The Internet of Things meets cell phone recycling

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The Internet of Things — where all objects and machines are connected — can help make devices and systems more energy efficient and can also help track objects and gadgets to their end of life, whether that’s to a landfill or to a new user. Here is a real-world business example of the latter: A startup that builds kiosks for recycling cell phones, called ecoATM, is partnering with machine-to-machine (M2M) networking company Axeda.

EcoATM, which was one of the winners at our Green:Net 2010 competition, is using Axeda’s wireless software sensor platform to connect its growing amount of kiosks and provide the startup with diagnostics and remote management. EcoATM’s VP of engineering, John Beane, told me in an interview that ecoATM turned to Axeda because the M2M software can help the company do remote software refreshes on its kiosks, and it can also fix any problems with the kiosks without having to send a technician in person out to each kiosk, which saves time and money.

Axeda, which I put on my “12 smart grid startups to watch in 2012″ post, essentially creates the intelligence in the cloud that can monitor and manage the connectivity and sensors in devices and buildings in real time. Back in November the company’s software was crunching about 10,000 transactions per second, though that number is supposed to quadruple over the coming year as more and more devices are connected.

EcoATM needs a certain level of smarts in its kiosks, but putting some of that in the cloud makes sense. The kiosks offer users an easy way to drop off and recycle old electronics. The machines calculate the discarded objects’ value, then pay the user on the spot in cash or coupons. The company’s secret sauce is the kiosks’ ability to automatically estimate — using electronic and visual techniques — a price of the unwanted items that will give consumers an immediate financial incentive to recycle at the station.

As ecoATM adds more kiosks in more locations, it will need a growing amount of connectivity to make its kiosk network run smoothly. Beane says that the company currently has 50 kiosks installed and plans to boost that number to 500 over the next couple of years.

Axeda has been around since 2000 and has raised $16 million from JMI Equity and MMV Financial. EcoATM is four years old and has raised $14.4 million in funding from kiosk giant Coinstar; Oakland, Calif.–based venture capital firm Claremont Creek Ventures; venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank; and Tao Venture partners.

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