Mobile networks and transmission technologies such as 2G and 3G are best known for powering our mobile phones. With a combination of 3G connectivity on your smartphone and an unlimited internet plan such as giffgaff goodybags, it becomes possible to communicate with your friends in a lot of different ways: for example through a short written message on an instant messaging application, through a status update on Facebook or through a video call on Skype.
With the multitude of ways available for us to communicate with each other thanks to mobile technology, how about the machines and the appliances of the future communicating with each other? With these connected capabilities, the devices that allow society to function can become smarter, faster and more intelligent. Indeed, mobile technology already powers much more of modern society than we can imagine: everything from payment systems to transport and everything from restaurant payments to power grids. We’ll explore some of the uses of machine-to-machine (M2M) mobile technology in this article.
Furthermore, our homes will become more connected in the future, with appliances such as refrigerators, ovens and vacuum cleaners going online. We’ll also look at these connected appliances and explore their future in this article.
London Buses, Oyster Cards and ‘Countdown’ arrival times
Many Londoners tap their NFC-enabled Oyster Cards every single day to use public transport in London. It’s so ubiquitous and commonplace that we think nothing of it and the technology behind it. For example, did you know that 3G technology makes it possible to use your Oyster card on a bus? Since the start of this year, every London bus has had an embedded SIM card slot and uses 3G technology to communicate over-the-air with Transport for London’s main computers.
Before the introduction of mobile technology, London buses would individually carry a data cartridge storing information about who taps their Oyster card on the bus. The data cartridge would be removed from the bus at the end of each shift so that the relevant amount of money could be deducted from traveller’s Oyster card accounts. With the introduction of 3G mobile technology, buses can now communicate with the back office in real-time and can ensure that Oyster Card accounts are always up-to-date, all the time. This is a form of machine-to-machine communication (M2M) as the bus and back-office computers can communicate directly with each other without any human intervention.
Mobile technology also allows buses to report their location back to Transport for London, so we can use our smartphones to find out when the next bus is due to arrive.
Ford’s Electric Cars
Car manufacturer Ford has been embedding a SIM card slot and mobile technology in some of their new electric cars in the USA. The “Ford Focus Electric” car featured embedded 3G technology so that drivers can manage and monitor their car remotely using a specially designed smartphone application. With this application, owners of the car can pull up information about their car’s current charge level and its estimated range. On cold winter mornings, it is also possible to heat the car’s interior remotely before the journey. With the smartphone application, drivers can plan their route on a smartphone before transferring route information directly to their car’s GPS system. Finally, in the event of loss or theft, the car can be located remotely using its GPS tracker. The 3G mobile connection is the key technology that allows the smartphone to communicate with the car and it works anywhere with a mobile signal too.
Restaurant Payments & Power Meters
Other uses of M2M technology include restaurant payments and smart power meters.
Many restaurants now allow us to pay for our meal at the table using a credit card or a debit card. A handheld card reader checks your PIN code and authorises the transaction from your bank. Rather than using a fixed line telephone connection, an increasing number of these handheld credit card readers will use mobile technology to authorise the payment. This whole process of communicating with your bank over a 3G connection takes a matter of seconds and is totally transparent to the end user. In the future, it’s likely we’ll use our mobile phones and NFC to pay in restaurants.
Another area where M2M mobile technology can save time is in reading the power meter. In the past, it has been commonplace for energy companies to send somebody to check your power meter every 6 months. Mobile technology has already saved us time by allowing us to text our own meter reading to the energy company. In the future this will be totally automated using M2M technology. M2M-enabled power meters will feature a 3G connection that allows them to report your electricity usage back to the energy company automatically. This reduces costs for the energy company, the risk of consumers understating their usage and saves time for both parties.
Connected Home Appliances: Tomorrow’s Home
Whilst most of the applications of M2M technology that we’ve discussed so far play an important role in modern society, most of these applications are transparent and do not affect consumers directly. Another class of internet-connected devices will bring more direct benefits to consumers. These are the connected home appliances – the fridges, ovens, washing machines and vacuum cleaners which feature internet connectivity.
Major electronics manufacturers such as Samsung and LG have already been launching a range of internet-connected appliances over the last year and things are only set to continue as prices come down.
The Samsung Zipel wi-fi enabled oven (only available in Korea) comes with an application for the Android operating system. Consumers can select a meal on their smartphone that they wish to cook and the oven will automatically be programmed to pick the correct temperature and cooking time. A push notification is sent to the user’s smartphone once the meal is ready ensuring that dinner doesn’t get burnt.
LG’s Thinq range of smart home appliances also allow you to control and query your home appliances remotely. The Thinq smart refrigerator comes with an Android application to query the contents of your fridge and how long you have until that food expires. It’s perfect if you’ve ever wanted to check what you’ve got in the refrigerator whilst at the supermarket, though a drawback is that you’ll currently need to input information about what’s in the fridge manually. With RFID technology, this could become automated in the future.
Finally, Samsung’s Navibot is a wi-fi enabled vacuum cleaner. The Navibot can be controlled remotely using Samsung’s AllShare application for Android handsets. The vacuum cleaner can be configured remotely to clean your home or can also be operated manually using the on-board webcam.
In this article, we’ve discussed how mobile technology goes far beyond the mobile phone and how it has begun to power many other aspects of our home and society. We’ve looked at how everyday aspects of our life such as taking the public bus, driving a car or paying for dinner in a restaurant all depend on mobile technology. We’ve also looked at the future of the connected home: how you can remotely control your oven, fridge, washing machine or vacuum cleaner using a smartphone.
Can you think of any other innovative ways of using mobile technology in society? Do you think you’d find connected home appliances useful or are they just a gimmick? How long do you think it’ll be until you could giffgaff your car, oven and fridge and not just your smartphone and tablet? Drop us a comment below… we’d love to hear from you!
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