Imagine that while you are sleeping a colleague cancels a meeting via e-mail, which triggers the alarm clock to adjust so you can sleep for an extra 15 minutes, tells your coffee maker to delay the morning brew, and lets your car know to turn on later. As you head off to work in your warmed up vehicle, co-workers’ calendars have been updated and your office computer is booting up to be ready for your arrival.
Though that type of communication is not yet common, it is an example of what is possible in the growing industry known as Machine to Machine, or M2M. Many of the leading players in the field were in Boston this week for an event at the Renaissance Hotel called Axeda Connexion. It has been held in Boston for the past three years, with attendance climbing from 250 two years ago to more than 450 this year.
The conference was organized by Axeda Corp., a Foxborough company that sells Cloud-based software to help firms use M2M, such as in ATMs or hospital equipment. For example, it can help make remote repairs by allowing computers to communicate with each other and diagnose problems.
“In the early days, this technology was only used on the big expensive stuff that had to be up and running,” said Bill Zujewski, chief marketing officer of the 160-employee company.
Now, shrinking sizes and costs for Wi-Fi devices have made machine-to-machine communication more affordable. That is bringing the technology out of hospitals and factories and into homes.
“People are starting to connect everything — sprinklers, appliances in the home, machines on a farm,” Zujewski said.
Mark Winther, group vice president at International Data Corp., thinks the M2M market has huge growth potential for technology companies.
“We have yet to get there with consumers, but that could be the biggest part with connected machines,” he said.
According to Winther, it is just a matter of time before the technology moves into the mass consumer space. He said companies such as General Electric, which had some employees at this week’s Axeda Connexion, will begin using M2M technology by putting sensors in select products.
“Right now, you go and buy a refrigerator and that is it. This is a way for the maker to engage with that customer by sending them information,” Winther said. “For example, your washing machine could alert you that because you have heavy water, you should use a different kind of detergent.”
That kind of interaction, Winther said, can help companies build long-term relationships with their customers. An automaker, for example, might be able to tell a vehicle owner what type of gas to use or when to change the oil, based on actual driving habits chronicled by M2M technology.
As the M2M industry grows, one of the challenges it faces is how to interpret collected data.
“We’re really good at having machines talk to machines. We’re not particularly good at having machines tell us what we want to know,” said Peter Coffee, head of platform research for Salesforce.com, a San Francisco software firm .
Stephen Snyder, global head of business innovation for Wipro, a global information technology firm, said that while it is beneficial to have tons of data at your disposal, a common sense human filter is still essential — sometimes, a person is still more astute than a computer.
“There needs to be something that we build in that says things like, ‘I don’t really want to shut all the lights off at 10 a.m. when the store opens, even if there are no customers in the building,’ ” he said.