The notion that your refrigerator could “know” that you’re about to run out of milk and order more via the Internet may have suffered a setback now that there are very few companies that will actually bring you another quart, but don’t count out smart-device technology just yet.
Developers of appliance-to-business (A2B) technology see a ready market among makers of fax machines, copiers, vending machines, and plenty of other devices that today require frequent human contact. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems have been talking about the technology for several years now, but relative newcomers such as eDevice, eMation, and Questra are doing a lot of the heavy lifting to make it happen.
For example, Questra has designed software that network-enables any device with an 8-bit processor, letting it beam plenty of data back to its maker, from alerts on impending malfunctions to customer usage patterns that may help the manufacturer sell additional gear to the client.
The technology doesn’t come cheap: Customers will pay about $300,000 for Questra’s software, as well as a one-time service fee of around $500,000. But Rajeev Raman, Questra’s vice president of product development, says the costs are minimal because A2B technology can improve DSO by 50 to 80 percent. “How quickly you get an invoice out often hinges on how quickly you get a product reading, and A2B shortens that time span considerably,” he says.
Despite vendors’ claims of near-instant ROI, analysts say the technology is still 12 to 18 months away from widespread adoption.