A start-up is challenging the technology industrys giants with a system that can link potentially any kind of digital device — from digital cameras to thermostats — to the Internet.
Embrace Networks has developed eXtensible Markup Language-based technology that lets device makers and service providers Net-enable just about anything with a digital heartbeat. But unlike the ill-fated Internet appliances of 3Com and others, the Embrace philosophy is that theres an untapped opportunity in connecting millions of electronic devices to the Net.
"We believe in the model that Internet technology will get embedded into single-purpose electronic devices," said Maria Martinez, Embraces president and CEO. For example, she demonstrated an accessory for a digital camera that simply plugs into a phone line or Ethernet network and uploads pictures to a Web site with one push of a button.
Several companies, including IBM and Microsoft, have concerted Internet device development efforts under way. But Martinez, who previously headed Motorolas wireless products division, said that whats been missing is the infrastructure that will let devices access an Internet service. Embrace provides two components: software that can be embedded into a device or accessory, and a server the company claims can handle hundreds of thousands of devices.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., company, which has 44 employees, hopes to license its technology to chip developers, embedded operating systems and tools vendors, device makers and systems integrators. Embrace expects its products to be commercially available in the fourth quarter.
Martinez refused to disclose which customers Embrace is working with.
Jennifer DiMarzio, an analyst at consulting firm Summit Strategies, said the market Embrace is pursuing is mostly unexplored. And while Internet-enabled air conditioners may sound like a marginally useful innovation, DiMarzio said companies that connect stand-alone devices over networks could see a big payoff in industrial applications.
The company has received a total of $28.5 million in financing from August Capital, Intel Capital and other investment firms.