THE LATEST IN NETWORKING AND WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES
■ BY LOUIS E. FRENZEL W5LEF
The Next Big Thing
Electronic communications has always been about humans communicating
with one another whether it is by radio, TV, ham radio, email, texting, or
Skyping. All the while — in the background — there has been an ongoing
expansion of communications between machines or non-human objects. This
movement is known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Think of
it as communications in the background because we don't usually see it or
feel it in any way. It just happens as it does the specific job assigned to it.
Now, because of low cost wireless and other forms of electronic
communications, M2M is a rapidly growing phenomenon. It may be affecting
you now, and in the future it will certainly have a positive impact on your life.
JUST WHAT IS M2M?
M2M is essentially automatic communications
between two “things.” An example is a vending machine
sending data to a remote computer indicating that it
needs refilling and the money box needs emptying. Or, it
could be a remote oil pipeline sending a temperature or
flow rate reading back to a pumping station. Another
instance is a truck sending its location back to the home
office via GPS coordinates. Then, there is the air quality
sensor sending data back to a monitoring station that can
give an alert. The list goes on. All of these operations take
place without human interaction. Although, at some point,
a human does benefit in some way from the
communicated data. The more recognizable name for
such communications is telemetry. Telemetry is the
science of measuring things at a distance. It is generally
associated with measurements on a missile or satellite.
Measurements in a chemical plant are another example.
Again, the goal is data collection from a remote location.
In some cases, feedback control can take place
automatically. The whole idea of M2M is automated
remote monitoring and control. Wireless and wired
methods of communications make that possible, but that’s
not all. Because we have computers, such systems can
make decisions and initiate actions without human
interaction. The computers may be large fast PCs, but
today embedded microcontrollers are small enough and
cheap enough to build into any device no matter how
■ FIGURE 1. The Sierra wireless SL6087 GSM/GPRS module for M2M
applications. The dimensions are only 25 x 30 x 2. 65 mm, making it
easy to embed into the smallest products.