Imagination Technologies Is Crowdfunding A Dev Kit For IoT

Another dev kit targeting developers and startups that want to build devices for the Internet of Things has launched on Kickstarter — although its maker, Imagination Technologies, is no startup, but rather an established company which licenses IP to chipmakers and counts Apple (with an 8.4 per cent stake) among its investors.

Why does Imagination need to go down the crowdfunding route? It’s more about wanting to tap its target dev community during the product development phase, says Imagination’s Alexandru Voica.

“Using Kickstarter allows us to directly communicate with the maker community, start-ups and individuals interested in new dev kits and get their opinion on how and what we can improve. Kickstarter has some really great automated tools for user feedback and we’re already seeing some great comments about what other sensors we should add and how we could reduce costs for example,” he tells TechCrunch.

Imagination is aiming to raise £20,000 via Kickstarter for the project, and Voica says the funds will be used to accelerate development of the IoT kit and to finalize its open source software framework. As many as 20 billion connected devices are projected to be in play by 2020 — hence all the interest in infrastructure to help developers create all those ‘smart objects’.

So what exactly is Imagination making? It’s a kit, called the Creator Ci40 for IoT, targeting developers wanting to build Internet of Things devices. The kit will include both hardware building blocks and open source software frameworks, network stacks and cloud connectivity for securely connecting and authenticating all the wirelessly linked devices.

The core idea being, as with all these connected device dev kits, to offer a simplified system for developers wanting to quickly prototype a wireless IoT system — i.e. without needing to figure out things like how to get boards talking to each other first.

Imagination’s IoT dev board can be used in conjunction with more than 200 sensor boards to prototype multiple IoT use cases, such as — for example — making a gizmo that monitors temperature or humidity in the home. It links out to these sensor boards via two battery-powered 6LoWPAN Clicker expansion boards and three Click companion boards.

The Kickstarter campaign notes:

The Clicker boards are compact development boards based on the mikroBUS socket. When used together with the companion Click boards, they provide a quick way to prototype and build standalone gadgets that connect using low power wireless standards to the Creator Ci40 IoT hub.

“It will be a combination of people. The maker community and individuals who like to build innovative things (robots, drones, etc.),” says Voica of the target market for the kit, pointing by way of example to “hacker-friendly” peripherals, as well as flagging its “powerful” hardware. (The board will have a 550 MHz dual-core, dual-threaded MIPS CPU.)

He also reckons startups will be interested in the kit — again as a way to simplify and accelerate development times, freeing them up to focus on their core area of expertise, whatever that is.

“For example, we’re running a trial right now in Portugal where a company is using the kit to monitor the temperature and humidity of the soil in several farms and adjust irrigation accordingly,” he adds.

Another target is OS developers working with the likes of Linux and Brillo — given the board runs a combination of open source operating systems and software stacks. The Kickstarter campaign page notes the Creator Ci40 will run a range of GNU/Linux distributions, including OpenWrt, Debian, and Buildroot as well as Google’s Brillo operating system; the stripped down version of Android Google is targeting at IoT devs.

Imagination is certainly not the first to come up with an IoT dev kit aiming to help developers straddle the wirelessly linked worlds of software and hardware. Others already playing in this space include: relayr, with its Wunderbar IoT starter kit and cloud platform for sensor data (this European startup raised an $11 million Series A round, earlier this month); Spark Labs with its Spark Core IoT dev kit and SparkCloud platform; and — also straddling the dev/consumer maker space — SAM: a wireless electronics kit with a drag-and-drop software interface for generating code to automatically link the blocks.

How does Imagination’s Creator Ci40 differ from existing IoT kits? Voica flags the ecosystem system support for main Linux distributions and Google’s Brillo OS as one differentiator. “Creator is one of the few dev boards selected by Google to be part of its Brillo golden reference program — these boards will be the equivalent of Nexus phones when it comes to Brillo, receiving regular updates and patches ahead of others,” he notes.

He also says the prebuilt open source software framework is optimized for IoT, whereas not all other dev boards can say this; noting, for example, that the board includes the 802.15.4 wireless standard not just 802.11 Wi-Fi or Bluetooth standards as he says some other boards do.

Likewise, the hardware has been optimized for IoT too — rather than just reusing existing phone chips, as some others kits have, which he says can lead to increased power consumption (“like we’ve seen in smart watches”).

“We’ve designed a chip that has been optimized for IoT, selecting an optimal feature set that will be useful for this market (e.g. hardware multithreading),” he adds.

Free access to FlowCloud, the cloud platform for storing sensor readings to the cloud, is another differentiator he flags up.

Assuming the crowdfunding campaign goes to plan, Imagination is planning to ships kits to backers by April 2016. The Creator Ci40 board on its own is priced at £35/$50 to Kickstarter backers. A full kit which includes the dev board plus 2x Clicker expansion boards and 3x Click sensor boards costs £70/$100 to early backers.