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Open-Source: Driving the Connected World
Stuart Rowe
JUL 05, 2013 08:00 AM
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Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications continues to evolve, connecting ever more devices and equipment to the Internet-of-Things (IoT). One of the industry trends that can help power the rapid growth of M2M/IoT connectivity are the Open-Source and Open Hardware movements. Open-Source refers to freely available software, including the source code, and is freely modifiable under a "copy left" license. "Copy left" is both a play on words and a legal license — rather than legally keep information proprietary, it legally keeps that information freely available to the public.

Open Hardware is similar where critical and useful details about the hardware, such as circuit diagrams, Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and physical part specs and design files are publicly available, enabling an end-user to repurpose the hardware in any way they see fit. Open Hardware can have its own "copy left" license, or it can use the Open-Source software common licenses.

So how does the Open-Source movement and philosophy drive M2M? Consider the basic concept of Open-Source: freedom from license restrictions. Most Open-Source hardware or software allows the user to modify, repurpose and generally do anything they conceivably want to do with it. Combinations of Open Hardware and pre-packaged development kits like Arduino and BeagleBone are already low priced (sub $100 usually), enabling anyone to start creating a one-off or prototype M2M connection. Many of these kits have the ability to use add-on modules for additional M2M connectivity and data collection such as cellular network connections via the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) protocols, GPS location data, and accelerometers. The possible combinations are practically infinite.

The ability to prototype an M2M connection at such a low cost is a boon to the emerging M2M world. Showing how easy it is to incorporate M2M data collection and integration into a product or piece of equipment will encourage more companies to embark on the road to the connected world.

When a teenager can spend less than $100 and start cobbling together previously unconnected hardware to perform new functions not previously seen before, it should be a wakeup call to companies to start investigating M2M integration in their business. To paraphrase a quote from the 2001 movie Antitrust, "any kid in a garage can put you out of business." In today's age of the Internet of Things (IoT), this may be more applicable than ever.

Stuart Rowe
Research Associate
Communications, IT Infrastructure

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