VCs: Zigbee Yes, Bermai No

Posted by Sam Churchill on

While Venture Capitalists are pulling the plug on WiFi chip innovator Bermai, low-power sensor network startup Ember is rolling in cash with $25 million in VC funding this week.

The funding round was led by Vulcan Capital, the investment group of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It takes the total amount of money raised by Ember to $53 million.

Ember also announced that Bob Metcalfe, who invented the Ethernet some 30 years ago, has become company chairman. Metcalfe’s Polaris Ventures group had already invested in Ember.

C/Net reports major IT companies are involved in ZigBee, including Honeywell, Invensys, Mitsubishi, Motorola and Philips. Its advocates claim it will enable billions of everyday devices to be wirelessly connected to the Internet, as part of a self-healing and self-configuring wireless network.

The IEEE 802.15.4 standard operates at data rates of 10 kbps to a max of 250 kbps. Wireless links can operate in three unlicensed frequency bands (2.4GHz, 868Mhz and 915MHz). When lines of communication exceed 30 feet, the 802.15.4 standard creates self-configuring, multihop networks. It is intended to operate in an unlicensed, international frequency band with applications in sensors, interactive toys, smart badges, remote controls, and home automation.

The ZigBee Alliance specification is a combination of HomeRF Lite and the 802.15.4 specification and operates over 16 channels with data transmission rates of up to 250kbps at a range of up to 30 meters. ZigBee’s technology is slower than 802.11b and Bluetooth, but it consumes significantly less power. It can connect up to 64,000 nodes on one network.

Dust Networks is one of a handful of start-ups working to make this vision a reality. Others include Crossbow Technology in San Jose, Calif., Ember in Boston, and Millennial Net in Cambridge, Mass.

Intel and Accenture are active in the field, as are leading research universities including the University of California at Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. DARPA, the National Science Foundation and the CIA are funding efforts, too.

“The combination of “the smallest wireless commercial grade [smart dust] mote in the market with the smallest wireless RFID tag in the world will revolutionize what ubiquitous computing really means,” says Mike Horton, CEO of Crossbow. The sensor and the reader are each about the size of three stacked quarters.

Oki has the world’s first fully compliant IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee chip. The technology promises to start a new generation of wireless sensor networks, utilizing the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum. TinyOS, developed at Berkeley, is a popular operating system for the devices.

At the 29 Palms Marine base in southern California, a couple years ago, unmanned aircraft dropped wireless magnetic sensors along a road. Once on the ground, the sensors formed a wireless network and began looking for magnetic anomalies. As a vehicle passed by the sensors, they would detect the vehicle from its magnetic signature to estimate the vehicle s speed and direction. The unmanned aircraft returned overhead to collect the data from the network and transmit them to the remote operation command headquarters.

The Sensor Expo & Conference June 7-10, 2004 in Detroit showcased many new developments.

Sensing the Potential
Crossbow Technology
(San Jose, CA)
Modular motes with interchangeable sensors Environmental monitoring, security
Digital Sun
(San Jose, CA)
Soil-monitoring networks for smart sprinklers Landscaping, horticulture
(Berkeley, CA)
Four-square-millimeter motes Inventory tracking, surveillance
(Boston, MA)
Self-organizing nodes and software Building and factory automation, defense
(Santa Clara, CA)
Modular motes with interchangeable sensors Monitoring of farm, wildlife, and manufacturing sites
Millennial Net
(Cambridge, MA)
Dime-size, low-power nodes and software Building automation, meter reading, supply chain management
Motorola Florida Research Lab
(Plantation, FL)
Self-configuring communication networks for monitoring and sensing Agriculture, disaster relief, and asset tracking
(Waltham, MA)
Networked sensors of vibration, corrosion, and stress Safety monitoring of bridges, tunnels, and roads
Sensicast Systems
(Needham, MA)
Mesh-networking software for sensors Museum security, landscaping, horticulture
(San Diego, CA)
High-performance nodes and software Defense networks, automotive and health-care systems
(San Diego, CA)
Radios, sensors, and networking software Industrial and equipment monitoring, heating and ventilation

Related Daily Wireless articles include Showdown at .15, Hot Shoe, Slow Mesh Heats Up,Sensor Nets, Meshing at Intel, Oceanographic Wireless, Earthquake Monitoring, a Seattle to Portland Wireless Network Proposal, Berkeley Wireless Research Center, The Age of Steam and ZigBee’s Low Power Wireless.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, October 1st, 2004 at 5:03 am .

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