An Overview

Machine to machine (M2M) is a broad label that can be used to describe any technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans. The term M2M represents a number of different types of communication: machine-to-machine; machine-to-man; man-to-machine; machine-to-mobile and mobile-to-machine. M2M involves the process of giving machines, devices, and appliances the ability to share information with back-office information systems and the people who use them.

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M2M communication is often used for remote monitoring. In product restocking, for example, a vending machine can message the distributor when a particular item is running low. M2M communication is an important aspect of warehouse management, remote control, robotics, traffic control, logistic services, supply chain management, fleet management and telemedicine. It forms the basis for a concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Key components of an M2M system include sensors, RFID, a Wi-Fi or cellular communications link and autonomic computing software programmed to help a networked device interpret data and make decisions. The most well-known type of M2M communication is telemetry, which has been used since the early part of the last century to transmit operational data. Pioneers in telemetric first used telephone lines -- and later, on radio waves -- to transmit performance measurements gathered from monitoring instruments in remote locations. The Internet and improved standards for wireless technology have expanded the role of telemetry from pure science, engineering and manufacturing to everyday use in products like home heating units, electric meters and Internet-connected appliances. Products built with M2M communication capabilities are often marketed to end users as being “smart.”

Currently, M2M does not have a standardized connected device platform and many M2M systems are built to be task- or device-specific. It is expected that as M2M becomes more pervasive, vendors will need to agree upon standards for device-to-device communications.

M2M makes it possible to map and monitor an entire system of remote hubs, which could be anything from a building to a vehicle, or a vending machine to a factory’s welding arm, in real time. The core capabilities of M2M, in any application, are to reduce human error, save time, increase efficiency, conserve resources, and generally optimize the performance of a physical system—all of which also save money.