10 Ways M2M Will Change Our Lives For The Better

Rise Of The Machines

The machine-to-machine trend -- or the movement by which devices are wirelessly communicating with one another through the Web, embedded sensors and other technologies -- is going to spark a lot of changes in the way we work, play, and live.

From smaller things such as making sure our favorite snacks are in stock, to bigger things like detecting signs of a heart attack before it's too late, here are 10 crazy -- but true -- ways machine-to-machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things will change the world.

Heartbeats Heard From Afar

Of all the vertical markets out there, health services might just have the most to gain from M2M technologies. Not only will M2M allow doctors to interact more efficiently with each other and their patients, but the technology will also serve, in many cases, to save lives.

eCardio is a perfect example. Using AT&T's network and M2M technologies, eCardio developed a remote cardiac monitoring system that allows doctors to keep track of their patients' heartbeats no matter where they are. Traditionally, heart monitoring systems were only valuable if patients could connect their monitors to a phone line or visit their cardiologist in person to deliver their monitors' data. But with eCardio's technology, heart monitors can feed data automatically to a 24-hour monitoring center from which doctors can have a real-time glimpse into the rhythm of their patients' hearts and respond instantly to any abnormality.

'Smart' Cranberry Bogs

ioBridge, an M2M vendor based in Marlborough, Mass., has Internet-enabled some pretty wild things since its start in 2008. But perhaps the most remarkable is the use of ioBridge's M2M platform in a cranberry bog on Cape Cod.

In the springtime, bog owners Dan Luechauer and Linda Letourneau relied on a sprinkler system to protect their cranberries from frost damage. If the weather report suggested a cold front was coming, they would drive down to the bog and turn the system on. The problem, though, was that the weather reports were often faulty. Sometimes, the sprinkler was turned on when it wasn't really needed, wasting both water and cash, while other times it wasn't turned on at all when it should have been.

ioBridge changed all that by setting up a remote management system for the bog. Now, Luechauer and Letourneau can remotely track the temperature of their bog and the air around it in real-time, all through a dashboard application. They can also remotely turn the water pump on and off, using only what they need, when they need it.

The Always-On Babysitter

Boston-based startup Rest Devices married M2M with big data technologies to create a next-generation baby monitor that will ensure both infants -- and their parents -- sleep soundly.

This is achieved through Peeko Monitor, a set of baby pajamas (or a "onesie") that comes with a built-in monitoring system to keep tabs on a baby's health when he or she is sleeping. The monitor can detect the baby's voice, temperature, activity level, respiration and general body position, and then wirelessly send that information to a parent's smartphone. The Peeko app allows for fully customizable alerts and gives parents the peace of mind that they can check in on their little one no matter where they are.

Perhaps the best part? These high-tech baby PJs are still comfortable and fully machine-washable.

Keeping The Roads Safe

The transportation industry is one of the earliest and perhaps biggest users of M2M technologies. While M2M and telematics applications have been used, historically, for the remote monitoring of fleets, some transportation agencies are now using M2M technologies to ensure the safety of their drivers and other drivers while on the road.

Janet Schijns, vice president of medium business and channels at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, said a Verizon customer started using Verizon's M2M technologies to monitor whether its truck drivers had been drinking or seemed overtired. If any of these conditions are detected, the drivers are told to get off the road.

"There are indications that as high as 25 percent of truckers on the road are operating in an unsafe condition either due to being tired, alcohol, distraction, etc.," Schijns said. "Through the machine-to- machine transportation solutions [Verizon] has through our Hughes acquisition, we are able to take unsafe drivers off the road immediately."

High-Tech Vending Machines

There's nothing worse than racing to the office's vending machine for an ice-cold Coke, only to find the machine empty (except, in most cases, for that old candy bar).

Well, soon this particular frustration may be a thing of the past. Vending machines are using M2M solutions from vendors such as Numerex to wirelessly communicate with distributors when they need restocking. The machines can even communicate on a product level, letting distributors know if more Cokes are needed, for instance, but Sprites are in good supply.

In the end, it's a win-win: Consumers won't be disappointed to find their favorite snacks sold out, and distributors won't have to waste gas to get out to a machine that's already stocked.

Remote Pet Feeders

For any pet lovers out there who worry about Fido's health when they're not around, M2M has it covered.

FeedandGo has leveraged M2M technologies (also from ioBridge) to produce a "smart" pet food dispenser that helps on-the-go owners keep tabs on their furry friends. Owners can use a smartphone application to remotely control when the dispenser issues food and the kind of food it issues. What's more, owners can even record their own voice calling their pets to come eat, and then remotely play the message when it's dinnertime.

FeedandGo's dispenser also comes with a built-in Webcam so users can see how much their pet is eating, and can produce customizable reports of their pets' day-to-day eating habits.

Cars That Can Talk

The implications of M2M technologies on the automotive industry could be enormous, and they're already coming to light with solutions such as eCall.

The technology -- which is being adopted in several European countries -- uses embedded sensors to automatically detect automotive crashes. When it does, it instantly and wirelessly notifies emergency respondents, sending detailed information related to the time and GPS coordinates of the crash. The idea is that, even if the passengers can't call for help, eCall can.

The European Union expects eCall to cut down emergency services response time by as much as 50 percent in rural areas, and up to 60 percent in urban ones.

Plants That Take Care Of Themselves

M2M hasn't found a way (yet) to let plants water themselves, but it has found a way to let their owners know when they're thirsty.

Parrot's Flower Power smart sensor is a small, wireless-enabled device that can be placed in a potted plant to take a reading on the plant's health, and then send that information back the plant's owner through a mobile application. If, for example, the plant needs more water or sunlight, the Flower Power sensor can read that information, and let the plant owner know before it's too late. The sensor is said to be compatible with "thousands" of different plant species, meaning having a green thumb has never been easier.

Food Quality

According to Verizon's Schijns, the M2M movement could also have a major impact on the food industry, particularly by pinpointing food that's been spoiled almost the moment it goes bad.

As an example, Schijns said a recent investigation in New Orleans found that "billions" of spoiled grain products -- ranging from wheat to corn -- were being shipped around the world at any given time. Not only could this potentially endanger actual consumers of the grains, Schijns said, but it wastes precious resources such as fuel.

To combat this, M2M technologies are being used inside grain silos so that farmers can remotely manage the temperature inside the silos and be more aware of the state of their food. M2M technologies also can be used to notify distributors when food is spoiled, saving them the time and fuel it would have taken to pick up the spoiled shipments.

Self-Setting Ovens

For those who don't always feel at home in the kitchen, M2M is poised to make whipping up that perfect meal a whole lot easier.

Dacor's Discover Smart Series Oven is just one example of how. Not only does the oven include a built-in Android tablet for displaying recipes step-by-step, but it can be controlled remotely by a user's mobile device. Directly from their smartphone or tablet, users can turn the oven on or off, adjust baking times, or even change the temperature -- all without stepping a foot in the house.

Home automation, in general, has become a major use case for M2M technologies, with other home appliances such as washing machines and coffee makers also touting M2M systems.