'Minority Report' and opportunities in M2M

Minority Report Minority Report

BLOG. August 1, 2012 – I remember the movie Minority Report (2002, pictured) writes Fabrizio Bozzarelli, Advantech Europe Business Development Manager, where in the future world there will be automatically controlled traffic. Do you remember the controlled vehicles moving through well-ordered traffic?

This concept might have looked incredible 10 years ago but now is not so far away from reality. Today the internet, cloud computing and a plethora of sensors are combining into a popular technology of object management that is more and more familiar because M2M (machine-to-machine) technology is changing the way we experience life. Of course, we also have to manage a few new challenges.

We need to consider that an M2M application consists of three different levels:
1. We have the sensor level on the field in charge of collecting information.
2. There is the network level where we can find the communication devices (like GPRS units, wi-fi access points and networking devices as switches and routers).
3. The third level, service and application layer is in charge of data analysis, for example using a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) software.

This third layer involves the management of services and applications, cloud computing processes and analyses the mass of data, intelligently controlling the objects and applications of transportation systems. The services at the third level are very important. They could include protocol translation, device data storage and management, complex event processing and location-based services with alerts and notification, data warehousing and reporting. Many of these services are and will be cloud-based services. The first challenge is to integrate all the levels together.

Advantech is one of the few players able to provide these three levels of the complete M2M application for a few vertical markets. From distributed I/O and controllers that are working on the field acquiring data from the sensors (ADAM, UNO, ARK product families) to EKI networking product line (L2 and L3 switches, GPRS units, wi-fi access points for indoor and outdoor) to software like “WebAccess” for data analysis and management.

Then we will need to move to let’s say IPv6 technology in order to provide an identity to all the devices and sensors. It is mandatory to cover longer distances and areas, sometimes with a high throughput, with wireless devices and providing high data transmission security with efficient encryption systems. Therefore, at this point, mesh technology and fast roaming capabilities become a couple of ‘musts’. If we consider a train, for example, it is easy to understand that we cannot lose any information packet even at the highest speed. For these reasons, Advantech’s access points can manage speeds up to 200 km/h with handover switch time of less than 20 msec. Therefore, we will also need important IT infrastructures with both L2 and L3 managed units, with the possibility to have very fast recovery time in case of communication failure.

We can guarantee a recovery time of 10 msec for Advantech’s managed switches. The IT management of information will be another critical point in M2M applications because we must avoid any info loss or bottleneck. Constant connectivity is crucial for M2M applications because downtime can cause major problems for the applications. Then we can find out also other important open issues to discuss such as the need of a worldwide M2M standard at least in specific vertical market because otherwise the risk is to slow down the industry’s progress. On the other hand, we are facing one of the most important business opportunities.

According to Nokia Siemens Networks data, the M2M market place could be between 50 billion and 1 trillion connected devices by 2020. Even if this huge variation provokes scepticism about the real numbers, no one can doubt the demand for connecting devices to networks is massively increasing. By 2015 GSM subscriptions supporting M2M applications are expected to reach 1 billion.

This increasing use of mobile networks to support automated communications between devices and applications will make capacity, traffic management and Quality of Service (QoS) significant issues for communication service providers. The network demand of each device using M2M applications is minute compared to those of smart devices applications (person-to-machine applications).

Nevertheless, M2M applications create both additional information and an additional signalling load on the network. For example, in fleet management applications, the monthly transaction payload associated with keeping track of a vehicle several times per minute will typically add up to around 200Mb. The key issues are the huge number of small transactions loading both signalling and traffic channels and the overall data volumes from multiple devices. The solution should come from service providers with new software able to accommodate more M2M users in the existing base stations and base transceiver stations.

M2M applications can provide enormous benefits but we need providers to take steps to reduce the extra traffic in the networks; for example, allocating radio resources according to need instead of the traditional allocation according to device capability.

The benefits of M2M applications in intelligent transportation systems are and will be enormous: we can have a better traffic management providing the people of the roads the right info in the right moment and that means less traffic, as well as time and money saved, less pollution and more security. All these advantages increase our quality of life and the efficiency of human communications and transportation. M2M ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) solutions produce measurable benefits in terms of cost savings, increased efficiency and lower environmental impact.

We could mention innumerable benefits of massive introduction of M2M technology into automotive. The safety of transportation will increase a lot and the cost of a few services will decrease. Automotive will become M2M’s largest vertical market segment and will be related to many different applications like security, tracking and eCall in new motor vehicles. We will see a big increase of adoption of fleet management technology and applications related to financial services such as motor insurance and vehicle leasing.

The most demanding use of M2M involves the rapid, real-time sensing of unpredictable conditions and instantaneous responses guided by automated systems and the related info transmission managed by automated communication systems. In fact, several upscale automobiles offer systems like this to deal with a driver falling asleep at the wheel or to react to an unexpected obstacle or other unpredictable event.

Therefore, we will increase productivity and better on-time services too. Last but not least, longer asset life and better chain management will be possible. Advantech is investing in M2M and IoT (Internet of Things) solutions from many years. Our ADAM series products were applied in highway toll systems over 10 years ago to collect and transmit traffic information. In this project, a group of sensors were set every 100 meters to acquire car speeds and then the traffic flow data was transmitted to back-end systems.

Another example is in San Francisco, where an Advantech monitoring system helps drivers locate empty parking spaces. The parking situation on the street can be collected and displayed on big screens. Advantech is developing a complete line of industrial M2M and mobile communications products that can fit M2M solutions, including GPRS, with devices and remote monitoring and maintenance diagnostics solutions. We consider this as the phase one of IoT development. In phase two we will provide global IoT integrated solutions and services and in the third phase we expect to provide cloud-based services too.

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