Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

lundi 20 septembre 2004

Kris Pister is one of the pioneers of the concept of 'smart dust,' or grids of very small wireless communication nodes dubbed 'motes,' which permit to monitor the environment. Now, Pister is the CTO of Berkeley-based Dust Networks. Today, according to both the Wall Street Journal (paid registration needed) and Business 2.0, this company is delivering its first products, composed of motes and specialized software. The motes are linked to sensors which detect temperature, air flow or humidity, and wirelessly inform systems which monitor building security or manufacturing processes. This will lead to businesses that are run even more efficiently than they are today. If you want to try it, an evaluation kit, including 12 motes, will cost you $4,950. Read more...

Let's start with some short quotes from the Wall Street Journal.

Kris Pister, while at the University of California at Los Angeles, conceived of what he called "smart dust" -- grids of simple, low-powered devices dubbed "motes" that monitor the environment and wirelessly pass data to a central collection point for analysis. He refined his ideas at the University of California at Berkeley, and formed a company called Dust Networks Inc. that today plans to begin selling motes and other components.
When linked to sensors that detect motion, temperature or other environmental changes, motes can be deployed for applications such as monitoring building security or industrial processes, Mr. Pister says. Instead of using high-speed wireless connections, the motes pass data at a low speed to conserve electrical power, using batteries to avoid the time and expense of wiring sensors to a customer's electrical system.
The SmartMesh sits between sensors and systems The product is sold under the name SmartMesh. The SmartMesh sits between sensors and systems, providing connection between these two layers. Each node of SmartMesh, or 'mote,' is a ultra low-power wireless communication node. (Credit: Dust Networks)

The above illustration comes from the SmartMesh brochure (PDF format, 4 pages, 1.16 MB)

Business 2.0 describes how sensors create their own wireless networks and why this new product is particularly energy efficient.

The data hops from sensor to sensor, just like on the Internet, except that Pister had to come up with a lighter-weight communications protocol than TCP/IP, which is the industry standard. The other difference, Pister says, "is if you leave your radio on all the time, your battery will be dead in a matter of weeks." To solve this problem, he figured out a way to turn down the radios almost all of the time, so they're just faintly listening for signals. They eat up so little power, he adds, that they'll last for three years on AA batteries.

As you could expect, the Wall Street Journal gives us some financial information.

Dust Networks has raised more than $7 million from investors that include Foundation Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, and In-Q-Tel, the venture-capital firm funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Dust Networks isn't yet quoting prices for large networks of motes, but is selling kits for developing sensor networks, starting at $4,950 for a system that includes 12 motes.

For more information, please read this evaluation kit web page.

And here is part of the conclusion of the Business 2.0 article.

As smart dust becomes industrial-strength and more widespread, we'll start seeing companies slapping sensors on every piece of machinery and in every office so that they can measure things like their manufacturing processes and energy consumption in real time. That should lead to businesses that are run even more efficiently than they are today, from better security systems (think vibration sensors at property perimeters) to more productive farming (imagine a vineyard putting sensors in its soil to constantly test its moisture and alkaline content).

Finally, if you're interested by 'smart dust' and sensors, you might want to read two previous stories, "UCSD Chemists Develop 'Smart Dust'" or "Sensors of the World, Unite!."

Sources: Don Clark, The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2004; Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0, September 17, 2004; Dust Networks website

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