LONDON – A year-old startup called Electric Imp Inc. has developed a Wi-Fi node in a memory card physical format that it hopes will become a standard technique for assigning IP addresses and linking to the Internet to establish a Wi-Fi-mediated Internet of Things (IoT).
Along with selling small cards initially priced at $25 per card, the startup will host data and offer browser-based services that will allow consumers and enterprises link and control their equipment via these IoT nodes.
Prior to cofounding Electric Imp (Sunnyvale, Calif.), CEO Hugo Fiennes managed Apple’s hardware team for the first four iPhones, then became its iPhone architect. He left Apple in May 2011 and worked briefly at Google before resuming his career as an entrepreneur. In the 1990s, he founded Empeg Ltd. to make in-car MP3 players (see Engineers drive craze for MP3 audio players). Empeg was sold to SonicBlue in November 2000.
Along with Fiennes, Electric Imp’s cofounders are Kevin Fox, director of user experience, and software architect Peter Hartley. Fox designed the Gmail Web interface for Google while Hartley worked with Fiennes at Empeg. Fox worked as a designer at Yahoo and Google and was a senior product designer at Facebook and principal user experience designer at Firefox browser developer Mozilla.
In a two-hour interview with EE Times via Skype, Fiennes laid out Electric Imp’s IoT product strategy.
From left to right: Electric Imp founders Peter Hartley, Hugo Fiennes (holding card) and Kevin Fox.
The starting point for Fiennes' IoT vision came when he attempted to rig bathroom lights to respond to arbitrary inputs like Google’s share price. He quickly realized that many companies offered home automation systems based on a variety of radio standards, including Zigbee, but nearly all were single-vendor solutions rather than open platforms. Moreover, most were expensive.
"There is a Wi-Fi-enabled set of scales for sending your weight back to a Web site so you can track progress," said Fiennes by way of example. "It costs $180."
Electic Imp's innovation combines standardization on Wi-Fi and on a physical format based on the SD memory card socket. But it also offers a system partition that helps reduce costs for product developers. The startup hopes this approach will enable a fast ramp of available IoT-enabled objects, Fiennes said.
"We've put it in a user-installable module. The user buys the card and just plugs it into any device that has a slot," Fiennes explained." All a developer needs to do is add a socket and a 3-pin Atmel ID chip to their product. That's 75 cents: 30 cents for the ID chip and 45 cents for the socket." This assumes the availability of 3.3 volts. "But given that most things you want to control from the Internet are electrical, we think that's reasonable," he said. If not, developers can include a battery.
Since the module can be installed by a user, developers won't have to worry about FCC and CE certification since Electric Imp’s cards have already been certified for both, Fiennes added.
However, product developers do need to determine what aspects of their "things" they want to link to the card socket. The most obvious is an on-off relay, but Electric Imp's 6-pin interface on its card supports a variety of control and data interfaces and is configurable. It allows pull-up, pulse-width modulation (PWM), I2C and SPI interfaces for sending commands along with data transmission and retrieval.
Very interesting. The real advantage will be to spread these things around. But this is where the price is too high. $25 would limit its use to appliances that cost a whole lot more. The electric socket example though cute is a non-started. I doublt anyone would see the value of a ~$25 socket. I don't see the price coming down a whole lot as they have to pay for the margins of the silicon vendors.
Reminds me of Cypress PSoC chips which have all of this functionality in a single chip and costs a whole lot less.
very good stuff but too expensive for consumer products. It mentioned passive infrared sensor (PIR), which is what I am working on. A PIR is priced $10, how can I afford put a $25 card in it?
By looking at the picture of the card, I guess the BOM should be just a few dollars, whay they charge $25?
From what I can see at www.eye-fi.com this is not the same. Mainly because Electric Imp is NOT being offered as a memory card. Whether it could be is another matter. Electric Imp has not revealed how much memory is on their card.
So in one sense Eye-Fi is superior.
However, Eye-Fi appears limited to digital photograph uploads, while Electric Imp is an enabler of a broad range of networked things.
It is not a memory card.
There is memory on it but that is working memory i think rather than storage. Electric Imp would not say how much memory when I asked.
Enough to run the virtual machine I suppose. Peter Hartley is a meant to be a wizz at writing compact software.