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back to article Little devil: Electric Imp is an Internet of Things Wi-Fi PC-ON-AN-SD-CARD

Most products’ origins are prosaic: an inventor or a suit spots a gap in the market and attempts to fill it. Other products, however, have rather more bizarre beginnings. A case in point: Electric Imp came about because co-founder Hugo Fiennes wanted to connect the lights in his new bathroom to the internet. That’s just the kind …

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conflicting form factors

I don't mind them nicking the SD card layout, as long as damage can't result from mis-plugging.

Looking at the demo, they could add a large plastic wumph on the top to stop it going into a normal slot.

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Re: conflicting form factors

Adding a plastic 'wumph' (boss? flange?) would add significant cost, both in tooling a new mould for the 'sd card' case, and for the slot it fits into. Such a flange would also risk mechanical damage to a device not designed to accept it, should a dopey user attempt to force it in.

As it is, it won't damage anything it is wrongly inserted into, it just won't do anything. In this respect, it is no different to inserting an SDXC Card into an older, plain SD Card device.

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Re: conflicting form factors

You are obviously in possession of advanced info - you seem to know it won't cause damage. I did not deduce that from the original article.

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Re: conflicting form factors

Advanced information? I googled images for "Imp card pinout" and "Sd card pinout"... I was following a hunch that the creator of this kit a, knows what he is doing, and b, doesn't want to be sued into the middle of next week for bricked kit.

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Re: conflicting form factors @ Robert

The article specifically states, "That said, the Imp’s connectors are electrically compatible with a real SD card, so it won’t do any harm." (First page, between pictures 2 and 3).

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A big but

This device came out about a year ago. Maybe things have changed since then, but I remember reading about it that you can ONLY program it and access it through IMP's cloud-based servers. You have no direct access to the device and no direct control over it, yourself. Even though it needs continuous access to your network to perform any function.

The plan seemed to be that everything that talked to the IMP device (and each one had to be registered individually) had to go through IMPs cloud and therefore they would know (presuming their website and cloud systems didn't crash, go bankrupt or get bought-out by someone who's only goal was to crush the company) who was doing what, to whom, when and where. No biggie for a single "play" device. But to make a major long-term investment that's dependent on the whims and financial fortunes of someone else is a pretty big turn-off.

This device sounds like a nice idea, if a rather expensive one (at £30 a node - you could buy a lot of light switches for that). However it's in need of some fairly severe hacking to free it up for everyday, personal, use. Maybe once it breaks from from IMP-Central I'll be more interested.

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Re: A big but

Exactly, when these came up on Hackaday exactly your thoughts came out against it, and that *is* part of the hacker community el reg is talking about. Hackers don't want to be tied down to a specific company's whim, it's one of the reasons they're hacking in the first place rather than doing off the shelf.

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Re: A big but

An even bigger but is that the device itself is still far from everything you need if your goal is to control the lights in your bathroom - a GPIO pin isn't going to provide the current or provide the isolation. And as your bathroom is a "special location" as far as the wiring regs are concerned, you're not exactly supposed to be doing much electrical DIY there. Not to mention the fact that your lights are already wired together, so equipping each of them with WiFi is perhaps not the most optimal solution, even if WiFi were self-configuring - which it isn't. But, to be honest, I can't remember the last time I was stuck in some dank corner of a foreign field thinking "you know, what would make me feel so much better now would be turning on the bog light at home", so I'm not the target market (which I assume is the perpetually half-finished project hacker).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A big but

> I can't remember the last time I was stuck in some dank corner of a foreign field thinking "you know, what would make me feel so much better now would be turning on the bog light at home"

Well put. :) You know though, I actually can remember a few times when that would have made me so much happier. Of course, turning them on _remotely_ never did cross my mind, mind you.

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Or there's the DigiX

Which gives you true Arduino DUO compatility, 99 IO pins, 512K of flash, WiFi, mesh networking (nRF24L01+), a real time clock, MicroSD socket, USB OTG port, audio out and support for The Intermet of Things.

See http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/digistump/digix-the-ultimate-arduino-compatible-board-with-w

(it is now shipping out to Kickstarter backers and will be available to the public shortly)

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SD compatibility

Just a note on "Imp’s connectors are electrical incompatible with a real SD card"... they're compatible in the sense that neither the imp nor the camera you plug it in will blow up (the power pins are the same). It just won't *do* anything :)

Peter

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Unhappy

Looks fun...

... but sadly I don't have a single IOS or Android device.

Something for the manufacturers to consider: I can't imagine it would be too hard to hang an LED on a dirt-cheap USB micro-controller and get that to flash the appropriate code to set the thing up from a PC or Mac.

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Re: Looks fun...

You can get a used Android phone off eBay for £25... easier than removing this Imp from whatever light fixture you mounted it in.

