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issue: December 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Electronics Report
Self-Organizing Embedded Network Chip

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Echelon, a technology supplier for the Lonwork® control networking standard, launched the Pyxos FT chip, the first implementation of its new Pyxos embedded control networking platform.

Lonworks®control networking standard supplier Echelon Corporation (San Jose, California, U.S.) launched the Pyxos® chip, the first of its new Pyxos embedded control networking platform chips. The chip can be designed into sensors and actuators embedded inside a device, to extract information from the device and relay control commands between devices, making the device, to control network status available to remote service centers and applications.

Designed to be built into the sensors and actuators embedded inside a machine, the chips extract information from the devices, relay control commands between devices and make the machine control network status available to remote service centers and applications. The features, combined with the unique self-organizing capabilities of the Pyxos platform, are designed to reduce the cost of manufacturing, installing and maintaining a machine, and provide insights into machine efficiency, productivity and reliability.

“Prospective customers have been looking for a solution that extends the features of a control network inside of their machines, and at the same time links those machines with their enterprise operations centers and software applications,” said Michael R. Tennefoss, vice president of marketing for Echelon Corporation (San Jose, California, U.S.).

The chips use twisted pair wiring to send both high-speed network data and power to sensors, actuators, devices, and even building materials into which they are embedded. Sending both power and data on only two wires is said to reduce installation complexity and lower the cost of both the end product and the installation.

Leveraging the company’s communication technologies, the network consists of up to 32 Pyxos Points embedded inside sensors and actuators, and a Pyxos Pilot that interfaces with the outside world. The network operates at more than 250 KB per second using a deterministic signaling method by which all Pyxos Points are scanned every 25 milliseconds. This high speed is said to allow the networks to be used for closed-loop controls in process and industrial applications, as well as sensing and control applications that require fast response time such as fault monitors, security and fire/life safety devices, burner and boiler controls, lighting systems, HVAC systems, and office automation equipment.

“Unlike mesh network radios, which don’t work inside machines or in close proximity to metal, the Pyxos FT chip provides the exceptional reliability of twisted pair communications at a price that is unmatched by any other media,” said Tennefoss. ”The ultra-miniature, low-cost integrated circuit is only 5 mm by 5 small enough to fit into almost anything with which you might wish to communicate.”

According to Tennefoss, the chip makes it possible for the first time to economically and reliably build two-wire control networks inside of devices such as copy machines, packaged air-conditioners, vending machines, and other devices.

The chips can directly supervise digital sensors and actuators, or, through their serial peripheral interface port, are said to be able to integrate with virtually any host processor for use with analog devices. When the embedded control networks need to be incorporated into larger control networks, such as one might find in smart buildings, the platform can interface with programmable logic controllers, data gathering panels, Lonworks networks, and the Internet. This flexibility is designed to allow the network to grow in size and complexity over time without replacing devices. The networks interconnect the constituent elements of a device, while Lonworks control networks interconnect machines to one another, which is said to provide a powerful and unique ecosystem for control-related applications.

The networks incorporate a "self-organizing" feature whereby devices can dynamically and autonomously assemble themselves into fully functioning networks without human intervention. This feature makes it feasible to mix and match different assemblies or components without changing wiring harnesses or using special configuration tools or software. This is said to be an ideal system concept for manufacturers that build many variations of a common product, such as a copy machine or air handler, and want the products to configure themselves without the help of skilled labor. The supplier says that when the efficiency gains of self-organizing machines are coupled with the savings enabled by identifying which specific sensor or actuator is in need of service or has been running too long, the life-cycle cost savings are potentially substantial.

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