Samsara GW22 industrial sensor gateway, which connects wireless sensors to the cloud over either a cellular or WiFi connection. Everything you need to get sensors up and running, in the size of a deck of playing cards.

Samsara: industrial sensors that simply work

How we believe ease of deployment and ease of use will make a 10x impact in the world of sensing

As a startup entering a competitive market, one of our biggest challenges is finding a unique advantage. Most customers have busy schedules and only have time for projects that will have a clear return, which means as a startup you have to offer something truly impactful.

Larry Page at Google once said that most companies can find ways to make products 10% better, but making something 10x (1000%) better is the key to success. Google did just that with search, Gmail, and several other projects, which has made them a legendary technology company.

With our background in academia and experience building Meraki into a global IT/networking company, we started Samsara with ideas of how technology — and software in particular — could be disruptive in the world of industrial sensing. But we knew that to have a 10x impact we’d need to really understand the details of customers’ problems. Over the past year we did just that, installing our beta units in factories, warehouses, tractor trailers, and pump stations, and in the process, we learned a few things about where we can make a difference.

How industrial customers use sensors

So how do industrial users gather data today? Most large-scale operations built in the last 30–40 years have extensive sensor systems spec’d in from the start, particularly to monitor mission critical operations. Here is what those systems look like:

Example of a traditional SCADA system in the field — the unit on the left relays measurements from sensors onto a network, and the control room on the right gives operators a view of what’s going on in the field across multiple sites

As you might imagine from the photos, these types of systems can be costly to install and operate, starting anywhere from $50,000 for a small site to millions of dollars for a large plant. For many applications, such as utilities or oil production, the expense is easily justified and systems like these keep our lights on and water flowing. We discovered, however, that many of these users had wishlists of things they wanted to analyze where such systems aren’t practical.

Our big idea: thinking small

As we dug in further, we learned the historical focus on mission critical sensing has left a technology gap — if you can spend $100,000 per site there are many options for high-end systems, but if you want to monitor a hundred small sites, or put sensors on vehicles, or just answer a nagging question about your operations, the existing systems don’t make as much sense.

Hardware costs aside, most of the high-end offerings require specialized engineering, which makes it difficult for analysts to get access to data that might help streamline operations. All too often we heard about “data requests” taking weeks to come back, which seems out of place in our age of online systems with instant access.

At Samsara, we saw this as our opportunity to make a 10x impact. Over the past year we’ve developed and refined a system that makes it feasible to deploy sensors for nearly any kind of data collection, in a system that’s affordable and easy to use.

Samsara’s approach: simplify deployment and operation

By focusing our system on ease of use and streamlining deployments in the field, we were able to make several design choices that help us deliver a 10x overall improvement over traditional solutions:

  • Simple installation: each Samsara gateway includes a cellular radio that is pre-provisioned to work in over 150 countries, making it dramatically simpler to get connectivity to a new site, asset, or vehicle, versus building a custom network.
  • Powered by the cloud: by using a cloud-based architecture, we can scale from small to large deployments, and offer ongoing feature improvements every month. Plus, customers can easily pull live data for analysis or build their own views using built-in open APIs.
  • Wide range of sensor inputs: Samsara offers datalogging wireless sensors, digital and analog inputs, and connectors for the sensors built into light and heavy duty vehicles, making it possible to easily collect data from nearly any source.
  • Simple UI: an easy to understand interface, which makes the data accessible to a wider range of operational teams in any location. Here are a few screenshots, which show how we visualize large amounts of data through an easy-to-use interface:
Screenshots from Samsara’s user interface — simple enough to use without any training

We designed the overall product experience to make it easier to deploy sensors everywhere, and not just in the handful of mission-critical sites where industrial sensor systems have started out.

We’re looking forward to sharing stories about what our customers are doing with the product in the coming months. In the meantime, you can read more about the various uses for Samsara’s sensors at www.samsara.com/solutions

Seeing it for yourself — free trials

Making something 10x simpler is often difficult to explain in writing, so we’ve also decided to do something unusual in the world of industrial infrastructure: offer a free trial program. Any professionals working in operations are welcome to try the products out by simply signing up at our website at www.samsara.com.

And if you’re not from the world of operations but are curious to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes, check out The Box and Ninety Percent of Everything for some fun reading.