The guys who brought you the iPhone and Gmail now want to connect your washing machine, light switch, and just about any other electric device you can think of to the Internet. Get ready to be amazed.
Electric Imp came out of hiding today, announcing a line of Imp cards that can be installed on any electronic device to put it online and even control it. The little cards appear almost identical to standard SD cards, but have WiFi antennae and embedded processors. You can install them to existing devices using some of the circuit boards Imp sells, and the company is in talks with OEMs to get them Imp slots pre-installed on a range of products. Once installed, they connect to the Internet and Imp's cloud-based software controls, allowing them to both be controlled remotely and work in conjunction with other connected devices.
This is the "Internet of Things" we've long been hearing about. But unlike most solutions, this isn't a vertical system that requires you to purchase devices designed to be connected to a central controller. The Imp's big breakthrough is that it will work with any device, and then programmed to control each as needed. There's no need to create a back end software system to control devices, the Imp handles all that.
And the range of things it opens up is truly impressive. For example, you might have an Imp connected to water level sensor in a Christmas tree stand that automatically sent you a text message if the water level got too low, or dimmed the lights on the tree to prevent a fire. (See the video demo below of an Imp doing just that, which the Electric Imp team set up on the fly in about 1 minute.) You could set your pool pump to only kick on when electricity is below a certain price per Kilowatt Hour. Washing machine manufacturers could use them (as could end users) to get feedback on a machine as to how efficiently it was being used. Imps could be connected to soil sensors in a yard to automatically turn on or off a sprinkler system.
The web-based software uses a drag and drop graphical interface to set up commands, making it dead simple to use and create actions. But for power users, it's also programmable, opening up a world of possibilities. Users will be able to share tasks they've created, as well as hardware designs. A few boards designed by the Imp team will be on sale at SparkFun this summer, but they're really hoping people will hack and share their own designs.
Watching the Electric Imp team (which includes former iPhone engineering manager Hugo Fiennes and former Gmail designer Kevin Fox) create complicated actions on the fly was nuts. But one of the most impressive features of the demo with far reaching implications was, to some extent, but a small part of how this all will work.
Anyone who has tried to get dumb WiFi devices onto a home or office network knows it's never the same procedure twice, and often a pain in the tookus. Getting the Imps to work with a WiFi network is super easy, and ingeniously done. You input the WiFi network name and password into the Electric Imp your phone (iOS or Android) and the app flashes light at a photosensor on the Imp card, using pulses of light to transfer the login. It. Was. Slick.
A developer preview bundle will ship in late June. The cards will cost around £16, while a basic circuit board is expected to retail for about £7, and a more complex one for about £13 (pricing is still up in the air on the boards).