Every Machine Will Be Able to Communicate Wirelessly

Automated wireless tools are here, though market growth is slower than expected

James Turner is suing Acme Rent-A-Car in New Haven, Conn., to recoup the $450 he was charged by the company when an on-board telemetry system clocked him going 90 mph.

The cops didnt catch Turner; AirIQs global positioning system did — perhaps not the wireless "killer app" that we all had in mind.

But Pickering, Ontario-based AirIQ, which uses the wireless Web to keep tabs on fleet vehicles, is trying to fulfill the promise of an unwired world controlled by the long arm of the Internet.

Although automated, wireless tools are beginning to control everything from freezer temperatures at Taco Bell to the price of Pepsi at the beach, the wireless data business, often touted as a trillion-dollar market, "has been growing more slowly than analysts predicted," said Peter Belman, vice president of marketing and product management of Motient.

Nonetheless, Motient, which runs the largest domestic wireless data network, is focusing on wireless Internet applications, including real-time wireless e-mail. "Were building a wireless modem that would sit on your Palm, so that the Palm would have all of the wireless messaging tricks and could receive real-time e-mail anywhere in the country," Belman said.

World Wireless Communications has identified four target markets for wireless automation: vending machines, meter reading, security systems and facilities management.

The companys $250 X-Node allows a vending machine to automatically notify the owner when its running low on Snickers bars. Or, said Mark Kramer, World Wireless chief operating officer, "On a soda machine thats not doing well, they can adjust the price down, or they can remotely raise the price on a machine thats closest to the beach on a hot, busy day."

World Wireless has also set up an "intelligent kitchen" for McDonalds that monitors whether equipment such as fryers and freezers is working within specifications.

At the Web site of competitor Opto 22 (www.internetio.com/ default.shtml), you can take a turn in the wireless future, using your browser to control remote objects.

Opto 22 is also in the fast food facilities management market, said Bob Sheffres, the companys vice president. Opto 22s Snap-IT product can take any nonnetwork device or sensor, give it an IP address and then give it an open pipe to the Internet, allowing automatic remote monitoring.

"At Taco Bell, as soon as they put our system in, they found that the freezer was 30 degrees too cold and the pizza oven was 50 degrees too hot," Sheffres said. "They could minimize their energy costs right away."