Myriota touts IoT satellite service’s ability to scale, power-efficiency

South Australian startup among the first to gain access to AWS’s new satellite ground station service

Adelaide-based Myriota says it is the first Australian company to gain general access to Amazon Web Services’ AWS Ground Station ‘antenna as a service’ offering for satellites.

AWS today announced that Ground Station had entered general availability. The service allows AWS customers to use the cloud provider’s ground infrastructure for satellite control and data transfer. Data can immediately be processed using AWS’s cloud services.

Myriota is an Australian startup that provides satellite connectivity for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The company was originally spun out by the University of South Australia.

Dr Alex Grant, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said that Myriota’s genesis dates back to around 2010. At the time he was a professor at the Institute for Telecommunications Research at UniSA.

“We had some industry partners approach us wanting to solve the problem of low-cost, long-battery-life data connectivity that would work anywhere on the planet,” he told Computerworld. “It wasn't even called Internet of Things back then, but telemetry and machine-to-machine communications.”

The project secured funding from the (now-defunct) Australian Space Research Program, with research focused on the use of satellite to connect IoT-type devices.

“We had a very deliberate commercialisation approach, to build up a portfolio of IP — patents and prototypes and a code base,” Grant said. Myriota launched as a business in 2015.

The company has as its aim building a constellation of 50 nanosatellites to deliver globe-spanning, real-time connectivity. Currently it has four satellites in its constellation: Three of those are operated by Canadian company exactEarth, which is a Myriota investor.

Dr Alex Grant
Dr Alex Grant

Grant said that the fourth was launched last year by US company SpaceQuest. Three additional satellites are currently being built in the US Tyvak.

The satellites already in orbit deliver global coverage, Grant said. “Our sun-synchronous polar orbits actually revisit every point on the Earth's surface, at least four times a day,” the CEO said.

“No matter where you stand on the Earth's surface, you'll see that satellite go overhead at least four times a day, so we've got a fairly capable service already. Also one of our satellites is actually equatorial which means it orbits roughly in line with the Earth’s equator.”

Expanding the constellation will help reduce the average time between revisits, giving more opportunities to transmit data.

Myriota’s near-term goal is 25 satellites, which will provide a five to 20 minute revisit time. The “ultimate goal,” Grant said, is “always-on, real-time connectivity, which will require approximately 50 satellites.”

The company provides a module that can be integrated with an IoT sensor device and incorporates a satellite connectivity transceiver, a microcontroller, flash memory, and a collection of sensor interfaces.

“It's more than just a satellite modem; it's really an edge computing device that provides a very convenient sensor-to-cloud interface via our satellite network,” Grant said. Data from a device is transmitted via satellite to the cloud, where customers can make use of it.

The company is shipping a developer toolkit that includes an SDK and the Myriota module on a development board, which includes power and easy connectors for sensor interfaces.

Myriota’s SDK takes care of “all the heavy lifting,” Grant said, including power management, sensor interface drivers, and connectivity.

The company provides example applications for common use cases such as data logging, geotagging, or tracking. “We give the developer a head start by providing those example applications that they can start from,” he said.

Customers can also access raw data that they feed into their own existing software platforms. “We do have some mobile apps that do some common use cases, but ultimately we're supporting developers to get the data into whatever system makes sense for the solution that they are developing,” Grant said.

The CEO said that the direct-to-orbit approach taken by Myriota — there’s no need for a gateway device in the field — is a competitive advantage for the company.

“That's a very, very simple and easily deployed solution,” he said. “If you need a sensor at a particular point, at land or at sea or in the air, you can just deploy one of our devices and it connects.”

The company has put a lot of effort into lowering the power requirements for transmissions, he said.

“We achieve five to seven year battery life with AA batteries that you can buy at the supermarket,” Grant said. “That’s really significant for remote deployments where you don't want to be visiting the device to change out batteries.

“You also don't want to have a kind of infrastructure escalation where, because of power use, you now need to have a solar panel, which means you now need something to fix the solar panel to. It all kind of gets out of hand very quickly and becomes something that's not easily deployed in mobile or portable scenarios.”

The CEO said that Myriota’s solution puts a premium on security and privacy. “We've built a data service that's providing not only cryptographic security and authentication for the user data, but also providing cryptographic protection for the user device identity — so that we're robust against MAC address tracking or identification, things like that,” he said.

The company’s 20-strong patent portfolio covers a number of areas, but a lot of Myriota’s IP is focused on sending, detecting and receiving “extremely low power radio signals from space”.

“That's not easy to do, and so the usual way you overcome that to send the signals at higher power,” Grant said. “We're able to detect and decode and successfully receive signals at really the limits of what physics and information theory tells you that you can do.”

Some of its other “flagship IP” is concerned with the problem of massive scale, Grant said. “If you have a low-power wide area gateway, there's only a certain number of devices you can connect to that gateway and those gateways have a range of ten, maybe 20 kilometres from space.

“On one of our satellites, to give you some idea, if you go overhead on Australia, you can see all of Australia at the same time: So you need to be able to deal with transmissions from not hundreds of devices, but millions of devices.

“We've got IP on how we handle that problem — how we deal with millions of simultaneous transmissions, that are all very, very low power, without needing to overburden the system with complex handshaking and setup of those sessions.” 

Grant told Computerworld that the Australian space sector is “definitely a vibrant area at the moment”.

“With the advent of low-cost access to space, nanosatellites, lower cost launches, and just commercially available launches, there's really been a groundswell of entrepreneurial activity,” he said. 

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Tags spaceAmazon Web Services (AWS)Internet of Things (IoT)Myriota

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