Portland, Ore. -- Dust Networks Inc. (Hayward, Calif.) last week unveiled the world's first system-on-chip (SoC) for wireless sensor networks at Electronica in Munich, Germany.
By integrating hardware and software functions to put distributed sensor networks on a single chip--called mote-on-chip--Dust Networks claims 5x lower power consumption than ZigBee, the elimination of the need for wired routers and a tenfold reduction in the overall price of adding new sensors to an existing network.
"Our ASIC uses 80 percent [five times] less power than using an 802.15.4 radio [the standard used by ZigBee]," said Rob Conant, an electrical engineer and co-founder of Dust Networks. "We have designed our SoC to be easier for device designers to use, because we take responsibility for the performance of the network, so that the EEs designing products don't have to rewrite all the software for the networking and communications functions of a wireless sensor network."
Wireless sensor networks enable industrial users with distributed process control problems to quickly deploy new sensors without having to run cables to them, reducing their overall cost from thousands to hundreds of dollars.
Emerson Process Management has launched a family of low-power wireless sensor networking systems that use Dust Networks' Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol (TSMP), including temperature sensors, pressure sensors, fluid-level sensors and fluid-flow sensors. British Petroleum (BP), Emerson's beta tester, now says that going wireless has reduced the cost of adding new sensors by 10x.
"BP is using Emerson's wireless sensors in refineries and oil fields," said Conant. "In one system BP deployed, within 30 minutes of deployment, the temperature data they collected revealed the source of a maintenance problem that had been dogging them to the tune of $100,000 per year."
The other co-founder of Dust Networks, CTO Chris Pister, a professor at UC Berkeley, coined the phrase "smart dust" in the mid-1990s. Since then, he has perfected the TSMP networking protocols, a mesh architecture that eliminates dedicated routers in favor of a daisychain style of communicating packets from wireless node to wireless node.