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Miles of wires

Earlier this week, I visited Sprint's M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, Calif. M2M, or machine-to-machine, is a system for wireless communication between devices without any humans involved. An M2M infrastructure can enable a lot of things such as remote management of a delivery company's vehicle fleet, smart meters, wireless point-of-sale transactions, electric vehicle charging, and remote monitoring of in-home health care.

Sprint doesn't actually build the related M2M devices--just like it doesn't make any cell phones--but it does build the wireless network on which the devices run. It's about the same network that powers your cell phone, but it's doing a lot of different things.

The biggest room at the facility houses the equipment needed to run the various systems. It's not quite as complex as the Verizon Wireless Super Switch that we toured earlier this year, but it reminds you that even a wireless network is powered by more than a few wires.

Related story: Sprint VP on machines talking to machines (podcast)

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Bug Labs

The first demonstration table showed equipment from Bug Labs, a manufacturer of modular, open-sourced devices. Using the various parts, you can build just about anything, from a GPS monitor to a Webcam, and connect it to Sprint's network.

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Payments

Fusion Wireless makes equipment to handle point-of-sale transactions. They could be used, for example, to take orders and make purchases in a drive through or take-out line. On a larger scale, cities could use it with wireless parking meters to process payments and change the hourly rate depending on the time of day.

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For drivers

DriveCam has GPS equipment that could be installed in a trucking fleet to monitor vehicle performance and location. A dispatcher also could set up a GPS fence where he or she is alerted when a truck leaves a geographic area.

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Lights on!

This equipment could be used to monitor whether lights are on in a remote location.

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Health watch

This watch can measure a patient's vital signs and send information back to a medical professional.

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Big brother

These security cameras can be connected to a wireless network for remote monitoring and maintenance. The camera on the left could be concealed to cover a small area, while the cameras in the center on the right are for larger, highly visible locations.

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Smart meters

Though they're not terribly popular in some cities, smart meters need a wireless network like Sprint's to operate.

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Fill 'er up

Blink Electric makes personal and commercial charging stations for electric cars.

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In the deep

This wireless equipment can track the temperature and level of a liquid in a container. If the level gets too low, more liquid can be added without a visit from a technician.

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Information, please

This display could be installed in retail store so customers could ask questions to an expert across the country.

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Who's watching

A camera on top of this display monitor tracks how consumers are interacting with an advertisement. When people look at the ad, the camera takes note and targets their faces with a green circle (upper right) while a computer analyzes data like the average time watched (bottom center) and the sex breakdown of the viewers (bottom right). The ad then can be changed to the whichever garners the most interest.

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Even your age

The computer even can try to guess your age.

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Snack time

These vending machines have sensors that monitor product levels and relay the information to the supplier.

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No, it's not Burger King

An M2M network also can be used to power menus at a fast food restaurant. Prices and selection then can be changed instantly and remotely across an entire restaurant chain.

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