What is M2M, and why is it the future of code?
- By John Breeden II
- Mar 22, 2013
The next great horizon may well be machine-to-machine (M2M) technology.
At the recent Oracle conference, the company was touting "an ecosystem of solutions" that uses embedded devices to facilitate real-time analysis of events and data among the "Internet of Things," according to the Dr. Dobbs website.
Much of the M2M information is delivered in the form of sparse data, which can come from sensors and other non-IT devices. The data may itself be only a couple kilobytes and wouldn’t make much sense out of context. But there is so much of it being generated and taken together it can create a full picture. Applications are needed to not only enable devices to talk with others using M2M, but also to collect all the data and make sense of it.
Pretty much any device can be connected with M2M technology. In fact, Machina Research, a trade group for mobile device makers, predicts that within the next eight years, the number of connected devices using M2M will top 50 billion worldwide.
That connected-device population will include everything from power and gas meters that automatically report usage data, to wearable heart monitors that automatically tell a doctor when a patient needs to come in for a checkup, to traffic monitors and cars that will by 2014 automatically report their position and condition to authorities in the event of an accident.
Although M2M has actually been around since the early days of computing, it has recently evolved to where devices can communicate wirelessly without a human or centralized component.
The most popular M2M setup thus far has been to create a central hub that accepts both wireless and wired signals from connected devices. Field sensors would note an event, be it a temperature change, the removal of a piece of inventory or even a door opening. They would then send that data to a central location where an operator might turn down the AC, order more toner cartridges or tell security about suspicious activity.
The model for M2M in the future, however, eliminates the central hub and instead has devices communicating with each other and working out problems on their own. So an M2M device will be able to automatically turn on the AC in an overheated space, order more toner when it senses that supplies are low or alert security if a door opens at an odd hour.
Many M2M devices rely on cellular technology to get their messages out, which is why mobile companies such as Verizon and Sprint are ramping up their M2M efforts. Devices don't have to communicate over the cell network, as many still use land lines. But the ability to do so, especially if they also have an independent power source like a battery for backup, untethers the devices from the organization they are assigned to. And the more the machine can operate independently, the more work it can do without human intervention.
Humans probably will still need to be in the chain to oversee the different processes, but they will become more of a second pair of eyes and less of a direct supervisor. If everything goes well, the machines will do all the work, and the humans will only need to step in if a machine reports a problem, like a communications failure.
With 50 billion connected devices coming online soon, the need for applications (and developers) to manage all of that, to make the connections between devices work and to make sure it all runs smoothly will be tremendous. Agencies wanting to know more about M2M development can visit the Eclipse Foundation to learn more.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.