M2M: Plenty of Vision, Little Reality

Foto: Nataliya Hora - Fotolia
Photo: Nataliya Hora – Fotolia

Sensors and hardware are relatively cheap, and wireless data transmission is becoming faster and faster. That means conditions are perfect to allow machine to machine communication. At least, that’s the opinion of Evan Schultz, Director Global Solutions Partners at SAP. According to current forecasts, not only will revenues in M2M grow from US$2.7 to US$7.7 billion between 2010 and 2015, but the processed data volumes will increase from 1.8 to 7.8 zetabytes in the same period. It’s only natural that software groups like SAP want to have a piece of the action. For Schultz, the key is SAP HANA, a technology that vastly accelerates data processing, and which is used in applications ranging from cloud, analytics, and mobility through to ERP. If we consider for a second the fact that a John Deere combine harvester requires the power of eight PCs to complete a normal day’s work and analyze the harvest, the idea of M2M is actually not all that far away.

However, Peter Friess, responsible for topics of innovation at the European Commission in Brussels, believes M2M is still a dream. “In terms of the concept, it doesn’t work,” he told a conference hosted by the Münchner Kreis association in Munich. “There’s no unique code – no standard by which devices can communicate with each other.” Not to mention a globally binding standard. As such, data exchange and interoperability are not yet possible, even though a lot of work is being done in that regard.

John Deere, a machine to machine pioneer

Solutions that are currently on the way are stand-alone ones. Whether John Deere, together with SAP, can ensure that every tractor is serviced at the right time and has its oil and tires changed, or whether retailer REWE can find out at the push of a button where each individual yoghurt pot is hiding. Whether a dampness monitor in a plant pot can notify a smartphone user as soon as the soil is too dry, or a smart metering app can tell the user how much energy the washing machine, toaster, or kettle is currently using: These are all useful solutions, but individual solutions nonetheless.

Next page: BMW – Open platform for new business models

“What’s missing is the end-to-end bridging of devices,” concedes Stefan Ferber, responsible for M2M at Bosch Software Innovations. “Software and control hierarchies do not fit together.” Programming and mechanical engineering still communicate poorly with each other. Despite this, Bosch is preparing itself for the move to “Web 3.0”. After Web 2.0 linked people together, now it’s the turn of machines. Bosch stands ready with its own systems house, the Bosch Software & Systems House, which will tackle “the last bastion – embedded systems”.

Ferber sees some challenges ahead that are not just relevant to him. In addition to technical uncertainties (in the countryside, for example, there’s no guarantee there will be a fast DSL connection), there are also organizational issues that cause concern for the Communities and Partner Networks Director. In his experience, ideas for new solutions cannot be provided in a top-down system. Instead, more bottom-up and top-down governance is required. “It’s like a game of tennis,” says Ferber. Ideas are needed, but so are new structures that allow and approve these ideas. “Germany lacks a start-up culture,” according to the Bosch Director.

BMW – Open platform for new business models

The sheer amount of business ideas will ultimately lead to the success of M2M projects. Christoph Grote agrees: “The overall number of business cases will provide the necessary business volume – not one individual case,” says the Managing Director of BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH. With his “open platform” he is able to link vertical targets from individual industries with geo-information, and create added value. In the automotive industry, for example, technology can detect at the blink of an eye when several cars on the same section of the highway are braking strongly, allowing following traffic to be alerted to a possible traffic jam. But Grote also believes geo-information could be useful in the agricultural sector, too. Information about yields can be linked to the respective location. “That could even be important for the futures trading market,” notes Grote. Or even the healthcare sector, seeing that people allergic to certain types of pollen normally take appropriate medication just before the pollen season gets into full swing. Again, by linking geo and weather information, useful services could be developed.

Even Peter Friess sees possible uses in the future: He talks of smart cities – with intelligent waste disposal, transport concepts and energy consumption, smart homes with technical support for the elderly that would allow them to live at home longer, and even technology with the ability to predict disasters such as earthquakes.