TECHNOLOGY IN CONTEXT
Machine-to-Machine Communications Monitor Environmental Impact
Increasingly, automated, multi-node networks of sensors and actuators are being used to monitor environmental conditions and supply data that can be used to optimize the use of energy, water and other resources to improve the environment.
ALEX BRISBOURNE KORE TELEMATICS
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Wireless-enabled data services have never been more important to business success. For more than 20 years, businesses have used wireless data to improve services and enhance the value of customer offerings. Fast forward to today. Carriers are now connecting the next generation of “wireless-enabled” devices beyond cell phones or laptops. Simultaneously, hardware manufacturers are embedding wireless capability into a wide variety of devices for numerous business and consumer applications. Robust commercial—primarily digital cellular—data networks are in place and are being used to connect increasing numbers of networked devices.
Most major carriers have opened their networks to machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, which is the idea that machines or objects can be readable, recognizable, locatable and controllable via wireless networks. Also talked about as “embedded wireless” or the “Internet of Things,” the M2M market is helping businesses improve efficiencies, automate processes, deliver ROI and reduce overall operating costs.
The market has been growing rapidly in recent years as a number of vertical industries recognize the need for efficiency and improvements. No longer primarily focused on telemetry, M2M now enables innovative services such as automated “smart homes,” real-time asset and people location, overt and covert tracking and security, broad scale power and utility grid control, long-haul and regional fleet management, modern vehicle telematics and more.
In recent years, the use of M2M technology in environmental monitoring has begun to significantly expand as wireless technology is applied to increasingly more monitoring applications. Many already take advantage of M2M technology for:
• measurement of air quality
• irrigation, temperature and chemical monitoring for produce growers
• water management in rivers, lakes and coral reefs
• monitoring of gas and pollutant levels in landfills
• monitoring in wastewater treatment
• flood management and environmental impact
In fact, M2M uses wireless networking to communicate in real time with sensors embedded just about everywhere, and is enabling organizations worldwide to save energy, water and natural resources, create efficiencies and boost revenues. Solutions providers in a variety of industries such as resource management, utilities, the public sector and agriculture can develop and implement profitable M2M green applications.
Some Real-World Examples
Trash Management: Instead of hauling trash, companies can better manage their trash by determining the best way to handle the waste and scrap coming out of their businesses. With devices installed on or near a trash compactor control panel, companies can record and analyze compactor activity, energy use, safety door switches and pickup and return. From there, the collected data can be wirelessly relayed from any location. This helps reduce costs and environmental impact of trash.
For example, American Trash Management implemented a wireless M2M solution that relies on remote sensors to monitor containers, send notifications, and receive and process usage information. This data is then uploaded to a centralized business management system for highly effective and scalable waste management. With increased scheduling efficiencies and optimized truck rolls for fuel and maintenance savings, this has yielded both cost savings and increased customer satisfaction.
Water Management: Advanced wireless water management devices can monitor irrigation schedules and water usage like never before, to provide just the right amount of water to keep landscapes healthy. Such a system can calculate and control irrigation on a “just-in-time” basis, using real-time data from weather forecasts and just-passed weather events, water evaporation, plant transpiration and sub-soil leakage. Many organizations, including the State of California, better regulate their water usage levels and irrigation schedules using M2M.
One example of a wireless water management system uses a communication and interrupt device that attaches to an existing irrigation system and records and adjusts the irrigation watering times. The manager device also records runtimes, cycles, start times and other irrigation operating data, which it transmits back to the data center over a cellular telephone network where it is accessible to the customer over the Internet (Figure 2).
Smart Grid Monitoring: A large electric utility in Arizona is at the forefront of a growing national trend toward smart metering. Their Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) deployment consists of M2M data communications to and from electric meters at customer premises. In practice, the AMI simultaneously provides a higher level of service and reduces many hard and soft operational costs required for service. Consumers can monitor electrical usage in real time, while the utility can identify and correct service interruptions more quickly, and improve efficiencies in the meter reading process, billing and customer-service operations as a whole. The meter data is backhauled across the machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless network within a secure IP VPN. As a result, the utility eliminates approximately 7,200 truck rolls per month for every 100,000 meters deployed, yielding a substantial direct savings, customer satisfaction improvement and carbon footprint reduction.
But these examples barely scratch the surface of the potential for innovative networked applications. Within a few years, hundreds of millions of wireless devices will be attached to digital cellular networks, quietly performing the things we want them to do in our quest to be more cost-efficient, safer and more responsive to our customers. And it doesn’t stop there—regulatory initiatives will drive adoption of wireless-based data gathering and remote control applications in the environmental, energy and safety arenas. For all of these reasons, the M2M market grew strong over the course of 2007-8, and is ideally positioned to continue this growth over the next five years.
Which applications will evolve? How will they impact our lives? And how will organizations embrace these capabilities as essential to both future productivity and competitive success?
M2M services are similar in some ways to cellular or Internet services. However, instead of phones and PDAs making calls, sending emails or texts, or surfing the “net,” M2M sensors, or intelligent “black box” devices, are equipped with cellular radio-based modules that collect information from remote locations and transmit it to a central location. This is similar to how remote PCs and laptops connect to the servers in a company’s IT department. M2M communications are conducted via broadband/wireless connections in order to access and process the gathered data.
The essential difference with M2M is that on their own, with no human intervention, compactly packaged remote devices “sense” changes in location, movement, temperature and the like, then issue an alert and transmit important data about specific events.
The ability to monitor and control electrical power systems, water, oil and gas networks provides the utility industry with a more cost-effective way to measure utilization (in real time or scheduled), the ability to manage supply and demand more effectively, and to anticipate, identify and fix problems more completely and rapidly. The cost savings associated with measuring utilization and providing maintenance functions are tangible, and not simply when meters and other network elements are in remote or hard-to-reach locations. For instance, as “First Time Fix” is improved, utilities can eliminate the former process of iterations of “Fix and Wait.” In other words, fix what you can see, and wait to hear if it still isn’t working or if there is more to fix elsewhere.
Harbor Research has described the effects of M2M networking as “Pervasive Intelligence”—allowing businesses to make immediate decisions based on accurate, real-time data from near and far-flung portions of their infrastructures. However, the market is broadening to also include the use of wireless networks to connect specialized devices in a variety of new businesses, from retail outlets and fast-food restaurants to major production and business facilities. M2M is increasingly used for remote monitoring of environmental conditions (at landfills for example), for industrial monitoring of chemical containers, pipeline status and capacity management, alerting operators to dangerous conditions as well as reducing maintenance costs and increasing the reliability of systems and services delivery.
The emergence of M2M is continuously changing the face of industry by allowing for improved business applications and automation. Wireless sensing and tracking technology is real and is driving innovation across numerous sectors. Integrating these M2M capabilities and solutions enables automated processes to streamline operational costs, improve customer service and create new service offerings like never before. These are all factors that can enhance an organization’s ability to remain highly competitive and realize additional revenues in today’s challenging economy.
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