Dust Networks’ SmartMesh-XR is a wireless mesh networking platform for OEMs and industry. While other standards for mesh networks such as ZigBee already exist, SmartMesh-XR is a proprietary solution specifically focused on industrial and commercial market segments.
The motivation behind the development of this system is to provide a cost effective way to convert the abundant physical information available in a given environment into digital format for transparent access by an enterprise network, according to Rob Conant, co-founder of Dust Networks.
“Most industrial and commercial environments are sensor-rich,” Conant stated. "One immediate benefit of this technology would be the cost savings achieved by avoiding the wiring connectivity needed to implement sensor-based systems in office or industrial settings."
The two types of physical components in the SmartMesh-XR platform are the manager and the mote, in addition to the SmartMesh-XR system software that runs on the host network. The motes, which interface to the physical sensors and can operate for years on battery power, are the main working elements in the network. Within the mesh network, each mote, including those at the physical edge of the network, establishes an RF link to at least two other motes. Therefore, each mote not only serves as an interface for its own sensor, but also acts as a wireless router within the network. Using this topology, robust end-to-end connectivity can be achieved between each sensor and the host enterprise network.
The motes are specially designed to maintain battery life. To achieve this, radio transmissions are minimized, and occur only at designated intervals or during special events. For example, each mote performs a self-diagnostic and transmits the results to the manager every 15 minutes. Also, because the motes buffer and timestamp data, the mote can suspend its radio transmissions until it has received notification that wireless connectivity has been restored in the event of a radio brownout.
To achieve RF robustness, the motes use frequency hopping within the 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz ISM bands. The network is self-healing and automatically routes around blocked radio links. This type of redundancy is similar to that found in the internet, and contributes to the robustness of the mesh network. While most of the applications for SmartMesh-XR will be quasi-static, stated Conant, this robustness will also allow the motes to be used in mobile applications, such as a forklifts operating within a warehouse.
Up to 250 motes can communicate with a single designated manager, which provides the physical interface to the enterprise network through an Ethernet port. The manager also synchronizes and coordinates the transmission of data packets among the motes. Using the SmartMesh-XR software, enterprise applications can then access the manager to monitor and control mote activity in the wireless mesh network.
Furthermore, wireless and wire-based networks can compliment each other in the design of commercial and industrial systems. For instance, if low priority functions in a commercial aircraft, such as the flight attendant paging system, could be implemented wirelessly, the weight and materials consumed by the equivalent wire-based system could then be devoted to more critical systems, or eliminated altogether. This highlights the potential of wireless mesh networking to eliminate or compliment physical wiring in sensor-based commercial and industrial applications.
Yet another intriguing possibility is the interfacing of this technology with other emerging technologies, such as the transmission of data over power lines, to further extend the reach and reliability of sensor networks. Regardless of what develops, it will be in keeping with the concept behind the SmartMesh-XR, as stated by Conant, which is to bring wireless access to areas underserved by networking technology.