HP Plans Overlay Network for Enterprise Sensor Applications

Meanwhile, engineers on HP's Sentient Spaces research team are working on enterprise solutions-some combining RFID with non-RFID sensors-for package tracking, building security and data center management.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is eyeing the creation of an "overlay network" for connecting enterprise computers with existing wireless RFID solutions, as well as with other emerging sensor technologies for package tracking, building security and managing computer data centers, for example.

HP first started researching sensor technologies at least 15 years ago, according to Salil Pradhan, chief technology officer for HPs Sentient Spaces research group in Palo Alto, Calif.

In fact, Agilent Technologies, a company spun off from HP in 1999, has since produced sensors for navigation, mobile appliances and Logitechs cordless MouseMan optical mouse.

"But at this point, sensors have gone beyond being sort of these cute little things on the side to important technology for the enterprise," Pradhan said in an interview with eWEEK.com.

Located at the HP Labs in Palo Alto, Sentient Spaces is a team of about 25 engineers who are collaborating with customers to find out how RFID and other types of sensors—for pinpointing locations, identifying objects and gauging temperatures—can figure into enterprise computing.

HP is not alone in peering beyond RFID into a wider world of sensors. Other big vendors working with non-RFID sensors include IBM, with its $250 million Sensor & Actuator (S&A) Solutions arm; Oracle Corp., with its Sensor-Based Services initiative; Sun Microsystems Inc.; and SAP AG.

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Even within HP, other research teams beyond Sentient Spaces are at work with non-RFID sensors. One of these groups is exploring the use of nanosensors in biomedical applications, Pradhan said.

In one of Sentient Spaces current projects, engineers are exploring using a combination of video cameras and object tracking sensor technology, together with an 802.11 wireless network, for applications such as airport or building security.

For his part, Pradhan first joined HP more than three years ago to head up what was then known as the Sentient Environments Project. "Many new technologies start out in the personal space, before evolving in other directions," he told eWEEK.com.

"We took a deep look at sensor technologies as enterprise plays," according to Pradhan. With input from customers, the team came up with a number of scenarios, including homeland defense, building management and supply chain management/logistics.

"Out of all of these, RFID got the most initial traction from customers," he said. Many HP customers were then in the throes of getting ready for RFID mandates imposed by the U.S. Department of Defense and large national retail chains such as Wal-Mart.

At the same time, as one of Wal-Marts major suppliers, HP also needed to comply with the mass retailers mandate. HP decided to launch an RFID research initiative headed up by Pradhan. So Pradhan now carries two titles at HP: CTO of Sentient Spaces and CTO of RFID.

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