Dust Upgrades Sensor Software

By Eric Griffith

October 26, 2005

The maker of wireless sensor network stacks says its latest provides 99.9 percent reliability in trials.

Wireless sensor networks (WSN) provider Dust Networks has upgraded its SmartMesh wireless sensor network product line. The new SmartMesh-XR technology is meant to provide more reliability — up to 99.9 percent, according to the company.

"Reliability in industry plants is incredibly important," says Rob Conant, vice president of marketing and co-founder of Dust Networks. "Set it and forget it. It has to work for years at a time with no maintenance." He says that in beta deployments of the XR line, that's what they've seen.

SmartMesh-XR is also designed for lower power, using less power than current nodes (called "motes") from Dust; the company claims they can run on "over 100 times less [power] than competing solutions."

Other new features include control of up to 250 XR motes per manager (a line-powered node handling routing, QoS and stat collection) with thousands of motes possible in a single location without hurting performance; a vital signs software component for analyzing and improving performance on the mesh (a tool that started out for sales use but was requested by customers); and the ability to send data only when pre-set conditions are met or events take place.

Dust Networks provides the network stacks and 802.15.4 chips they can run on, so customers don't have to write any code. Conant says it's closer to the Ethernet card approach, where anyone can use it out of the box — unlike some competitors, who expect customers to write their own software, drivers and applications for the WSN.

WSNs should not to be confused with the similar types of products that will come from groups like the Z-Wave Alliance and ZigBee Alliance, which Conant and others say specifically target the consumer and home audience. While they all run on chips using the 802.15.4 wireless specification and usually have a mesh architecture, WSNs like Dust's target industrial applications such as monitoring and control of equipment in warehouses and factory floors. It's like RFID you can control.

"We're building a whole Internet inside a building or factory," says Conant. "All in little devices."

Conant says that while Zigbee formed a standard by committee, where he's sure it will take off in home automation (and Dust is a member of the Zigbee Alliance), he wants to see his company's software become a standard itself for industrial WSN. "My belief is that the technology that solves the problem the best will win," he says.

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