RealTime IT News

Startup to Leverage Wireless Sensor Networks

Sure e-mail, the Internet, cell phones and other technologies are connecting more people every day, but those numbers are a drop in the bucket compared to what Arch Rock has planned.

The San Francisco-based startup, partially funded by Intel, is creating tiny computers with wireless sensory technology that can communicate with almost any type of physical object.

These computers, which have already been deployed, can monitor light, motion, proximity, safety, biometrics and chemical composition.

The company said it sees the potential for "billions of touch points" in the physical world, bringing data to the Internet where it can be leveraged in new industrial and consumer applications.

"Our vision is to expand the Internet and harness and act on information originating in the physical world," Roland Acra, president and CEO of Arch Rock told internetnews.com.

In Arch Rock's technology, each low power wireless device communicates with each other like a node on a network.

"This is different than RFID , which has to be in contact with a reader," explained Acra. "Here each node is a sensor but also a router for the next node so you have a much longer communications reach."

These radio-equipped embedded processors, also called "motes," can run on battery power for months at a time, or potentially longer. Solar power is also a potential power source.

Arch Rock launched today, thanks to $5 million in Series A financing by New Enterprise Associates, Shasta Ventures and Intel Capital. The upstart has already contracted with some customers on a small scale.

Acra said the company has worked with a transportation client tracking items sent from a warehouse. The client needed reassurance that packages were not opened en route via airplane.

Arch Rock's sensors were able to detect if the packages were opened or exposed to light. Other sensors detect chemical contamination and communicate that back to a server.

At U.C. Berkeley, the Arch Rock team worked with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security on various projects. One project involved placing sensors on a grove of redwood trees, enabling scientists to measure precise changes in the ecology over time.

"By being able to measure anything, monitor it on the Internet and modify it so that it hits a pre-defined outcome, businesses will be able to not only predict the outcome of a situation, but actually influence or control that outcome," said Forest Baskett, general partner with New Enterprise Associates, in a statement. "That's the promise of wireless sensor and control networks."

Arch Rock, co-founded by David Culler and Wei Hong, grew out of research at the University of California, Berkeley, that was later funded by Intel.

Culler, Arch Rock chairman and CTO, was previously a professor of Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley and principal investigator of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Network Embedded Systems Technology project (DARPA NEST).

DARPA NEST created the platform for wireless sensor networks based on the TinyOS operating system.

Hong, vice president of engineering at Arch Rock, was previously a senior researcher and principal investigator at Intel Research Berkeley where he led the sensor network project.

Hong's work there helped lead to two widely used systems: the TinyDB distributed query processing system on TinyOS and the Tiny Application Sensor Kit (TASK), a turn-key system for rapid sensor network deployment.

Acra is former president and CEO of Procket Networks, a high-end Internet router maker acquired by Cisco. He sees the wireless sensory network as the next tier of the Internet that will become increasingly important to IT departments.

"We want to take the Internet paradigm to a new architecture," said Acra.

"Companies like FedEx can not only save money being able to track their packages in real time, but also have proof of where something was or wasn't mishandled. Other companies need to know about things like exposure to chemical. We can absolutely monetize that."