BURLINGAME, CA — Vehicles that report where they are and their speed at all times. Vending machines that tell you exactly what needs to be refilled. Car chargers, smart meters and other devices that work with the grid to pull energy at optimal times.
These technologies are all part of the growing market for machine-to-machine technologies.
Machine-to-machine devices cover a wide, and growing, number of products and services: They send information from cars, electronic signs, vending machines, movie rental machines, security systems, health monitoring equipment, home energy meters and more to computer systems, where the data can be monitored in real-time or archived. Juniper Research estimates there will be 412 million machine-to-machine and embedded devices globally by 2014.
Yesterday, I attended a press event at Sprint’s M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, Calif., where the company was talking about its newly launched Sprint Command Center. Sprint has been working with M2M technology for more than a decade, but the new Command Center -- an online service companies can use to monitor their machine-to-machine devices -- taps into growing demand from companies who are eager to find more value in their growing data sets.
The convergence between information, energy, vehicles and buildings -- which we’ve named VERGE -- promises to accelerate and advance each of those elements through combining and connecting them with one another. Machine-to-machine technology fits into VERGE by making it possible for vehicles, products, building equipment and more to relay information quickly and accurately.
Wayne Ward, Sprint's VP of emerging solutions, addressed this head on at yesterday’s event. One of the major drivers for increasing M2M adoption is the rising cost of energy and growing awareness of its environmental implications: "How do we better manage the energy we have?" he said.
Ward also noted that companies are turning to these technologies to create operational efficiencies, create new revenue streams, make supply chains less complicated, and respond more quickly to consumer needs.
Vehicles especially are an area where companies can see operational and environmental benefits. Telematics systems, which are the vehicular implementation of M2M technology, can let companies monitor where vehicles are, driving details like speed and sudden stops, fuel efficiency and information on under-the-hood parts. Overall, it gives companies a way to tackle the challenge of handling mobile workers and fleets.
“It's easy to manage people in four walls," said Greg Brott, senior director of alliances for Trimble, a longtime Sprint partner. Machine-to-machine devices then help companies manage people outside of those walls, he said. Information on routes, speed and more can affect driver behavior, fuel use and overall efficient use of fleets. "All that adds up to a major impact," Brott said.
The major reason customers use the technology, he said, is its twofold return on investment through both fuel savings and increased productivity. A webcast that GreenBiz.com hosted during our recent VERGE event in San Francisco looked at the ways companies like UPS are putting telematics systems to work on improving efficiencies while reducing environmental impacts.
Sprint is also working with electric vehicle charger provider Ecotality, which is installing 15,000 chargers across 16 states, and partnering with the Department of Energy in placing chargers and monitoring their use, using Sprint Command Center.
Real-time information and use patterns will help find the best locations for chargers quickly, and provide data that can be used with rolling chargers out in other cities, said Ecotality's Northern California sales manager, Justin Brown.
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