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Re: Looks fun...

Actually, I wonder whether the lights on a keyboard or the underside of an optical mouse could be controlled fast enough to do the data transfer.

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Re: Looks fun...

I would have thought that the mouse itself governs its LED lamp; I'm not sure the PC can control it directly.

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Re: Looks fun...

I expect as such - the keyboard LEDs are much more able to be controlled, although somewhat dimmer.

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Re: Looks fun...

There is a Windows version, I just used it on my Imp, it flashes the entire screen and makes you room look like a discoteque

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Missing the point

I think a few of the commentards are missing the point here.

Ignoring the 'I can hack anything' market (which is small, but noisy), this is aimed at the 'deliver something to the consumer' market which is much more boring but far larger in scale. If I, as a manufacturer of light fittings, wanted to make a light fitting that I could control from a mobile, I'd want a module that does all the boring stuff for me, leaving me to do the last step (switch the light on). I'd want it in a tiny form factor and available as a solder-down module that I can just fit into my light fittings.

Arduino, RaspPi and so on don't do that. They're large and designed for hobbyists - general purpose hacking devices. That's great, but they're the most expensive option when it comes to integrating with a bit of consumer kit that just needs to perform simple functions and be controlled over the 'net.

I'm not sure if this is the 'right' answer, but it's a lot better than being told to hack around with a Pi just to perform the most basic of activities.

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Re: Missing the point

That's what ZigBee is for. There's no need for a card factor controller (that requires some sort of adaptor shield) and programmability if you are targeting consumers with this.

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Re: Missing the point

The point, though, is that there has been consumer kit on the market for decades that would allow you turn your lights on or close your curtains from a phone (DTMF and latterly by app) or from your PC and it's never been more than a niche for hackers.

The stumbling block has not been the lack of a slot in network link. Devices are expensive because the design and certification costs for mains-voltage equipment are significant and there simply isn't a big enough market to for the cost-per-unit to be reasonable (not to mention different worldwide electrical standards, plugs, etc). And assuming it could be made reasonable, bumping up the cost with licensing fees for third-party technology (on the assumption that Electric Imp want to make some money from their device) isn't really a great idea.

And it's a small market because it's only people with a hacker mindset who actually want to do this stuff in the first place. There's a reason toasters are popular when pretty much everyone has an alternative means of grilling bread - they perform precisely the needed action with a single movement; much like a light switch.

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Meh

Re: Missing the point

This is only a solution for limited run IoT devices - and even then it'snot really optimal, unless you want to allow consumer upgrades, rather than replacement (and where is the money in that). I can see a few Kickstarter projects using this where interest is relatively low.

If you're building thousands of devices, then you're going to be best off buying one of the multitude of SoC's that can do this sort of thing, and the dev kit to go with it. And you're probably going to want to employ someone with the experience of system and software integration.

I can't quite think of many people that this is going to appeal too. Its not flexible enough to replace Arduino and with a different use-case to RPI, and competitors like the Teensy 3 make it difficult to pin down exactly what this offers.

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FAIL

Re: Missing the point

Sounds like a good plan to me:

1. Build consumer devices that depend on the web server of a third party

2. Sell and install millions of said consumer devices

3. IMP server goes down or IMP goes out of business

4. Your customers are now pissed at YOUR company because of a third party failure.

This ignores, of course, the trust problems inherent in allowing some third party bozos to control access to the lights in YOUR own personal bog.

The whole thing is a load of bullshit. A hacker wouldn't use it, and a typical clueless consumer shouldn't use it.

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Re: Missing the point

>Devices are expensive because the design and certification costs for mains-voltage equipment are significant and there simply isn't a big enough market to for the cost-per-unit to be reasonable

I guess Low Voltage LED lights have helped here.

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Re: Missing the point

Except (as I understand it) your zigbee module (that offers no real cost savings or simpler integration than this unit) needs a separate base station and further integration. If I want to control a zigbee unit from my android phone, how much extra kit do I need to buy and configure?

Don't get me wrong, ZigBee, RasPi and all the others have specific niches - and it seems to me that this has it's own useful niche too. All the posters attacking it because it isn't one of those other bits of technology make no sense to me.

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Re: Missing the point

If you're building thousands of devices, the same device is available as a solder on module and I imagine the company can sell you a private bit of cloud that you can operate yourself. They've solved the integration and configuration issues that you would otherwise have to deal with if you buy one of those other SoCs.

The fact that we're still seeing different offerings like this suggests to me that none of the other products have created the universal solution to IoT devices. To claim this is less valid when all of it's competitors fall down in various ways is somewhat mean spirited.

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Re: Missing the point @Andy 73

Yes, you need a ZigBse gateway on your network, but then the cost of the nodes drops and the range improves (it's a mesh network, so messages get relayed around to the extremities that would normally be out of range).

