Colorado Springs, Colo. -- A University of California at Berkeley team responsible for the TinyOS embedded operating system has formed a company to provide software intelligence to ZigBee and other wireless sensor networks. Arch Rock Corp.'s Primer Pack environment builds on middleware work done at Berkeley on three generations of "motes"--sensor nodes designed into meshes that use TinyOS 2 for self-discovery and monitoring. The work also included a dedicated database called TinyDB, used in making sensor information available through Web services via an application-layer language like the Extensible Markup Language.
Those roots give Arch Rock a natural bias toward the open-source software community, said CEO Roland Acra, the former head of router startup Procket Networks. Acra said Primer Pack is based on BSD source code. "We have developed optimized versions of the TinyOS and TinyDB environments," Acra said. "But we intend to be responsible members of the open-source community, which is important as open-source tools move into the industrial and factory automation worlds."
Some developers may elect to use the software environment for motes without adopting Arch Rock's own hardware nodes. Aginova Inc., a New Jersey-based system integrator developing software for wireless sensor nets, is doing just that. "We have been using the Layer 7 features of Primer Pack first, because we have our own custom motes," said Bikash Sabuta, chief technology officer of Aginova. "We intend to use Layer 4 addressability when we integrate Arch Rock into our own product, but that involves a little more work."
Sabuta said that the reputation of the TinyOS and TinyDB team has given Arch Rock visibility in the sensor network development community. David Culler and Wei Hong, veterans of the Intel Research Lab at Berkeley, co-founded Arch Rock a year ago with funding from Intel Capital, Shasta Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.
Culler said that the limitations of traditional 802.15.4 networks became evident during the research work at Berkeley. Sensor nets often dwell in a world of their own, so addressability using Internet Protocol addresses or higher-layer service-oriented architecture tools has not been a primary focus in the past. If sensor networks are going to be a part of the IT infrastructure, Culler said, that has to change.
In the Berkeley motes model, a common design is used for a low-power sensor node and for a bridge node connecting a mesh network of motes to a gateway controller. TinyOS 2 is embedded in each of the nodes, and higher-layer services are added for addressing at Layers 4 and 7 of the Open Systems Interconnect protocol stack.
Arch Rock's integrated Primer Pack will be sold into several channels at once: system integrators, OEMs, enterprise application developers, wireless device developers and academic R&D organizations. The system includes a centralized gateway server, six sensor nodes and a bridge node. Each of the sensor nodes has an expansion port so that the physical-layer sensors can be extended without writing additional code. Application development can'take place on a Web services layer, while addressing, naming and browsing individual sensors take place on the IP layer.
Culler said the gateway server itself utilizes a layered software architecture. The highest layer provides the Web management system. The lowest layer provides gateway translations between the IP world and physical- and data-link protocols specific to 802.15.4. In between, a middleware layer supports commissioning, data management, monitoring and maintenance.
The nodes can be used for sensing environmental characteristics such as temperature, light and humidity. Simple high-layer commands can quickly change conditions, turning on a light, for example, as a door opens.
Arch Rock is shipping a six-node Primer Pack carrying a list price of $4,995. Additional nodes can be purchased for $275 each, and gateway server software licenses extend to 30 nodes.