In the past, gathering data from a source always meant physical connectivity and analysis of the gather data generally required the skills of someone with expert knowledge to interpret what was being shown. When you put these two factors together, data capture and use becomes an expensive, time-consuming process, and areas of concern become instantly recognizable. But all of this is currently changing with the availability of wireless communications — which allows linked devices to swap, record, and store information, and display it as it is gathered.
Machine to Machine (M2M) technology is a system in which information is passed between connected machines. M2M systems may be wired and permanently attached, but it is far more usual for modern systems to utilize wireless technology — enabling a system to run free while being monitored.
Fifteen years ago, the concept of M2M would have seemed like science fiction to most, but today, it’s an essential part of machine maintenance and diagnostics. Made possible by radio-frequency technology, M2M communications helps keep track of numerous products and devices. Furthermore, systems have evolved beyond the one-to-one communications that were originally devised to become multi-connection entities. Originally devised for telemetry, industrial automation, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, M2M has far exceeded the original intent and can now be found on items such as domestic appliances to office IT networks. The applications for M2M are almost boundless.
M2M connectivity is now becoming even more prevalent in medicine, medical devices and monitors that feature vital signs are now able to read data being sent from a patient via Bluetooth. The concept has also been extended so that a series of sensors embedded in a patient or on their skin can collect and send data to a local receiver, which in turn can connect to a master system at a hospital via the Internet. Suddenly, a hospital can monitor the progress or daily condition of a patient from anywhere in the world. It is this kind of system that is routinely used to collect and monitor real-time data from astronauts either in flight or located on extra-terrestrial platforms such as the International Space Station. With data acquisition units becoming ever smaller, the possibility to lodge data-gathering equipment directly in the body as a long-term solution is becoming ever more likely.
However, the everyday familiarity of M2M technology takes away much of the true wonder and flexibility of these systems, and it is in extreme applications where the worth of the technology really comes to the forefront. Imagine a system where, once deployed, routine maintenance becomes either impossible or so prohibitively expensive or dangerous that it is effectively impossible. This is the case with satellite systems and deep sea applications, which is equipment designed to perform for extended periods of time in hostile environments. The operators behind these complex systems must collect and correlate data on many different aspects of the overall device — as well as monitor the actual data that is being returned. By examining the system information and verifying that it is working within optimum limits, it is possible to determine whether the device is likely to fail, and be in a position to prevent it from doing so. M2M makes seemingly impossible tasks into those that can be made possible by allowing detailed analysis in real time, and by allowing engineers and supervisors to intervene as required based on the feedback they are getting.
But M2M capabilities have progressed further still, and the protocol is the mainstay of connecting everyday devices to local networks and the Internet. Mobile devices such as phones and tablet computers rely on M2M capability to make them as versatile as they are, allowing them to switch between transmit and receive stations seamlessly. Whether it’s data acquisition from a racing car or satellite, information exchange over a wireless network, or simple control mechanisms, M2M can deal with it.
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