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Hot Topics In The Mobile Computing Industry

Smart SOS - RFID and Smart Consumer & Industrial Devices

Several industry visionaries like Microsoft's Bill Gates and Sun's McNealy were predicting emergence of smart appliances and industrial devices. While consumer devices sending out SOS alerts when it starts malfunctioning sounds very exciting, industrial devices like industrial refrigeration equipment have been monitored in this manner for some time - in fact, for the past 10-15 years. Perhaps the technology used in these installations was custom designed, expensive and older. Now that we have inexpensive standard embedded controllers, RFID chips, "somewhat pervasive" wireless networks, and commonly-available alerting software, we can start thinking of more industrial machines and appliances monitored this way.   If a retail kiosk can send out replenishment requests through the wireless Internet to company's warehouse, it is equally possible to use same technology to send out SOS messages from appliances and equipment. 

What is happening now is that cost of these components is coming down drastically. Certainly in the case of big-ticket industrial and commercial products, it is feasible to implement alerting technology. Examples of this type of equipment are industrial air-conditioners, factory floor freezing tunnels, office copiers, espresso vending machines.

How Does It work?

Acknowledgement for Graphic - eWeek Magazine


  • Necessary smart sensors that measure temperature or malfunctioning of the equipment

  • Embedded controller or microprocessor to which sensors feed information regularly

  • RTOS (Real-time OS)

  • Fixed Line Internet or wireless Internet connection

  • Monitoring software

Business Case - Costs and Benefits 

At present, you can justify this only for expensive equipment or wherever support costs are high and outage costs are high because of lack of service to customers. 

  • The users can save on expensive service calls because some problems can be fixed remotely without sending a technician to the site. 

  • Wastage of perishables can be reduced 

A typical eMation deployment currently costs between 250,000 and 350,000 for server licensing, while a Questra deployment costs $150,000 and up. MobileInfo expects these costs to come down very soon - dropping to half in two years.

Carrier estimates costs for its ComfortLink service at $250 (small retailer) to $600 (large retailer) on per month basis.

Status of Technology ( in late 2001)

  • Very early - only expensive equipment in $ 25,000 and above can justify this technology as of now. This number will come down gradually. 

Early Adopters, Common Devices Being Monitored & Vendors

  • Lair Liquide SA - A gas supplier in Paris is using this technology for industrial freezing tunnels - using eMation Inc.'s of MA, USA Device relationship software. The company monitors equipment at over 10,000 customer sites, according to eWeek's report. It uses telephone network (PSTN) presently. The company intends to connect these machines to customers LAN infrastructure and then access that information.

  • Office equipment - HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)  

  • Carrier Corporation - implemented Comfort Link for its customers  - monitoring about 6000 customers.

  • Medical devices

  • eDevice Inc. of New York

  • Questra 

Source - eWeek of October 22, 2001

Related Resources:
3rd Generation Wireless Networks


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