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Atmel, Crossbow Team on RF Sensor Solution

The two firms will offer makers of wireless sensors Atmel's RF chips and Crossbow's software platform for mesh networking.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 29, 2006Sensory systems provider Crossbow Technology, in partnership with microprocessor manufacturer Atmel, is offering an integrated wireless solution for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of wireless devices. The solution includes hardware, software and integration support for RF systems.

By integrating their products, the two companies can offer a quicker and less expensive solution to OEMs, says Terry Dillahunty, Atmel's business development manager for wireless connectivity. Atmel contributes the processors, while Crossbow offers the software platform for mesh networking and sensor network support. "We provide the silicon, and Crossbow provides the expertise and customer support. To me it's about being able to harvest data and get rid of the wires," Dillahunty says.

Joerg Bertholdt
The hardware part of the solution includes an Atmel microcontroller and Atmel's RF230, 2.4 GHz transceiver, which is based in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE's) 802.15.4 standard for wireless personal area networks (WPANs), also known as ZigBee. Dillahunty says the Atmel RF230 has a line-of-sight range 2.8 times higher than its competitors'. The longer range means fewer nodes are required in the network, which can reduce the system cost by up to 60 percent.

The software elements include Crossbow's MoteWorks software—an open, integrated, standards-based platform for companies that manufacture wireless devices—and Atmel's media access control (MAC) software, which bridges the physical layer of the radio with the next work layer, Crossbow's MoteWorks software platform. The combination of Atmel hardware and Crossbow services provides a solution with enterprise gateway capabilities that is easy to implement, says Joerg Bertholdt, Crossbow Technology's vice president of marketing.

"[This solution] offers the customer the ability to easily integrate [wireless sensor data] with enterprise systems," Bertholdt says. That integration of data can allow "over the air" reprogramming of devices such as those that are out in the field, underground, or even on store shelves as price labels. "Having the devices talk to each other is not enough," he says. "You need to be able to integrate the data to make better decisions."

MoteWorks is the result of a year and a half of customer development, Bertholdt says, and has been available as a standalone product for the past six months. Crossbow offers a variety of support packages to customers, including design engineering services. "This is very advanced technology," he explains. "A lot of our customers are coming from the wired community and need a high level of support in the RF/wireless domain. It's very important to their success that they have good support from us." The price of the full OEM solution will vary depending on the level of support the company requests.

Atmel's RF230 chip set costs between $5 and $8 in quantities of 10,000. It will be available in the fourth quarter of 2006. The Atmel/Crossbow solution was made available on June 27 and had not been used in OEM products previously.
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