On-Ramp Wireless, Learning From the Past, Says Its System Is Ready

3/28/12Follow @bvbigelow

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with San Diego Gas & Electric in a 2010 field study of smart grid technologies, the utility’s team noted that On-Ramp’s wireless network could also be used to monitor utility equipment in underground vaults. The idea was promising enough for On-Ramp to win a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to demonstrate the first wireless grid sensor capable of centralized monitoring underground utility equipment vaults.

“To isolate and repair a system fault below ground,” Silva explains, “utility crews must sometimes block off traffic and open the lid [manhole covers] on two, three, or four different vaults to find the problem.” So a wireless network that could accurately monitor underground sensors would help utilities save time and money on underground equipment repairs.

Silva contends that On-Ramp’s technology represents a strong business case, because of the relatively low cost of installing the “access points” (wireless base stations) needed to create its wide area network. “One of our access points can cover 30 to 300 square miles of area—depending on antenna elevation,” Silva says. “We have this receiver sensitivity that allows us to have this pervasive wide area coverage at the lowest cost and do it at low power.”

Silva adds that after more than three years of development, On-Ramp has arrived at a point where it can now provide what he calls an “end-to-end solution”—a pervasive wireless network with the capability of monitoring underground pipelines for leaks and corrosion, collect electric utility billing and power data, as well as identify power line faults and provide an early warning of grid reliability issues. Silva says the same technology could even be used to provide an early warning of radiation or environmental contaminants.

In many ways, the technology that On-Ramp Wireless is now bringing to market is reminiscent of the unfulfilled potential of sensor networking technology that was proposed by graviton, a San Diego startup that shut down in 2003 after burning through $66 million in venture capital. Graviton’s backers included a … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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