In the beginning there was the thermostat, the primitive one-celled creature in the evolution of today’s electronic machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. It was an analog sensor, a bimetal strip bending as temperature changed until it closed a contact and became, for that instant, digital. Changing its state from zero to one, it sent a signal down a wire. That signal turned on the furnace or boiler, where a second thermostat waited to tell the fan or pump when it was time to start circulating heated air or water. (There were, of course, earlier control systems like the centrifugal governors on steam engines, but their remote connectivity options were limited.)
The thermostat and furnace (or boiler) form a feedback loop. The thermostat tells the heater when to turn on and the heater, by warming the room, tells the thermostat when to turn off. A human participates in the process by setting the thermostat, and that, in a nutshell is what M2M is all about. Today’s systems can be far more complex, but essentially, they are made up of the same components: sensors, connectivity, human-defined logic and parameters, and action. The range of sensors is huge, the connectivity options are many, the logic can run to thousands of lines, and the resulting actions are limited only by our imagination.
In some of its manifestations M2M literally is rocket science—complex systems gathering and acting on tides of information from remote sensors. But it doesn’t have to be. The technology has developed so quickly that we’ve barely begun to explore its capabilities, and many emerging applications are slap-your-forehead simple once you’ve seen them. It’s like the early days of the Internet, but with more real solutions to longstanding problems and fewer solutions in search of problems.
The demand has been there for a long time. You can see it in stories, from myth and legend to science fiction and comic books. We’ve dreamed of being able to see through walls and be two places at once, of ESP and telekinesis. And, as has happened before, what we used to call magic now comes in a box or can be custom developed to meet a need. Someday we’ll take it all for granted, but in the meantime the technology is one of the most powerful competitive tools out there, and early adopters are using it to their competitive advantage.