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Dust Bets These 'Motes' Will Float

Wireless sensor specialist Dust Networks has developed a series of tiny network-enabled wireless sensors that have a low power appetite and can be used in industrial automation and control applications.

Dust officials said the mote-on-a-chip sensors, announced today, require up to 80 percent less power and provide five times the battery life of existing devices.

The sensors arrive to combat the power consumption and battery life issues that have been major stumbling blocks to wireless sensor network adoption.

But is an ultra low-power edge enough to make these motes float with customers?

It's a good start, said Rob Conant, Dust's co-founder and vice president of marketing and development.

Conant said Dust's industrial automation customers have been clamoring for low-power radio devices that sip batteries and can be used in a variety of industrial controls situations, such as deep within the belly of an oil refinery.

The small sensor systems also feature a built-in networking capability and are able to zap data from remote environments to a host computer using the 802.15.4-compliant Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol (TSMP) technology.

This approach marks a departure from the ZigBee Alliance, a standards group that promotes another low-power alternative.

But Dust feels ZigBee just isn't up to snuff when it comes to industrial automation and process control applications.

"We pretty much decided not to use the ZigBee Alliance's proposed standard because of battery life issues and reliability issues," Dust President and CEO Joy Weiss toldinternetnews.com.

ZigBee is also a single frequency network, while TSMP supports IP communications and channel-hopping across the 15 channels of 802.15.4.

"If anything, the popularity of 802.15.4 is forcing Zigbee to take a hard look at itself," Weiss noted.

Dust expects to ship the first batch of its motes early in 2007.

Potential buyers for Dust's network-ready motes are members of a relatively exclusive club, since about a dozen or so large systems integrators control roughly 90 percent of the $30 billion worldwide industrial automation and process instrumentation market.

These companies include Honeywell, Siemens and Japan's Yokogawa Electric Corp.

One early user is Emerson Process Management, a systems integration division of Emerson Electric that has its fingers in a variety of applications, including the chemical, oil and gas, pulp and paper, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage industries.

Emerson wrapped its own 'smart wireless' solution around Dust's new motes to develop a temperature sensing application for a customer in the oil and gas industry, and "within 30 minutes of throwing the switch identified more than $100,000 in problems," claimed Conant.

Clients under Emerson's umbrella include British Petroleum, Exxon Mobile and Shell Oil.