Without Wires…

In the late 1980s (ancient history for technologists), researchers at PARC coined the term ubiquitous computing (UC) to describe a compelling vision about how interconnected devices would enrich our lives in the 21st century.  A demonstration project that PARC hosted a few years later was an intelligent office that could respond to its occupants in very interesting ways.  An implicit part of the infrastructure to make this happen was the technology to operate and connect sensors and computing devices without wired, physical connections. 

We’ve had the good fortune at Small Planet PR (and its predecessors) to help introduce interim building blocks for the UC era, including the first chipsets to implement then new 802.11 WiFi (PRISM), multiple generations of RFID technology for several companies, and R&D investigations into hybrid MCU/sensor networks for intelligent buildings.  But while advancing the general concept of computing everywhere, power consumption and the need for wired connectivity remain as issues for many technologies in this area.

That makes it very exciting to see the progress made by companies like EnOcean, which has a worldwide customer base building and deploying self-powered sensors and controls for building automation.  EnOcean is better known in Europe (they are a Siemens spin-out) then the US, but has established a strong beachhead here.  The company’s bursty radio technology operates at incredibly low power, giving it a real advantage over approaches like ZigBee, which was initially conceived for battery-powered operation.  Combined with energy harvesting that eliminates the need for even occasional battery replacement, EnOcean solves a big part of the equation for ubiquitous computing.   EnOcean is not the only company working in this area, but it does appear to be unique in bringing a systems approach to design and integration of sensing, RF and ambient energy capture devices.