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Outlook 2013: Are you ready for the 'Internet of Things'?

Everyone is familiar with the technologies used for person to person communication, such as mobile phones and PCs, but few are as well acquainted with machine to machine (or M2M) technology, a broad term for the huge range of machines that talk to other machines – servers, controllers, sensors or 'the cloud.'

M2M and the 'Internet of Things'

M2M is being adopted rapidly. The internet is no longer a network of computers; it has evolved into a network of devices of all types and sizes – such as cars, refrigerators, smartphones, toys, cameras, medical instruments and industrial systems – all connected, all communicating and sharing information all the time. There are already more than 1billion M2M devices at work today in sensors, smart meters, smart buildings and so on, but this number is expected to grow quickly to more than 10billion in the coming years and this will require and drive integrated solutions from a robust ecosystem. In fact, according to market analyst IDC, it is expected that by 2015, intelligent M2M systems will account for more than one-third of the volume of all connected devices shipped annually worldwide.

In this 'Internet of Things,' devices, systems and machines will not only communicate with humans, they will also communicate with each other and, in doing so, can generate an enormous volume of data, such as temperature, GPS position, speed, humidity, vibration and altitude. When collected, this data can be analysed in smart ways and applied to products, systems and services. It can be used to optimise performance, maximise efficiency and minimise cost and resource usage. M2M and related smart systems can also use data to make smarter, faster and more dynamic decisions to meet such business goals as improved service delivery, increased responsiveness and new or enhanced service offerings.

M2M applications

M2M is an enabler for smart energy in several areas: exploration and production; power generation, including renewable energy; smart distribution networks; smart meters; electric vehicle charging; and home and building energy management systems. As distributed energy sources, such as solar and wind power, become more common, maintaining power quality becomes increasingly difficult without a smarter distribution network. M2M monitoring and control enables the smart grid to adjust to changing conditions with higher reliability, security and performance than ever before. To ensure quality, securing the distribution is vital, which necessitates a fast, active, responsive and accurate set of monitors and controllers – and not just in the core of the network, but also in smart meters or building energy management systems.

Industrial markets have used machines, robots and other forms of M2M control devices for many years, but new advancements are creating new opportunities. For example, M2M technology can be used for predictive maintenance, where one or more criteria from monitoring data are run through analytics and historical patterns to determine when a component may be nearing failure. By acting on this knowledge, downtime can be minimised. Action before a problem occurs means the reduction of major issues that could potentially cost millions of dollars.

In the medical area, smart M2M devices, services and applications enable healthcare professionals to understand their patients' conditions and make accurate, timely and realistic recommendations. For example, a home health application may monitor heartbeat. Typically, accumulated data is not reported back to a medical professional every second, but is stored on a monitor that is attached to a patient. A couple of days' worth of data is recorded before being sent to the clinician or healthcare professional, who, following analysis, can determine whether immediate or corrective action is required.

Challenges and requirements

Each system or M2M application is different, but the process essentially breaks down into two domains. The first is making sure that the devices perform correctly over time, connect and securely communicate their data. The second is sending the data somewhere – to another machine, server, IT system or the cloud – where analytics can be performed to increase business intelligence.

Today, the biggest challenge for M2M continues to be implementation. There are plenty of discrete examples that have been around for 20 years, such as telemetry and telematics. But while it is relatively simple to create a single device or service, it remains a real challenge to scale the process and then operate it. The difference now is that platforms are being built to meet as many of those challenges as possible. This is accelerating and streamlining development, while reducing cost, complexity and the potential pitfalls that have been experienced for many years – and doing so at scale and with a broader range of devices, service and applications to gain increasing benefits. Right now, however, industry is still in the early stages of this transition.

Device hardware is clearly dependent on the type of function it is designed to perform. While a mobile heart monitor will be a relatively low cost and low performance device, it will need to have extremely high reliability; a wind turbine or a digital signage display will clearly be more expensive. While some specific demands will vary, the general requirements are roughly the same: the hardware has to be cost effective and offer an appropriate level of performance as well as a certain longevity, which is often underestimated. It makes a significant difference if a device's hardware and software related services are only good for two years compared to another device's lifetime of seven years or longer.

As soon as an M2M device is connected, a suite of requirements emerges:

• Devices must be secure, reliable and have acceptable performance.
• Connectivity options should include wired and wireless, WAN, LAN, PAN and into the cloud.
• Devices must be manageable beyond just seeing if the device is working.
• Deployments must scale to large numbers of unattended devices.
• M2M experience must be simplified. The system must be easy to understand, order, buy, install, build, use, operate, manage and fix.
• Solutions must be flexible. A range of customer needs, components, and global requirements exists.
• Many devices will be mobile and may transition from one domain to another.
• Location determination will be important for many devices and applications.
• The smarter the device, data and application, the more valuable the solution.
• Industry standards must be identified and supported.

In essence, it has to be secure and manageable and with the right protocols to connect to IT systems or, increasingly, to the cloud, whether this is private, public or a hybrid of both. This is easier said than done, which is why services in the past have largely been based on a single device and single service. However, the increasingly preferred approach is to have a broader range of services make use of the same available data provided by the devices or sensors.

Developing the system

Many businesses have recognised the potential of M2M technology and decided to undertake an initial project. Usually, the plan is to improve a specific area of the business (typically increasing service value or reducing expenses) via a pilot programme, after which, it is expanded to full or multi site deployment and the success repeated within another business area. Often, companies want to do as much of the M2M project themselves as possible to save time and maintain control. And all too often, they learn the hard way that there are many hidden pitfalls in the do it yourself approach.

Wind River
Wind River, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel, is a world leader in embedded and mobile software. Wind River has been pioneering computing inside embedded devices since 1981 and its technology is found in more than 1billion products. Wind River is headquartered in California and has offices in more than 20 countries.

Author
Brian Vezza, Director, M2M Solutions, Wind River

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