Column: You wait ages, then two bandwagons come at once

Opinion

Column: You wait ages, then two bandwagons come at once

First came the dotcom boom. And I did nothing, because I didn't learn how to write HTML quickly enough.

Then came the mobile apps wave. And I missed that, because I couldn't find any porn actresses, I don't understand gambling and I discovered that hiring developers was like herding cats (my friend actually managed to get hold of some Ukrainian code writers, but he had to fly out to Harkova before he could get them to finish the project they'd been paid for)

Never mind, they said, there'll be another bandwagon along in a minute!

Well, I've waited and waited and ... hang on, what's this on the horizon? Would you believe it?  Two bandwagons!

On the front of one of them it says Machine to Machine communications (M2M). The other is labeled The Internet of Things. Both bear the same IDC number ($16bn).

Great, two bandwagons, that are probably going to exactly the same place. Which one should I get on? Which will get there quicker? If you get on the wrong one, they can meander all over the place. Sometimes, they stop for no apparent reason and the driver wanders off. You end up getting there too late.

So, it's vital to get on the right vehicle. I decided to ask the drivers where they were going. And what route they were going to take.

The first driver I met was called Maxine Hewitt, marketing director of AlphaMicro Components. Her vehicle started out some years ago, connecting vending machines to the Internet. Then they went down the route of connecting buildings and remotely controlling utilities.

AlphaMicro helps companies create systems for saving energy, by connecting intelligent machines together. A temperature gauge and a camera, for example, can tell a hotel's asset management system to stop wasting money heating up empty conference venues or vacant rooms. Put that light out! Don't you know there's a recession on?

Telemetry and telemetics are nothing new. But only recently have we started exploring the wider applications of machine to machine comms. A mobile phone can be used as a heart monitor and can automatically call your doctor if your pulse goes haywire or your blood pressure surges up. You can build a system that alerts the police if some chavs are stealing a war memorial. We need to build some robocops, that will automatically mess up the prosecution.

Now that there are more intelligent peripherals, with bigger processing power and tons of wireless bandwidth aplenty the possibilities are endless, says Hewitt.

AlphaMicro has a development arm and teams of partners that can help you develop any idea.

I want to build a machine for cinemas, that detects anyone making too much noise. If they so much as rustle their popcorn, crackle their sweet wrappers or slurp their Kia-Ora, a massive probe comes down from the ceiling, identifies the culprit and very publicly stuns them. As a warning to other popcorn munchers. 

Think of all the things we could improve. Energy management (what about a system that uses the energy from crematoriums), traffic flow or mobile health. They're all achievable now.

Suddenly though, I noticed some exciting developments on the other bus. This one was being drive by Gilli Coston, who has spent 18 years steering M2M developments for 02/Telefonica. I was going to ask Coston if this was the right way to a prosperous future, but I was distracted by all the amazing events taking place.

In one section, a man was being scanned by 18 cameras. The information was assembled on a computer and processed to give an incredibly granular, high definition 3D image on screen. Then this was sent to a printer. No ordinary printer mind, a 3D one, that printed out a statue of the man.

"In 25 years, everyone will have this technology," says Coston. In the meantime, Telefonica's new digital division (Telefonica Digital) and its M2M heritage could provide the right supporting environment for anyone wanting to create systems out of 'the Internet of Things'.

"It's a really exciting time," says Coston, "we're helping developers to create applications and working with universities to encourage more people to get into this area."

Bang the bell, Gilli, I'm on the bus!

This was first published in December 2011

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