SAN FRANCISCO -- A local Internet of Things startup founded by Apple, Google, and Facebook engineers is preparing for a leap beyond its current base in WiFi and consumer products. Electric Imp launched three years ago with a memory card-sized plug-and-play WiFi device, but it is planning a product that uses an undisclosed network technology.
The startup partnered with the Japanese manufacturer Murata to mass produce its third-generation platform, a soldered-on SoC one-tenth the size of the first imp module at 10x7.9 mm. Imp 003 has a 32-bit Cortex-M4 processor, 23 selectable I/Os, and 50% more memory than the imp 002, but it does not have a built-in antenna. Highlighting the need to have connectivity built in for small-scale manufacturing, Electric Imp has put more emphasis on customer preference in its latest generation.
The chip has WiFi capability, but the manufacturer must physically connect it to an antenna.
The new platform "is still turnkey in that you put a module on the board. It has a processor, WiFi," and can be attached to an antenna, "but it's permanently installed so the user can't break the product," CEO Hugo Fiennes told us. "Most manufacturers wanted to build the antenna in directly" in a surface mount module.
Fiennes said the 003 would be used in a variety of devices (which he would not name). The previous generation is used in a range of products, including toys, a connected irrigation system, and a smart air conditioner with geosensing.
Electric Imp has products in development or shipping in 25 vertical markets, he said. "I think we're the leader in terms of building WiFi connected devices. We shipped almost half a million for the IoT platform, and that's in the early days. We believe that's more than pretty much all of us put together in this field."
This year, the company will release another platform -- one that is not based on WiFi -- to "target a different set of applications." Fiennes said WiFi works best with devices meant for consumers or small businesses.
Though he would not offer details on the company's roadmap (beyond "getting everything connected"), he said new products will be key in expanding the world of connected devices.
Entrepreneurs can "build really great connected products without having to reinvent the wheel" when they work from a platform with built-in connectivity and cloud services, Fiennes said. "Hardware manufacturers look at connectivity as a hardware thing, but it's more of a software problem. We need a way to set up easily in the field, to get through firewalls, to send and receive data from multiple services. These things are now completely out of [some people's] comfort zones."
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times