Infrastructure, Electric Imp and Incremental Change

One of the tricky bits about being a startup with a great idea is getting it into people’s hands. It’s great to have the “killer app”, but if there is a ton of infrastructure between your innovation and potential users, the life can get sucked out before the product gets to market.

One area that seems to have this problem is smart energy devices. There is a lot of potential in bringing a bit of energy mangement to our homes. But say you want to make a smart fridge that will connect up with other appliances in your home, remote devices, and monitoring aspects of the power grid. There’s a whole range of parties involved in the chain that might trip up your progress. There’s the original energy producer, subcontractors that install and maintain distribution networks, various power companies that sell you service, local governments charged with making sure things are safe, companies that manufacture things like meters and valves, and oem manufacturers of appliance parts—not to mention homeland security, which is none too keen on people monkeying with the grid. There are no standards for smart houses or appliances, so everyone is starting from scratch, and few of the companies are experts with things like software, databases, and the internet that connects it all up. There’s a lot standing between us and smart homes.

In order to make big changes, then, it is sometimes more effective to start small. Liz Gannes at AllThingsD reported on a small startup Electric Imp that a great, big small idea. Rather than wait for companies to develop their own smart systems, Electric Imp is going to build a smart system on a chip of them. “Each Imp card will contain Wi-Fi and an embedded processor” that would allow you to “turn almost any product into a connected device with the addition of a tiny card in a slot.” It is:

intended to help users monitor, control and get alerted by their devices…Some potential applications are a laundry machine that texts a user when the wash is done or a power charger that turns on when the price of electricity goes down.

That strikes me as much more doable. It would be much easier for companies to include a card slot and basic code to make their products “smart appliance ready” than try to build a whole software operation and control system from the ground up. This way, someone else deals with the code and the internet, leaving them to focus on the core business. I could see them approaching this as an easy competitive advantage rather than a massive burden.

Plus, the folks working on this are ex-iPhone and Gmail developers. That should inspire some confidence (read “willingness to invest in new ideas”) from industry.

Don’t expect see this really soon, but it seems to me a move in the right direction.



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