Hands-on with the Electric Imp at Maker Faire (video)

Yesterday at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 we visited the Electric Imp booth to chat with the startup's founders and get some hands-on time with the tiny wireless computer. What is the Electric Imp? It's a module containing an ARM Cortex M3 SoC with embedded WiFi that's built into an SD card form factor. While the device looks just like and SD card, it's not pin-compatible with the standard -- the idea is to leverage a reliable and affordable connector for the Electric Imp. The module is not very useful on its own -- it only comes to life when inserted into one of several boards, which provide the Electric Imp with power and access to the real world. In turn the device gives these boards a brain and an Internet connection. Eventually the company hopes that appliance manufacturers will incorporate Electric Imp slots into products to make them network aware.

We talked with CEO Hugo Fiennes (formerly with Apple) about the past, present and future of the Electric Imp so hit the break to read more and to watch our hands-on video.%Gallery-155789%

What can you do with the Electric Imp? You can control almost anything wirelessly over the Internet -- better yet, you can access each module using a simple web-based interface which combines Planner, a graphical way to interconnect the devices and Squirrel, a Java / C-like scripting language to program each Electric Imp. When you insert a module into a board or appliance, it powers up, receives a unique ID, connects via WiFi to the startup's servers and downloads / runs the program that's assigned to that specific board or appliance -- as such any Electric Imp can be used. Since there's no physical interface on the device to configure WiFi, the company's developed Blinkup, a way to enter SSID and password information on any iOS and Android smartphone and beam it to the Electric Imp's light sensor by rapidly pulsing the handset's screen on and off.

We saw a number of Electric Imp demos and appliance ideas at the booth including a simple hand-held "detonator" toggle switch with LED, seven-segment counter, water level sensor, servo-controlled gauge, RGB light, power socket, Christmas light, power monitor, toy washing machine, 16x16 LED display and receipt printer (the latter two being combined to show the avatars and tweets of anyone mentioning the Electric Imp) -- all Internet aware. The startup's servers provide simple access to web services like Twitter and even text messaging (via Twillo) -- letting developers focus on core appliance functionality rather than the intricacies of HTTP requests, WiFi APIs and network sockets.

The Electric Imp will be shipping for $25 at the "end of next month" (late June) along with three developer boards:

  • April ($7): a basic prototyping board

  • Hannah ($25): the "kitchen sink" hobbyist board (includes an RGB light sensor, RGB LED, accelerometer, temperature sensor, Hall effect detector, potentiometer, two buttons, two servo connectors and a battery holder)

  • Duino ($20): an Arduino board (replaces the USB port with an Electric Imp slot for wireless access and control)

A mailing list is available on the company's website with an ordering system coming soon.