Rise of the machines
Machines that “talk” to other machines might sound like science fiction, but in fact, private industries and public agencies across the country use millions of machine-to-machine (M2M) applications daily. Utilities, municipalities, law enforcement agencies and fleets use M2M applications to transmit information over wireless networks, monitor electricity and water consumption, manage landfills, trace convicted offenders and control assets.
Today, more than 6 million M2M devices are at work in the United States, exchanging information over commercial — primarily cellular — data networks. In the next few years, an estimated 200 million M2M devices will be talking over wireless networks, and the public sector will be using more than half of them.
M2M services are similar in many ways to other cellular or Internet services. Typically, small sensors in “black boxes” or similar devices equipped with a cellular radio collect information in remote locations and transmit the data to a central location — just as a desktop computer connects to servers in IT departments to process data. The difference is that M2M devices can “sense” change, such as location or movement, and send the information they record using standard Internet protocol applications.
M2M systems transmit public transit buses’ locations, journey times, loads and other data to central dispatch, routing or logistics centers to improve fleet management. Virginia Beach, Va.’s buses have sensors and GPS devices that constantly update central servers with their location, average speed, number of passengers — even weight data — so the central systems can predict the buses’ arrival time at any point on a route and know the capacity available for passengers. The information is displayed on electronic signs at bus stops so transit users know how much time they have to wait.
“Smart” electric and water meters regulate consumption by time of day, integrating the customer’s use with internal billing and service provisioning systems, and they automatically transmit usage data to remote locations, eliminating meter readers, and improving billing accuracy and efficiency. M2M technology also can check environmental conditions at landfills or pipeline capacity and alert operators to dangerous situations, preventing expensive accidents.
Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are using wireless sensors on tracking “bracelets” to alert sheriff’s departments when convicted offenders visit places they should not, such as schools and playgrounds. As a result of the technology, low-risk offenders do not have to be held in jails.
Low costs for M2M networks and devices, reliability of services and a range of applications are fueling demand for the technology. And with such a variety of sensors and uses available, local governments have many more ways to improve services for less money.
The author is president and chief operating officer for Herndon, Va.-based KORE Telematics.