It’s not often that anything really new turns up in the computer industry, which made the launch of Palo Alto-based Echelon Corp’s Local Operating Network concept and first products something of an occasion. And with 16 companies in diverse industries having already bought Lonworks development tools, Echelon is off to a flying start. The building […]
It’s not often that anything really new turns up in the computer industry, which made the launch of Palo Alto-based Echelon Corp’s Local Operating Network concept and first products something of an occasion. And with 16 companies in diverse industries having already bought Lonworks development tools, Echelon is off to a flying start. The building block of the Local Operating Network is a chip called the Neuron, which integrates processor, memory and communications and is designed to be built into almost anything that can be controlled electronically. And the communications medium is not prescribed – it can be radio, electricity distribution cables, optical fibre, twisted pair or coaxial cable – just by using the appropriate LonWorks Transceiver. The Neuron Chip, being fabricated by Motorola Inc – as the MC143150, with its Japanese partner Toshiba Corp as the second source, is a symmetric pipelined multiprocess-or with network operating system in firmware and on-board EEPROM for retrospective programming, with multi-media network and multi-purpose input-output interfaces. Although the system is proprietary, it is based on standards where possible: the LonTalk protocol is a collision-avoidance local network protocol compliant with the Open Systems Interconnection reference model, and the chip is programmed in the Neuron C adaptation of the C language – from an AT-alike under MS-DOS. Although the basic concepts of the Local Operating Network and the Neuron Chip are already widely used in the process control industry, what is new is the availability of a single, common communications and control device that can be built into any piece of electronically controllable equipment, and single, non-specific communications protocol – adding up to flexible and distributed control – no master controller necessary – at much-reduced cost. Among the companies that have development kits are Sony Corp, which has taken the first licence to use the technology, IBM, and AT&T Consumer Products, which sees applications in interconnecting devices in the home and being AT&T no doubt sees the phone being the user interface. Others backing the launch include fluorescent specialist Lithonia Lighting; Leax Ltd, a UK lighting controls firm; CACI Inc, which has formed a subsidiary to develop applications; Rockwell International Inc’s industrial controls specialist Allen-Bradley Co; Eastman Kodak Co, which sees applications in office equipment; and Johnson Controls, which manufactures building control systems. The LonBuilder Starter Kit, which runs on an AT-alike and includes development environment, two Neuron emulators and the Neuron C language, is $14,965 from first quarter 1991, and once a company decides to use the chip, it pays only a one-time $2,500 licence fee for all its LonWorks-based products. Echelon was founded in March 1988 by Apple Computer Inc co-founder Alan Markkula, who took Rolm Corp co-founder on board as president in November (CI No 1,069).