There has been a ton of talk over the years about home automation, with various companies making big claims about how simple it will be to implement, including massive heavyweights light Google. We haven’t seen much evidence on any of these claims happening any time soon. A newly announced company and product may help usher in the home automation movement in a reasonable timeframe, and may even be something you want to use for your aquarium.
Electric Imp is a new startup that just went public recently that is taking a little different approach to automation. While companies like Google with their Google Home brand are focusing more on the infrastructure to connect devices to the cloud, Electric Imp is focusing more on the hardware end of things, trying to make it easier for companies to make their devices wireless. The actual device is a small integrated card that is similar in size and form to a standard SD memory card, packing a Cortex M3 microcontroller, and 802.11b/g/n radio complete with full security. The point behind the hardware is to take all of the development out of the wireless end of things, and let manufacturers get on with developing the product itself.
While most manufacturers that will use this product will end up tying it to an external microcontroller to expand the capabilities, the card itself is more than capable of doing some heavy lifting all by its lonesome. While it has only 6 pins available to the end user/developer/tinkerer (excluding power and ground), those 6 pins have software selectable analog and digital inputs and outputs, UARTS, I2C, SPI, and GPIO functions. This means that outside of the card itself, only a few external components would be required to control simple things other than appliances. Simple things like controllable outlets, timers, simple LED controllers, water level sensors, etc… Get the picture yet?
Fortunately, Electric Imp products are going to be available to everyone, manufacturers and hobbyists alike. To make it easier for everyone, Electric imp has even tried to simplify the coding and automation portion of things. Much like the Arduino project, they have a development environment that takes a lot of the grunt work of interfacing with the hardware called Squirrel. It’s a C based language that lets you get a lot of higher level functions working quickly. On top of that, it’s browser based, and allows you to code and deploy to your device anywhere in the world, with potentially thousands of miles between you and your device. Of course, because you are able to reach the device anywhere in the world to program and update it, that also means you have a device that you can monitor and report to you (if programmed to do so) at any time.
For the aquarium world, this could mean the end of traditional aquarium controllers as we know it. Because the hardware is pretty inexpensive (MSRP of $25 for the card) and already certified by the FCC, it could make it far easier to create smart modules that can work independently and together to control the functions of an aquarium. With the cards also being available to the public at large, that will also lead to DIYers experimenting with these too. The Reef Angel came from the community not too long ago, so it’s safe to say that a community developed modular wireless reef controller isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Developer kits are supposed to start shipping some time late June, with mass production starting later this year. Word is that Sparkfun Electronics is going to be a retailer for the hobbyist crowd once they become available, so keep your eyes peeled for that.