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The killer app for M2M

Unwired: Monitoring workers' carbon footprint...
Written by Richard Leyland, Contributor on

Unwired: Monitoring workers' carbon footprint...

Excited about M2M? Not many are. What this wireless technology needs is a killer app. And Unwired's Richard Leyland has an idea of what that could be. (Hint: Think 'green').

While wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, wi-fi and WiMax have grabbed the headlines for years, a new tech has slipped under the radar. It's called machine-to-machine, or M2M.

M2M is used to harness the power of networks in simple machine-to-machine monitoring tasks, without any human interface. The highest profile M2M technology is currently RFID, a wireless tagging technology which has crossed over into the corporate arena where it is widely used for tracking documents and assets.

Zigbee is another much discussed M2M technology. Zigbee promises to create 'smart' offices where every object or device has a Zigbee chip built-in that allows it to report its 'state' or send back real-time data - temperature, humidity and so on. This would allow offices to centralise and automate the lighting, heating, cooling and security systems.

The potential of M2M is to equip our offices with tiny and almost undetectable devices which quietly go about their business, monitoring and controlling the built environment without our input or knowledge.

But there are several hindrances to M2M acceptance. Firstly, it's difficult to get people excited about wireless sensing and thus market awareness of the value M2M offers is likely to be limited.

Next, M2M puts many functions usually controlled by facilities - such as air-con and lights - under the control of the converged IP network. Asking the facilities guys to support this is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Finally, we all have a deep-rooted cynicism about any 'revolution' in automation. Despite decades of bold claims, we don't all have an internet fridge, we still close the curtains by hand and our homes look nothing like The Jetsons.

What M2M really needs is a killer application to raise awareness and incite acceptance. Could the killer app be empowering office workers to monitor and reduce their own carbon footprint?

The corporate world is under increasing pressure to act responsibly and manage energy conservation to governed standards. Today 81 per cent of the FTSE 100 report on their carbon emissions. Led from the top, it's clear there has been a surge in carbon consciousness.

To take this even further, in future our buildings could monitor our activities through a 'digital dashboard' which would provide personalised data on our environmental impact.

Picture the connected building of the future...

Zigbee mesh networks monitor and control the lighting system to shut off lights when a room is empty.

A 'super phone' acts as a remote control for the heating systems, allowing a building manager or IT worker to control the environment and linking actions to individuals (for example, 'air-con switched off by Susan in marketing').

An integrated room and resource booking system controls and measures how services are consumed while RFID provides real-time information on the power, water and other resources workers use.

All the while the building is producing renewable energy, perhaps by virtue of wind turbines or solar panels.

The dashboard would connect to all of these separate systems, automatically process the data and display it to building managers in real time. This mountain of data could then be converted to carbon units and published on a web page for workers.

This would allow workers to see the balance between their energy production and consumption. The dashboard could become their default screen saver, replacing the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence or pictures of favourite football teams with something socially conscious.

The true value from such a system would be for workers to learn from and respond to the ecological and economic consequences of what they do in the office. Concerned workers could change their behaviour - use less air conditioning, switch off lights, reduce business travel and so on - and watch their carbon footprint shrink.

For businesses, the system would scale to allow a company-wide measure of carbon emissions and would be an invaluable tool in meeting corporate social responsibility targets. Companies could even tie carbon footprints into remuneration packages, rewarding individuals who reduce their carbon output.

Using M2M to empower workforces to reduce their carbon footprint may just be the killer application that drives the wireless tech into the corporate arena.

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