Helium is an integrated platform that monitors, learns and captures insights from the physical things in your environment.
With aspirations of becoming the “Android for the IoT,” Helium has designed an integrated platform that brings the power of the cloud to the edge of the network, enabling users to observe, learn and capture actionable insights from existing physical ‘things’ in their environment. And the timing couldn’t be better. As a growing number of companies enter the IoT market, many find themselves challenged by the complexity of implementing new systems.
Rather than having to build them from scratch, Helium is offering an end-to-end service that connects businesses to the IoT using 802.15.4 networks. The platform itself consists of reprogrammable smart sensors, the cloud and a real-time analytics dashboard.
Unlike traditional sensor providers that are focused primarily on connectivity, Helium’s approach adds intelligence and new functionality that help “things” learn over time, allowing users to evolve their system by asking sensors to behave differently. Ideally, the two-year-old startup is hoping to target companies that serve as integrators, but has selected the medical, food service and grocery industries to first showcase its capabilities by surveilling smart refrigerators. Looking ahead, Helium can be used for a wide variety of enterprise applications, ranging from tracking the location of goods in a warehouse to avoid lost inventory to keeping tabs on the status of industrial machines to predict failures before they occur.
“We are trying to solve the problems of making highly configurable distributed systems that move as fast on the edge as you do these days in the cloud. If you can reach end nodes with software easily and quickly it’s a competitive advantage,” Helium president and COO Rob Chandhok recently told EE Times.
Helium begins with its nodes, which include a RF module, a sensor and an ARM Cortex-M4 main board. The network is based on an Atmel 802.15.4 physical-layer chip, and employs its own media-access control and software stack rather than 6LoWPAN or ZigBee. This gives it the ability to avoid Wi-Fi and Bluetooth congestion by dynamically switching between 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz frequency bands. Helium’s radio does not rely on mesh, but can run for year on a pair of AA batteries.
What’s more, the optimized sensors can be unboxed and deployed within minutes, and feature multiple sensing inputs, a secure wireless network and local computing power, all in a compact form factor. For instance, one Helium sensor can measure temperature and door status in a single unit and be enabled on a refrigerator with just the pull of a battery tab. Once installed, Helium’s smart sensors use combined data intelligently to make monitoring both sophisticated and simple.
The sensors are only one spoke of the wheel, however. Helium will also take care of all the backend software, collecting information from the nodes, sifting through the data in the cloud and then analyzing it on an easy-to-use app. Every sensor reading is stored in Helium’s cloud infrastructure, allowing for historical and real-time access.
From wireless connected sensors to complex event processing, Helium provides users with the power of perception by sensing temperature, motion, sound, pressure and moisture for intelligent solutions that can increase efficiency, avoid loss from equipment failure and reduce downtime. It goes without saying that the consequences of getting embedded systems wrong can be pretty significant. Take the Stanford Children’s Health Center, for example, which had to repeat the vaccinations of more than 1,500 people after discovering that the medication had routinely fallen below freezing point. In a situation like this, Helium could monitor the refrigeration conditions and connect to the Internet to offer real-time notifications should should the temperature drop below its predefined range. Problem solved!
“The rest of the competition is either piecing together open source software or using old techniques to get embedded-node software into the cloud, but not providing a compelling IoT platform. I can’t walk down Market Street without hearing about 100 IoT companies, but not ones broadly targeting the enterprise,” Chandhok shares.