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Tiny devices connect you-name-it to the Net

Lantronix releases its third generation of a device designed to connect anything electronic to the Internet.

Lantronix has released its third generation of a device designed to connect anything electronic to the Internet.

These "device servers" from Lantronix are about the size of a cigarette pack and are essentially tiny computers with a network connection for the Internet and a port that plugs into devices such as security systems, vending machines or weather monitoring stations.

The technology is useful for companies trying to add Internet capabilities to equipment such as factory robots that already have an electronic control systems, said Lantronix's chief executive Fred Thiel.

As the Internet grows and is accessed by devices other than just PCs, numerous companies are angling to have their technology incorporated. Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, for example, all have software they hope will be used to let programmers endow gadgets with Internet abilities.

One advantage of changing from proprietary networks to the Internet is that companies can avoid the expense of leasing dedicated communication lines from the phone company, Thiel said. For example, a leased line to connect an automated teller machine costs about $1,000 a month, he said. Ticketmaster and the U.S. Postal Service are both using the Lantronix device server for this reason.

Ticketmaster is using the devices in ticket-sales kiosks being installed in all Kmart stores. The post office is using them in "point-of-sale" terminals--special-purpose computers that have replaced cash registers. Other customers using the devices for point-of-sale terminals include Bridgestone Tires and Kroger's supermarkets, Thiel said.

Security firms seeking remote control of intrusion detection systems are also customers. Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Westinghouse all use the devices, which come with 128-bit encryption to prevent unauthorized access.

The device servers use an operating system with a very small 64-K kernel, Thiel said. Irvine, Calif.-based Lantronix, a 130-person company, developed the operating system and higher-level software, which can deliver Web pages as well as send and receive email.

In addition to the $299 cigarette-pack-sized device servers, Lantronix introduced this week a $299 version the size of a matchbook that can be incorporated within other devices.

The company also introduced a $2,195 device that can connect as many as 32 different devices at once to the Internet.