of 2013 there will be 0.2 billion M2M device connections worldwide. Infonetics Research was even braver, and calculated the existence of nearly 1.4 billion M2M connections in 2012, with wireless personal area networks technology comprising the vast majority.
Vodafone’s M2M research identified an encouraging growth in the M2M adoption process across several vertical sectors. Results showed that 78% of respondents thought M2M would be at the heart of successful businesses in the future.
You take the blue pill – the story ends
Much like any term that has been around for a while, designating something vast and a little abstract – see our recent article on big data, M2M has been defined in many different ways and applied to a variety of sectors.
A study from the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published in 2004 defined M2M as, “A term used to describe the technologies that enable computers, embedded processors, smart sensors, actuators and mobile devices to communicate to one another, take measurements and make decisions – often without human intervention.”
Sound familiar? It might be because M2M goes hand in hand with concepts like Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT).
It definitely rings a bell with us here at European Automation, because it reflects an increase in sales for products like PLCs and more powerful industrial computers, actuators and smart sensors.
At the moment, we’re still in the early days of M2M, and this means very high implementation costs for early adapters. Other drawbacks, like low immediate return on investment, the lack of infrastructure, power consumption and the lack of international standards will also have to be addressed before taking the next steps into the M2M universe.
You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland
Across vertical sectors, the automotive industry seems to be leading the M2M adoption race. According to the Vodafone survey, 19% of respondents in the automotive sector have already launched an M2M initiative and 88% are currently developing one.
This information comes as no surprise for anyone following the latest developments from automotive manufacturers like Nissan - the talk of this year’s Frankfurt Motor show, where it launched the first smart watch to connect driver and car.
Another early adopter of M2M is the energy and utilities sector. Part of the reason is that M2M offers measurable returns for these specific applications. According to the Vodafone survey, 100% of the energy and utilities companies that participated said they saw some return on investment for M2M. More than half saw ‘significant’ ROI. With global energy demand set to double before 2050, smart grids and metering technologies are becoming more viable energy solutions around the globe.
M2M today is conceptually very different from the way we would have described it ten years ago. The pace at which technology is evolving has been growing almost exponentially in recent years. Many of today’s M2M applications are still transmitting fairly simple data across 2G or 3G mobile networks. Instead, 4G can now support bandwidth-heavy applications and wireless technology has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years.
In the film The Matrix, the spoon is a metaphor for our fixed views of reality. Much like the spoon Neo, the film’s central character, is trying to bend; M2M and the IoT aren’t permanent or rigid. They’re just names for technologies which are evolving continuously.
A company that wants to survive and grow needs to stay ahead of the technology race and adapt whenever necessary. M2M is growing and will soon become a requirement for an agile engineering business, so the best solution is to embrace it wisely and steadily.