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December 8, 2015

Sensor Net Startup Looks to Speed Data Delivery

Steady advances in chip technology coupled with ubiquitous wireless connectivity have made it easier to deploy cheap sensors nearly anywhere. However, enterprise-scale sensor systems sweeping up huge data volumes still require relatively complex compute, networking and storage infrastructure.

Samsara, a San Francisco-based startup launched earlier this year by the founders of cloud networking leader Meraki (acquired by Cisco Systems in 2012) is attempting to turn the traditional sensor network on its ear with a “software-centric” approach hosted in the cloud. The wireless data network architecture also relies on plug-and-play sensors and a software-as-a-service approach.

The result, the startup announced on Tuesday (Dec. 8) is “a system that makes it feasible to deploy sensors for nearly any kind of data collection.” Samsara also promises a 10-fold performance increase they would speed up data requests that currently can take weeks.

“We believe that if we make it easy to deploy sensors and analyze data, that customers of all types will finally be able to install them by the thousands in places they’ve never been used before,” Samsara co-founder Sanjit Biswas proclaimed in a blog post.

The heart of the data network is a gateway device that links wireless sensors to the cloud using either a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. The card deck-size gateways operating on a cloud-based backbone can be connected to vehicles, power lines or other infrastructure, for example. Data could then be “pulled” for analysis or viewed using open-source APIs.

Samsara also said the data network offers data-logging sensors, digital and analog inputs as well as connectors for sensors embedded into vehicles to collect data from a range of sources. Up to now, sensors have largely been deployed at “mission-critical” sites like industrial network. The startup wants to expand deployment in parallel with the emerging Internet of Things.

The startup said this week it has so far raised $25 million in venture funding.

Over the past year, the startup said it has installed beta units in factories, warehouses, trucks and pumping stations in an effort to leverage cloud-hosted networking software to move sensor networks beyond industrial applications.

The cost of installing current industrial sensor networks ranges anywhere from $50,000 to several million dollars. For utility and energy exploration companies, the expense is justified by the need to keep lights on and water flowing. Samsara said it “discovered many of these users had a wish list of things they wanted to analyze where such systems aren’t practical.”

Market research revealed a “technology gap” characterized by excessive hardware costs and specialized engineering requirements. The latter “makes it difficult for analysts to get access to data that might help streamline operations,” the company asserts.

Ultimately, the startup settled on a cloud-based software approach as a way to reduce the deployment and operational costs of sensor networks while speeding up data requests and analysis.

Utilities could be a prime candidate for emerging sensor networks capable of delivery real-time data. For example, Sentient Energy Inc. of Burlingame, Calif., announced a deal this week to provide grid sensors and analytics to Florida Power and Light Co. Sentient said it would supply 20,000 grid sensors that could be used to locate power outages and speed restoration of service to the utility’s 4.8 million customers.