Dust provides meshed WLANs for industrial use

Industrial wireless start-up Dust Networks Inc. launched its company and products in September, which are aimed at networking factory-floor equipment and other hard-to-connect devices via wireless mesh-network technology.

Dust Networks’ gear combines proprietary wireless mesh network technology with old-fashioned serial and 10Base-T network ports to connect devices such as machinery, electrical equipment and other devices. These features let devices be remotely monitored and configured. The company’s tiny wireless base stations could help industrial businesses inexpensively install a network to remotely monitor and configure important equipment.

Dust Networks’ SmartMesh product set includes Motes, which are small wireless network nodes, and the SmartMesh Manager, which is a network appliance for managing Motes and collecting data from devices on the network. The Motes are tiny access points — about the size of a pack of cigarettes — powered by double-A batteries that can connect devices via analogue, digital or RS-232 serial inputs.

The company says the batteries let the Motes be deployed anywhere, regardless of available electrical outlets or wired network ports. The vendor says the devices were designed to consume little power, with battery life estimated at about a year.

Motes usually are deployed with a third-party telemetry or measurement device, such as a thermometer, vibration sensor, or interface card for a third-party equipment, such as factory machinery.

“Up to this point, everyone talking about full mesh networks has been talking about line-powered access points,” says Joyce Putscher, principal analyst at InStat/MDR. “This is the first time someone has added the battery aspect of a full-mesh WLAN.”

Motes collect data in real time and send it over the low-bit rate SmartMesh network, based on a 902MHz to 928MHz wireless spectrum. Each Mote is a self-contained wireless router, that can send and receive packets and apply QoS settings to traffic on the mesh network. This lets Motes communicate with each other and route data to any other node within 100 feet.

Data collected by the Motes is formatted in XML and routed to the SmartMesh Manager, a network appliance that can be powered via an 802.3af Ethernet link. The box is used as a relay point to shunt data collected from SmartMesh to a back-end server or monitoring application. The SmartMesh Manager is also a network management node for configuring and monitoring the health of the Motes.

The SmartMesh technology also includes an XML-based data schema and API. XML allows data collected from devices on a SmartMesh network to be handled by standards-based applications and servers on the back end. The API lets users program how data is classified via XML tags, and integrate the data into other software platforms.

While Dust Networks uses proprietary wireless network technology, the company is developing a wireless chipset based on the IEEE’s 802.15.4 proposal for wireless mesh networks.

Dust Networks CEO Joy Weiss says this will let her products interoperate with other 802.15.4-compliant networked devices, such as security, light, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

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