A2B advocates envision a world full of networked machines and appliances. Equipped with embedded chips, software and networking capabilities, a wide range of products?from factory machinery to microwave ovens?will be able to anticipate their own maintenance needs and automatically place service requests whenever necessary, says John Canosa, chief scientist at Questra. “For businesses this means being able to eliminate downtime in an office or production environment.” He notes that the technology could also be used to automate the meter-based billing systems that are sometimes used on photocopiers, medical equipment and other devices.
Rochester, N.Y.-based Questra has developed software that allows products to monitor their performance and automatically alert a technician when trouble arises. “A2B has the potential to lead to a world where there are no more copiers without paper, machines without clean filters or gas pumps without fuel,” says Canosa. Other organizations working on similar technologies include Hewlett-Packard’s Embedded Software Operation, IBM’s Pervasive Computing Group, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and the Extend the Internet Alliance, a consortium of device networking vendors based in Salt Lake City.
Questra is so confident that A2B will be the next big thing that the company has actually trademarked the expression A2B. There’s good reason for such optimism, says John Williams, research manager at Harbor Research, a San Francisco-based technology research company. “During the next three years, more than 50 percent of online interactions will involve Internet-enabled appliances,” he says. “There will also be a 200 percent increase in device networking investments during the next three years. As a result, asset monitoring will become more pervasive and reach down into less costly products.”
What lies ahead? Williams sees A2B quickly branching out into A2B/C (appliance to business/consumer). “Washing machines, refrigerators, vending machines, cars and many other products will be directly linked to their manufacturers,” he says. A2B/C will allow manufacturers to alert consumers to minor problems before they develop into major headaches and to automatically schedule service appointments, he adds. The technology will also be a boon for manufacturers that are looking to bind consumers into their service organizations. “With A2B or A2B/C, you won’t just be purchasing a product, you’ll be entering into a long-term partnership with a manufacturer,” Williams says.