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The rise of the machines

How organisations are monitoring and controlling their IT environments through Web-connected machines

Brasserie Bread CEO Michael Klausen

Brasserie Bread CEO Michael Klausen

Bread maker Michael Klausen doesn’t need to stick his finger into a loaf of bread to know its temperate. He doesn’t even need to be in the same room. All he needs is his smartphone.

His business, Brasserie Bread, uses traditional baking techniques and shuns the use of additives and artificial enhancers. That means keeping a close watch on the environmental conditions for each batch of dough – something that used to require a lot of running around.

Through the use of innovative Web-connected thermometer tags in his bakery’s cool rooms and spiked into batches of dough, Klausen can monitor the temperature of each batch in real time.

“If a fridge breaks down and we do not react, then we could lose quite a lot, because we would also lose part of the production that we would need for the next day,” Klausen says. “And we’d lose the confidence of our customers.”

The technology protecting Brasserie Bread was deployed by Cooltrax, a company that specialises in remote monitoring of refrigerated items. The data is carried on Telstra’s wireless network and managed via the carrier’s cloud-based monitoring service.

Klausen estimates it is saving him about 10 man-hours a week, which equates to roughly 3 per cent of staff costs, while saving the company thousands of dollars in lost stock when temperate thresholds have been reached.

“It is very handy,” he says. “If a door is left open there is an alarm that goes via text message to some of the operation staff, so they can react to it very fast before there is any damage to any products.”

The implementation at Brasserie Bread is miniscule in the scheme of things. But its innovative use of remote sensing technology represents the leading edge of a trend that is revamping how larger businesses monitor and control their operating environments through machine to machine (M2M) communication.

It is a clear example of how M2M can deliver benefits to businesses of all sizes. While the Internet has connected up millions of services and applications, M2M is creating a so-called Internet of Things that connects up billions of physical devices. And it is big business.

According to Billing & OSS World’s recently released study, Data-Driven Developments: US Telecom Wired and Wireless Sizing and Share 2012-2017, M2M communications is now the fastest growing segment in the telecommunications industry, with annual growth of 28.2 per cent, ahead of business fibre deployments (23.6 per cent) and business VoIP (17.7 per cent).

Companies supplying technology for M2M have been reporting strong growth in revenue, with analyst firm Machina Research estimating that the sector will grow from US$121 billion in 2010 to US$950 billion by 2020.

By then the telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world, and some market watchers suggest that estimate is conservative. With the human population only tipped to reach 10 billion by 2020, people will be far the minority users of the Internet.

M2M means much more than smartphones and iPads, with the range of devices that can be hooked up to the Internet growing rapidly.

Melbourne start-up LIFX raised $1.3 million through the KickStarter crowd-funding service for a multi-coloured Wi-Fienabled light bulb that can be controlled from an iPhone or iPad, and in late October Philips weighed into the market with the announcement of its own wirelessly controlled light bulb, Hue.

Existing personal devices such as smartphones and tablets will be augmented by a range of wearable devices that perform more specific purposes, such as the Pebble e-Paper Watch, which synchronises with a smartphone to display notifications such as caller ID or text messages.

Pebble raised more than US$10 million on KickStarter. Another set of devices from Fitbit assist in monitoring calorie intake, personal activity and even sleep patterns, using a smartphone to connect wirelessly to tracking devices and a smart weighing scale.

Businesses are realising the marketing potential of M2M and smart sensing technologies, particularly in vending machines. In Spain, the marketing agency Momentum has created smart vending machines for Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid Limon & Nada lemonade brands that lower the price of cold drinks when the outside temperature rises.

A collaboration between Intel and Kraft also led to the creation of the iSample vending kiosk, which uses an optical sensor fitted to the machine to recognise the shape of the human face. It is capable of estimating the sex and age of a shopper and then customising its menu accordingly.

The applications are industrial in scale. Nestle has installed connected sensors in ice cream vending machines to monitor stock levels, while numerous car makers and fleet operators have installed technology to monitor everything from vehicle location and driving habits to overall maintenance requirements.

From a research perspective the CSIRO is involved in numerous trials that employ the use of different forms of sensors spread across wide areas, primarily for agricultural uses.

M2M is emerging as a growth opportunity for many communications technology companies. Cisco chief executive John Chambers has earmarked M2M as one of his company’s ‘big bets’, and capable of giving a client a real-time view of its entire operating environment.

“We see this as the next generation of the Internet,” says Cisco’s director of public sector for Australia, Ken Boal. “While the Web has gone through multiple generations from brochureware into transactions and the social Web that we know today, the Internet itself has remained reasonably steady. Now we see billions of devices added over the next five to 10 years.”

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