Sensors Go Wide-Area
Continuing its drive to seamlessly embed wireless sensor networks (WSNs) into the fabric of many different kinds of business, Arch Rock Corp. today introduced its "Primer Pack," an out-of-the-box solution to allow IT managers to quickly and easily set up and run basic sensor networks as part of their IT infrastructure.
Founded in March 2005 by David Culler, a professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley, and Wei Hong, former principal investigator at Intel Research , Arch Rock operated until recently in stealth mode but has generated a fair amount of buzz for its high-powered engineering team and its belief that sophisticated sensor networks, operating over wireless connections, will be a critical part of industries from semiconductors to Big Oil to data centers. For instance, Arch Rock says its sensors can watch for heat and power spikes in servers and storage devices, and send alerts back to IT managers via the wireless network. (See Arch Rock Racks $5M for Sensors.)
The company received $5 million in venture funding earlier this year from a heavyweight roster of investors including Intel Capital , New Enterprise Associates (NEA) , and Shasta Ventures.
The Primer Pack -- named both for the initial coat of paint on a wall and for the essential knowledge needed to master the basics of a field -- is a sort of starter kit that will both allow companies to rapidly deploy WSNs and quickly reap the benefits thereof, says Arch Rock CEO Roland Acra.
"We wanted to have a tool that would proliferate the technology easily, with little time and cost to the user," explains Acra, "whether they're a partner, OEM or integrator, or an enterprise customer."
A complete pilot network that can be set up, the company says, in an hour, the Primer Pack comprises five elements:
- Six battery-powered sensor nodes, which are essentially mini-computers that monitor temperature, light, and humidity.
- A gateway server, which connects via Ethernet to the enterprise LAN and provides a Web-based console for managing the sensor network.
- A bridge node that provides wireless radio communication, using the IEEE 802.15.4 networking standard, between the gateway and the sensor nodes.
- Expansion ports for external sensors to expand the type of data collected over the network.
- A set of Web services that allow users to create customized applications that run over the WSN.
Application development is made simpler by giving IT managers the ability to use popular tools like WebSphere and Visual Studio and languages like Java and Perl, and work at the Web services layer rather than writing embedded code at the sensor node itself.
In addition, the Arch Rock system uses TinyOS 2.0, an emerging standard embedded operating system for sensor networks.
The power of the system, says Culler, the firm's CTO, is that it integrates the sensors with the ongoing operations of the business, whether it’s a data center, an oil refinery, or a semiconductor fab.
"Of course there's a Web page with a GUI, and that's good for human beings," says Culler. "But the real value is to bring this information into the rest of the enterprise. You'll have programs analyzing the data and various applications where the business logic resides."
The complete system will retail for $4,995. Acra says the company has generated revenue of "several hundred thousand dollars" through pilot projects. "Now, with a couple of customers, we are in discussions for enterprise-wide systems, with ten thousand, twenty thousand, [or] thirty thousand nodes."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung