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Building IoT Devices Is a Snap for Startup Interstacks

The Pennsylvania company has developed a modular system with Lego-like blocks that enable sensor-based tracking and wireless connectivity for un-networked industrial machines, with RFID functionality in the works.
By Claire Swedberg

The company sought a solution to the thousands of machines in industrial settings that are not in any network, but must be tracked for functionality, maintenance or inventory-management purposes. Once a machine is part of an IoT system, Kiliany explains, there are many software developers that can create a system for a company to monitor equipment. "Even though there is a lot of software talent, there is very little hardware talent out there," he says. Therefore, the firm aimed to put together a low-cost and easy set of hardware tools to get data onto a network.

Each stack consists of blocks measuring 2 inches by 2 inches, each with its own function, and each able to be plugged into the next to create a single system. Users can create software using Python programming via a visual authoring tool called a "Stackbuilder" to write applications for the device.

The Superbase module plugs into a laptop via a cable, and comes with eight gigabytes of flash memory. Users can create the stack for a particular functionality in the app, and then load data into the base model's memory. Once the blocks have been put together and the application has been loaded into the Superbase's memory, it can be attached to a machine. The blocks can be powered via either a power outlet plug or an internal battery.

A typical installation example, Kiliany says, might be a stack to monitor a pump used at a water-treatment facility. Users can attach blocks, such as vibration, pressure or power consumption sensors, and a Wi-Fi module. The company offers mounting brackets for standard metal DIN rails (a type of metal rail used to mount industrial control equipment and circuit breakers inside equipment racks).

The sensors begin collecting data, which is stored in the base module and forwarded via the Wi-Fi or cellular connection block to the server, where the software can then store and manage that information. In the event of a pump failure or a decline in functionality, the sensors would capture a change in conditions and forward that information to the software, which could then trigger an alert, such as an e-mail or text message to a facilities manager.

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