May 17, 2012
Cloud-Based Home Automation Unit Announced
A Los Altos, California-based startup company, founded by some of the brains behind the Apple iPhone and Google Gmail, has announced a new chip that could be the first step in connecting home appliances to the cloud, accessing them from afar, and essentially automating an entire house.
The company is named Electric Imp, and on Wednesday they unveiled "the Imp," -- a chip that is similar in appearance to a standard SD card but comes equipped with an embedded processor and Wi-Fi capability, Ryan Lawler of TechCrunch reported. It can be programmed to control or measure any number of things depending on what it has been plugged into, it can be switched from one device to another with little hassle, and it will cost just $25 per card, plus a "small monthly subscription fee," he added.
The Imp cards can be installed directly into units available now by purchasing circuit boards sold by the company, which was founded by former iPhone engineering manager Hugo Fiennes and ex-Gmail designer Kevin Fox (as well as software architect Peter Hartley), and Electric Imp is currently negotiating with manufacturers in order to have slots for the cards pre-installed on appliances and other products, Lawler and Gizmodo's Mat Honan explained on Wednesday.
"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." Honan said.
"The pitch to them is that, for less than a dollar they will be able to add a slot and create powerful new applications for otherwise dumb devices“¦ And they can do so without having to worry about hiring specialists to integrate connectivity into the device or increasing the cost of their products by adding Wi-Fi or processors that are otherwise unnecessary," Lawler added. "Electric Imp will provide the enabling hardware -- the Imp card -- and it also will manage the back end service which connects all of the devices. Imp-enabled devices can be controlled either from a web browser or on a smartphone, either through Electric Imp´s own application, or through third-party apps that are developed to take advantage of the new platform."
The TechCrunch reporter said that Fiennes, the company's CEO, had demonstrated some of the applications that the Imp card would utilize to him on Tuesday, and that among the tasks it will allow users to perform is remotely switching lights on or off, or setting high-energy consuming appliances such as washing machines to automatically switch when the cost of electricity is at its lowest. He also says that is could sense when a garden needs to be watered and take care of the task, set-up motion sensors that can detect when there is "unusual activity" -- a possible intruder or the lack of movement among home-bound seniors, for example.
"The possibilities really are endless, especially when you consider the number of devices which don´t have connectivity now, because it´s too expensive, but could benefit from some smarts and the ability to monitor and control them from afar," Lawler said. "Just as importantly, the Imp could enable hardware from multiple manufacturers to work together, rather than having to rely on a single vendor for a home automation system that requires a major upfront investment and, frankly, probably won´t be updated or age well with time. And because the smarts of the device can be updated from the cloud, manufacturers will be able to remotely monitor and update their products seamlessly, without consumers even knowing."
"Until now, creating connected devices was a huge challenge for any vendor," Fiennes told John Koetsier of VentureBeat in a statement. "Electric Imp changes all this by bringing the power of an easy to use, cloud-based service to almost any device and allowing the internet to interact with everyday objects."
Lawler reports that the company currently has seven employees, but is looking to add 13 more within the next six months -- expansion that will be assisted by $7.9 million in financing the company recently secured from Redpoint Ventures and Lowercase Capital.
On their official website, Electric Imp notes that preview units of the chip will be available along with developer kits starting in late June, and Imp-enabled products are expected to be available "from a variety of vendors" before the end of the year. They add that the devices can be monitored and controlled from the Internet-enabled computers, smartphones, and "even from other Imp-enabled devices."