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Tiny chips embed self-organising control networks in sensors and actuators

01 October, 2005

Chips embed self-organising control networks in sensors and actuators

Echelon, the company behind the LonWorks control networking technology, has developed a low-cost technology for embedding control networks inside devices such as switches, sensors, encoders, actuators and displays. Echelon claims that the technology, called Pyxos, will, for the first time, allow control networks to be embedded economically inside industrial equipment, vending machines, office equipment, building automation components, and even domestic appliances.

Pyxos is a "self-organising" network in which the devices configure themselves automatically into functioning networks. The networks can be implemented by non-technical users.

Echelon predicts that the devices, each costing $2-3, could open up entirely new applications. For example, it would be possible to embed them into "smart carpets" that would monitor human traffic and could alert staff when they needed to be cleaned. The carpets could also track intruders or tell firefighters which areas of a building are occupied.

The 5mm square Pyxos nodes - called Points - are small enough to fit into almost any sensor or actuator. They can communicate at 250kbit/s via twisted-pair wires, or wirelessly, and can receive and disseminate control information between all of the components in a machine. They can be linked into sub-networks of up to 32 nodes using bus, star or loop topologies.

The nodes can also relay data to a gateway device, called a Pilot, which can exchange the data with host processors and LonWorks networks, thus transmitting the control data to the Internet and beyond.

Pyxos networks will be able to interface with PLCs or could be built into SCADA data-gathering panels. Potential applications include remote diagnostics, preventive maintenance scheduling, and energy efficiency optimisation.

Echelon launched its LonWorks control network technology in 1990. Today, there are more than 50 million LonWorks-compatible devices, from thousands of suppliers, at work in buildings, factories, utilities and transport systems. Unlike data networks which link PCs and servers, control networks are designed to connect machines to other machines.

"Our new Pyxos platform extends the reach of control networks into the devices themselves," explains Echelon`s chief executive, Ken Oshman. "We believe that the combined opportunity of the LonWorks and Pyxos platforms represents tens of billions of devices tucked away inside equipment, home furnishings, vehicles and other applications."

An online presentation on the Pyxos technology is available if you have a broadband connection.

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