The Philips Hue lighting system is based about this technology, it has clients for iOS and Android. It's not something that consumers would write themselves, but the API is open so you can if you wish.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the point @Andy 73

I stumbled across Phillips Hue in the settings of a Windows program, F.Lux.

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Re: Missing the point (@Dave 126 - Low Voltage LEDs)

Not necessarily - you still have a mains power source and, for dimmable LEDs, this is usually converted into a pulse-width modulated low-voltage source using something that looks a lot like a switched-mode power supply. Even if the LED driver is transformer-isolated, it's not necessarily producing any actual DC externally that could power logic and if you wanted logic to control anything, it would have to control the supply side (mains voltage) rather than the load side or even when the lights were supposedly off you'd have power loss in the LED driver.

And if you tried to do everything at low voltage, the current required (even by LEDs) would mean the control equipment would potentially dwarf the lights both in physical size and energy loss.

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Re: Missing the point @Andy 73

The problem with hue, zigbee, z-wave et all is the cost of that gateway, the cheapest half-decent z-wave gateway for example is 130 quid, which is a 100 more than the cost of one of thier basic devices!

That'd be okay if it was one protocol to rule them all but they are all doing their own thing.

At least with the imp no niche gateway is required.

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Re: Missing the point

"Devices are expensive because the design and certification costs for mains-voltage equipment are significant"

So is wifi certification and thats the point,

*the existing microcontroller in the appliance has already gone mains and whatever else certification

*the imp has gone through the wifi certification

You just leave each device to its speciality and interconnect them using a spare port on appliance microcontroller, if you worried about the imp touching the electrics you just use an "opto-isolator" for the interconnect which is a very old and proven technology.

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Paris Hilton

Similar devices.

This is nothing new really. Ive been using similar devices for the last 4yrs.

The Lantronix Wibox for example. Much more expensive, but it does work in any environment you throw at it.

Paris, because her data bus would also be compatible.

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Re: Similar devices.

Imp’s connectors are electrical incompatible with a real SD card.

Unlike the FlashAir™ - SD Card with Embedded Wireless LAN:

http://www.toshiba-components.com/FlashAir/

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Re: Similar devices.

Ooh, now that I *do* like! Sod the cameras etc: quick handy way of provisioning files from m'laptop to other less smart (or borked in the networking dept) devices, is what that says to me. *Salivates*

Must say, first thought on glancing at the article precis was "Ah, SDIO getting some attention at last." Bit of a shame more isn't made of that standard, but maybe its time is still to come.

I'm not as pessimistic as some about the Imp, though: it could certainly help small but clever startups bring some interesting gadgetry to market, though I agree the centralised third-party CnC is a big turn-off. I hope they do come out with a private server solution (or have some serious escrow sorted out in case they do go titsup), if they did I'd be moderately interested.

The removable form factor interests me too: it seems kinda pointless at face value, why not just make it and the Impee a single unit? I wonder if there might be an angle whereby the end user would tote their personal Imp around with them, and plug it into certain compatible gizmos wherever they went? Making their personal "Smartness-of-Things" profile portable, so the lights in their hotel room dick around just the way they do at home, for example? There's definitely potential there ...

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Anonymous Coward

You can keep the IOT, it's just pandering to the stupid.

I'd prefer we drive up standards and not make the thickos more inclined to rely on someone/something else.

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FAIL

A solution looking for a problem

This does seem to be just a solution vainly in search of a problem. Even taking the bog-light idea, it would be simpler (and probably cheaper) to use 'power-line communication' rather than WiFi (and I am not just talking component costs, there's testing and compliance to be met). And before anyone starts talking about lasers, I will point out that lasers are a generic technology whereas this is a jumped up little logic circuit with a radio attached. There must be much better ways to acheive the same end than use this contraption.

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Re: A solution looking for a problem

Based on the size of Powerline Ethernet adaptors, I'm not sure it would be a good alternative to something like this for IoT applications.

FWIW, Imp seems a good idea spoiled by the proprietary IDE and web server tech - if Electric Imp dies, all that kit will be useless. Still, it's nice having someone to manage the server security for you, so I'd give it a whirl rather than be truly DIY.

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Re: A solution looking for a problem

s/if/when/

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Re: A solution looking for a problem

Powerline is gaining traction as a solution for IOT, it is now part of the electric car-charging standard so your car can sync using a fast connection when plugged in.

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Anonymous Coward

Regardless of all other objections...

...I love that logo.

(And no, I'm not a BSD user)

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Linux

Re: Regardless of all other objections...

Hehe, good job you're not. The "Beastie" is obviously BSD licensed himself, as I've seen him adorning vending machines in gentlemen's toilets round are way. You wouldn't believe some of the items he's flogging to drunk, hopeful men.

Tux don't sell no French ticklers.

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