in-q-tel.jpgThe CIA’s venture capital branch, known as In-Q-Tel, is off to a rapid start since forming in 1999. It has invested in some 80 companies, many of them via its office here in Silicon Valley (Menlo Park). However, it has been sort of secretive lately. In-Q-Tel used to return our calls promptly, and always seemed cooperative. And so when we called a few months ago, and they said they’d get back to us, we waited patiently. No call. We called them again. We’ll be in touch, In-Q-Tel’s public relations people assured us again. But nope.

Maybe it is the war jitters. dust.gifNow that several Silicon Valley start-ups have taken the money, they’re having to pay the reaper. So a company like Dust Networks, which was based in liberal ol’ Berkeley, takes $7 million last year from In-Q-Tel and others to develop its wireless sensor networks, and this month announced…

two new projects with a defense contractor
to aid in urban area military operations — from Baghdad to Kabul or wherever else the nation’s troops are working. We don’t know, but perhaps that’s why the company moved out of Berkeley in April, to East Bay backwater Hayward?

The Dust PR person told us in an email recently: “Dust Networks’ low-power wireless mesh networks will provide intelligence to support urban area operations — the networks improve warfighter situational awareness by monitoring buildings, rooftops, sewers, and other structures that obscure sight lines and conceal threats.”

The EETimes has a good summary of In-Q-Tel’s recent investments. Dust’s products appear to be just one piece of an expanding In-Q-Tel network of investments in the wireless and sensor areas. The EETimes:

In-Q-Tel has expanded those efforts by investing in Ember and Tendril. Tendril develops software applications for seamlessly combining wireless sensor and control networks, while Ember sells wireless chips based on emerging ZigBee technology. The CIA appears intent on exploring wireless sensor networking. “The next generation of computing will seamlessly network billions of embedded devices,” In-Q-Tel CEO Gilman Louie said in a statement.

“Ember is the market leader with a mature platform that has been successfully deployed in a variety of applications around the world,” he said. “We believe their technology has great potential to improve the security and efficiency of government and defense operations.”