M2M visions of 2020

Jeff Smith

(Blog) — Ten years ago, while executing a keynote presentation at an M2M industry tradeshow, writes Jeffrey O. Smith of Numerex (pictured), I showed a live demonstration of remote monitoring of a “real” system inside a virtual world. I commanded my avatar to push a button in the then-popular Second Life and a video inside that virtual world showed a real-life robotic bunny’s ears falling.

We’ve come a long way since then but I still believe we will know machine-to-machine communications (M2M) is successful when nobody notices it. Certainly there are overly hyped M2M applications that will inevitably play out to be less dramatic than predicted. But when technology is simple, embedded and invisible, that’s when we’ll see greatness.

Embedded lifestyle

By the year 2020, connected devices will become the reality we’ve been waiting for. Our cars will report how much fuel we used, meters will control our thermostats, pedometers will unlock our refrigerators only when we’ve walked the required amount of daily steps. Doctors and caretakers will know something is wrong with our organs before we do.

We will be inundated by more ISM short range protocols than we can imagine embedded in our shoes, pacemakers, medicine bottles, wallets, eyeglasses, watches, dog collars, trash bins and more. Sensors will be embedded in bridges and ceilings and roads. Bluetooth Low Energy, ANT and mesh networks, ultra-low-power, short-range wireless technology designed for sensor networks, will provide connected “dust” that reports petabytes of information back through gateways requiring petaflops of computing power.

Radio communications

By the third decade of this millennium, we will also see the continuation of the evolution of board to module to chip. The integration of short range ISM radios such as WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-wave on these modules will proliferate. Radios will become more application specific with software embedded for wireless and wired protocols such as Modbus over Ethernet and ZigBee over 802.15.4.  I also believe Java will abandon Linux and will go bare metal in order to improve on resources, energy, and start-up time.

Greater security required

The transient effects of large numbers of M2M devices and the co-ordination of those devices in situations of anomaly will become more important as the number of devices will outnumber handsets ten-fold. These devices will have both publishing and subscription capabilities, communicating on a peer-to-peer basis. As these devices are deployed, the complex interaction between them and the network will cause perturbations that could have a detrimental effect on the network, much like “packet storms” in IP networks.

This pending social network of machines has implications for security, too. If we subscribe to other companies, the government, or even a sensor crowd source of information, how do we know it is secure and accurate? Security will be the next important leap forward in M2M.

Desire drives the future

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond, these predictions (and perhaps all others re: M2M’s future) boil down to two key areas of human desire: Our desire to explore and make sense of our universe and our desire to manage our lives more efficiently (and add longevity).

As a result, we will continue using big data in search of the “God Particle” that makes sense out of everything. And “digital noise,” will continue to have a strong influence on society and culture. Device lifecycle management will be more important than ever as humans will be truly interacting and subscribing to information from sources which we do not control.

The author is Jeffrey O. Smith, PhD, chief technology officer and EVP, Numerex

M2M Now Jargon Buster

ANT = A network technology protocol designed by ANT Wireless (division  of Dynastream Innovations, Inc.)
ISM = Industrial, Scientific & Medical

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