LX Group explores another recent addition to the Internet-of-Things marketplace in more detail – the Electric Imp.
The Electric Imp is a unified hardware, software and connectivity solution that’s easy to implement, quite powerful and offers various devices Wi-Fi connectivity and an incredibly simple development and end-user experience.
The system comprises of a relatively simple hardware solution and software development environment that has a low financial and learning entry level, while being quite customisable. Like other systems it comprises of a hardware as well as a software component.
Unlike other IoT systems such as Twine or cosm, the Electric Imp has a very well-defined and customisable hardware structure that is both affordable and incredibly compact. Almost all of the hardware is in a package the size of an SD memory card, and the only external parts required are a matching SD socket to physically contain and connect the Imp card with the project, and supporting circuitry for an Atmel ATSHA204 authentication chip that enables Imp cards to identify themselves as unique units in the system.
Connection to the cloud service is via a secure 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi network and the system also supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption; however the size of the Imp eliminates the option for a wired connection. The external support schematic is made available by the Imp team to allow easy implementation into almost any prototype or existing product.
What the Imp offers is a tiny development board with GPIO pins, an SPI and I2C-bus, a serial UART, and a 16-bit ADC inside a project controlled via Wi-Fi. This level of control and connectivity offers several possibilities that can be introduced to existing projects from remote control to data gathering, and system monitoring to advanced remote messaging systems. The possibility of complete internal embedding of the Imp system inside the product improves system reliability greatly as there’re no points of weakness such as network cables, removable parts or secondary enclosures.
More than one Imp can be used in any application as each Imp is uniquely identifiable on the Imp cloud service. The Imp firmware is created and transmitted to each Imp card online, which allows remote firmware updates as long as the Imp has a network connection, and a cloud-based IDE to allow collaboration and remove the need for customised programming devices, JTAGs, or local IDE installations. This saves time, money and development costs, and offers a more portable support solution.
The firmware is written in a C-like language named ‘Squirrel’, which is created using the aforementioned online IDE. Once uploaded to the Imp card the firmware can still operate if it loses a network connection, or if a run-time error occurs and a network is available, the details will be sent back to the IDE. This allows developers to remotely debug Imp applications in real-time, saving on-site visits and unwanted client-supplier interactions.
Imps also have an inbuilt LED, which can be utilised to display status modes if an application fails, or any other information that can be used to a client’s benefit, helping them describe possible issues in the absence of a network connection.
Companies interested in moving forward with the Electric Imp can partner with LX Group who will guide them through the entire process, from understanding their needs to creating the required hardware interfaces and supplying firmware and support.
An award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia, LX Group specialises in embedded systems design and wireless technologies.