Electric Imp Connects Projects To The Internet

If you’re planning a build that communicates wirelessly to that ‘Internet of things’ we’ve been hearing about, you might want to check out the Electric Imp. This tiny little card connects your project to the Internet without all the hassle of configuring an embedded wireless device.

Inside the Electric Imp is a good bit of hardware: an ARM CortexM3, and an 802.11b/g/n wi-fi module that will connect to your wireless network automatically. There are also a few pins left over for serial, I2C, SPI and PWM applications.

Instead of manually configuring the DNS and WPA encryption, the Electric Imp does all of this automatically. We have no idea how the Electric Imp configures itself, but we’d bet it’s something along the lines of plugging the SD card-sized Imp into a computer and piggybacking off the computer’s credentials. The Imp also uses a cloud service, but we’ll bet once Imps are out in the wild, you’ll be able to use them with your own network.

The Electric Imp card itself will sell for about $25, but there are also dev kits to turn the Imp into an Arduino-compatible board. If everything goes as planned, the Imp will be released sometime this summer; we’ll probably see a few Electric Imp projects finished before August.

EDIT: [Kevin] over at Electronic Imp wrote in and told us about the configuration process:

We have an iOS and Android app where the user enters their wireless network’s SSID and the password, then they hold the screen up to the Imp. There’s a photosensor in the Imp that picks up the phone’s flashing and configures the device optically, without the need of plugging it in to a computer, setting up a temporary network for config, or any other cumbersome mechanisms.

We’re basically looking at a much cooler version of the Timex Datalink here. Awesome.

28 thoughts on “Electric Imp Connects Projects To The Internet

  1. Neat. This development board (which Brian mentioned) caught my eye:

    “Duino: Arduino, with Imp

    Featuring an ATMEGA328 processor, this board is compatible with the Arduino Uno but instead of having a USB-serial port on it, it has an Imp socket. You can use a modified version of the Arduino IDE to update the ATMEGA code from anywhere in the world when an Imp is plugged in, and use simple serial commands in your Arduino programs to control other Imp devices.

    The ATMEGA will operate standalone when no imp card is inserted.”

  2. Looks pretty sweet, if the reality ends up matching the advertising.

    the SD card is a clever choice of packaging- piggy-backing on a wealth of development in connectors, form-factors, etc. that’s already been done by others.

  3. Looks like a neat piece of kit. Would definitely be fun to play with and priced right.

    But stuff like this always makes me nervous. What happens if you use this for a product and then the company goes out of business? The cloud you have depended on goes away and in this case, even the hardware looks like a pain to reproduce.

    Definitely curious to see how they are doing the WiFi setup.

  4. Sounds interesting – looks like there is an “app” for configuration (perhaps an IOs or Android – at least thats what the web page looks like. I wondered if an EyeFi card could be hacked to an Arduino for the same purpose…

  5. Network config is done via a photodiode. An app on a computer or smartphone converts network settings to on-screen flashes. Hold device up to screen, press go. Seems like an awesome substitute for IR! Wonder if photodiode input can be locked, or if anybody can reconfigure it at any time?

  6. “One of the biggest annoyances with new WiFi devices is getting them connected to your secure network. We fixed this, configuring any device in seconds using just your iOS or Android smartphone.”

    There’s how it’s configured. Hopefully it can be configured other ways too, not everyone has one of these smartphones.

    I can’t help but liken this to a user-programmable version of the EyeFi. Same form factor. Same WiFi capability. Same reliance on cloud services. And possibly the same poor indoor range.

  7. Very cool.
    Except for the “cloud service” part.

    If there’s a way I can use the thing without using the “cloud service” I’ll buy 2 or 3 (and potentially many more in the future)!

    1. From their “Jobs” page:

      “We’re working on a system with requirements unlike anything you’ve seen before: a massive, mission critical, distributed, low latency network that will divide time into ‘before’ and ‘after’. Does that sound a bit like Skynet? Well, spontaneous consciousness isn’t one of the project requirements, but we’re not ruling anything out.”

      And what technologies are they using to do this?
      Python, Twisted, TLS, nginx, Squirrel

      I don’t typically see “mission critical” and “low latency” coupled with “nginx” and “python”. (interpreted language != low latency)

      I guess good enough is good enough, but I’d prefer to stay away from the “cloud service”, personally :-)

    2. What I’d like to see is a dual system. start out using the official cloud servers, with the possibility (well documented and supported) of configuring your own personal server as a long-term solution.

      1. I guess the Roving Networks RN-131 or 171 could be used when you don’t want the cloudy bit. From what I can see, the hardware and the price is not too dissimilar, but obviously lacks the novel method for setting it up.

  8. yes.. give me option to set my own address of server.. and some open-source server app in python or php or whatever.. and i want a lot of sd cards like this one..

  9. I don’t get it: the thing has a whole WiFi things in it and you configure it via photodiode? Why can’t you just connect to it via wifi and change the settings, from your phone or pc?

    The device looks impressive. I really like the SD card format and everything.

    But what is the price and availability?

    1. How can you connect to your WiFi if there’s no screen, no console, no way to configure IP address, or what network to connect, or anything? How can you tell the Imp the initial settings?
      The photodiode is a very nice way to configure the initial settings.

  10. “The Imp also uses a cloud service”

    This is a deal killer for me. Especially after my really bad experience with the Chumby I never really owned – even though I paid in-full for it.

  11. For those who want a more open solution – I suggest looking into the Carambola (available, ~20 EUR) and Carambola Nano (available later this year) from 8Devices.
    Both are 380MHz ARM based WiFi modules that support Linux, and while the original Carambola is definitely nice, the Nano is truely tiny, so it should fit any project.

  12. This whole “cloud” thing is really starting to get on my nerves. Now we can’t even use micros without a damn cloud over our heads ? I was extremely excited when I saw the imp (outstanding form factor for such a device!) and my excitement dropped instantly to 0 when I read about the way you’re supposed to use it. Clouds? Really? You don’t need to add a cloud to everything just because “cloud technology” is on everyone’s lips nowadays. FFS, what happened to not imposing policy ?! Why destroy such a nice idea with a hard restriction like this? (and don’t even consider calling it a “feature”. It’s a restriction. If it was a feature, it would’ve had the curtesy to be optional) People, stop and consider your audience for a second. I’d imagine that this thing will mostly land to the desks of people who already have 1 or 10 MCU dev boards on said desks. And I can imagine that most of them will go into berserk mode instantly when they have to bypass any code they have around and re-write anything in Squirrel (really? Squirrel?). Thanks, I’d rather create a socket and send/recv my data directly, draining the life of any cloud in my route. Would I even be able to create an UDP socket on this thing ?!
    I guess this explains their decision (source: Engadget):

    “We talked with CEO Hugo Fiennes (formerly with Apple) […]”

    Yes, this is a GREAT idea! Take someone from Apple and let him imagine connectivity solution for microcontrollers, let’s see where this gets us!
    It really saddens me to see stuff like his happening. Oh well, I’d guess I’ll order that Gainspan after all …

  13. I like the SD and MicroSD wifi solutions, but they require a TCP/IP stack and driver.

    I think there are MicroSD 802.11+BT cards.

    Basebands have too much licensing hassles, and all need BGA processes to mount, on top of needing drivers.

    If you’re going to go the baseband route you might as well get a 802.11/BT/CDMA/GPRS one.

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