Arch Rock turns wireless sensors into Internet devices with Primer Pack/IP

March 19, 2007
Product is first commercial offering based on IETF 6LoWPAN proposed standard for low-power wireless.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Taking the last major step toward merging wireless sensor networks (WSNs) seamlessly into the world of Internet Protocol (IP) standards, Arch Rock Corporation has introduced the first commercial implementation of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) 6LoWPAN proposed standard for IPv6 communication over low-power IEEE 802.15.4 wireless radio.

Arch Rock Primer Pack/IP, an out-of-the-box solution that lets users create pilot WSNs in manufacturing, office and retail environments using a service-oriented architecture (SOA), is the first sensor network to run native IP end-to-end, taking the IP protocols beyond their current boundary at the WSN gateway and out to the individual sensor node.

Because of IP's pervasiveness as a global communication standard across industries, Primer Pack/IP sensor nodes will be able to communicate directly with other IP devices, whether those devices are wired or wireless, local or across the Internet, on Ethernet, WiFi, 6LoWPAN or other types of network, and regardless of vendor. Network managers will gain direct, real-time access to sensor nodes and the ability to apply a broad range of Internet management and security tools, while end users will get applications that accommodate their demands for increased mobility and flexibility.

Primer Pack/IP incorporates work recently completed by the IETF 6LoWPAN Working Group, whose charter is to enable standard IP communication over low-power wireless IEEE 802.15.4 personal-area networks. 6LoWPAN, a proposed standard approved by the IETF, incorporates IPv6, the latest and most scalable version of the ubiquitous IP protocol.

IP Standard Will Accelerate WSN Market

Arch Rock founder and chief technology officer David Culler said, "Applying standard IP solutions to networking problems has historically been the communications market's single most powerful accelerator, helping vendors to speed product development and giving users a wide choice of products and price points. The culmination of the sensor network's migration into the IP domain -- made possible by the 6LowPAN group's work with 802.15.4 low-power radio -- is the catalyst that will turn WSNs into mainstream information tools, a pervasive piece of the IP ecosystem. In joining that ecosystem, WSNs automatically 'inherit' the vast body of IP tools for interoperability, management and access control.

"Under the false assumption that adapting IP to the low-power, low-memory constraints of sensor networking was too difficult," Culler said, "the industry had previously fixed on proprietary solutions outside the IP realm. Even narrowly-focused industrial standards efforts such as ZigBee, SP100 and Wireless HART are still in the early stages of addressing problems already solved in IP, such as host naming, network management, security and integration. IP-based solutions are ready for the market today, fit into the Internet paradigm that everyone knows, and avoid the work -- and the wait -- of re-inventing the wheel."

The Achievement of IP Over Low-power IEEE 802.15.4 Radio

The IETF 6LoWPAN working group was formed in 2004 to address the challenge of enabling wireless IPv6 communication over the newly standardized IEEE 802.15.4 low-power radio for devices with limited space, power and memory, such as sensor nodes. One key goal was developing a practical means of compressing IP's powerful addressing and header information to fit into small packets whose transmission would consume minimum energy, while preserving interoperability. Another challenge was accommodating efficient multihop routing over IEEE 802.15.4 mesh networks. Arch Rock made substantial contributions to the 6LoWPAN draft standard submitted by the group in January.

Mark Townsley, co-director of the IETF's Internet Engineering Steering Group's Internet Area (of which the 6LoWPAN Working Group is a part), said, "It is very encouraging to see 6LoWPAN implementations already appearing in commercial products. I'm confident that IEEE 802.15.4 radio links, coupled with the interoperability and ubiquity of IP, will lead to exciting new applications for low-power networks."

Arch Rock Primer Pack/IP

Building on the first-of-its-kind comprehensive WSN functionality in the original Primer Pack (introduced in October 2006), Primer Pack/IP adds native IPv6 support to the sensor nodes, AES-128-based link-level encryption and node authentication, and extended data-management capabilities. While the earlier version assigned individual sensor node IP addresses using gateway server proxy techniques, Primer Pack/IP runs the native IPv6 protocol stack on the sensor nodes themselves. This gives users the flexibility of choosing either direct end-to-end IP access to the nodes or proxy access. The Arch Rock Gateway now provides IPv6-to-IPv4 translation for seamless integration with ubiquitous installed IPv4 networks and with those that running the emerging IPv6 standard. The gateway supports standard IP management tools -- e.g., addressing, naming, browsing and management -- for both IPv6 and IPv4.

Primer Pack/IP lets users create custom applications to monitor physical conditions such as temperature, contact, motion, light and humidity, without doing any embedded programming. An embedded service-oriented architecture (SOA) allows full access to embedded WSN services -- and associated physical-world data -- through users' web browsers, enterprise planning applications or mobile devices.

Roland Acra, Arch Rock CEO, said, "When enterprises have the choice of setting up their sensor networks so individual sensor nodes can communicate directly with all other IP devices, innovative new applications are possible and existing ones become more powerful. For example, a plant manager or field technician can use his PDA or laptop computer to take diagnostic readings on machinery or environmental conditions without having to be in range of a gateway. This will give sensor network users unprecedented levels of mobility and flexibility not previously associated with low-power wireless technologies."

Gabriel Chegaray, project manager at France Telecom, said, "From a user's point of view, the emergence of native IP on sensor nodes promises to simplify system integration and remote management of sensor devices. Our hands-on evaluation of Arch Rock technology demonstrates that the company has successfully integrated Primer Pack with standard IPv6, further moving wireless sensor networks from proprietary solutions to open standards -- the ultimate path to widespread adoption."

Primer Pack/IP includes the Arch Rock Gateway Server, which connects via Ethernet to the enterprise LAN and provides a web-based console for setup, diagnostics and management of the WSN; the Arch Rock Bridge Node, which provides IEEE 802.15.4 wireless radio communication between the gateway and sensor nodes; six battery-powered sensor nodes with TelosB-compatible industry-standard motes; expansion ports and preinstalled drivers for external sensors; a complete set of web services and gateway server APIs; and link-level AES-128 encryption and authentication.

Arch Rock Primer Pack/IP is priced at $4,995, or available as a free upgrade to existing Primer Pack customers. Currently in beta test, the product will be generally available early in the second quarter of 2007. For more information, visit