The phrase the "Internet of Things" was coined a decade ago to advance the concept that just as everything in the world has a physical location that can be shown on a map, everything could also be given an IP addresses in order to map it in cyber-space. The idea has been advanced by all the smart devices communicating today in cyber-space--from computers to smartphones to IP-enabled surveillance cameras.
WiFi microchips abound, but most of the "things" in the world of electronics are too simple to use them: household appliances, fitness equipment, smoke alarms, motion-sensors, thermostats and thousands of other essential devices do not have the processing capabilities necessary to manage IP addresses and join the "Internet of Things." Of course, anything can be made "smart" by adding a high-end radio-frequency (RF) communications processor, but that sharply increases the price of the most inexpensive devices. It also sharply increases the size of the smallest devices.
Now Texas Instruments is aiming to make the humblest of our electronic devices smart by offering complete RF modules costing just a few dollars and measuring only a half-inch square and a tenth-of-an-inch thick. Using the new TI SimpleLink family of RF modules, now almost any device can afford to get smart and join the Internet of Things.
TI has crammed all the necessary RF components onto a single chip, making even the humblest electronic devices smarter by giving them an IP address.
"The biggest obstacle for TI was reducing the software burden placed on the device," said Matt Kurtz, platform marketing manager for TI’s wireless connectivity business unit. "TI already had the expertise to make very low-power RF chips, but we took an extra six months to develop the software that makes our SimpleLink chips work with nearly any processor."
The application processors in most WiFi-enabled devices today were chosen specifically so that they could support the complex Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) software stack that enables secure communications over the Internet. However, many of the simple electronic devices we use today are so inexpensive because they use less expensive processors called micro controllers.
"When electronic device makers used to ask us about adding WiFi, our first response was to tell them they would need to upgrade their micro-controller to handle the necessary software and security stacks," said Kurtz. "However, we came to realize that was the wrong answer.” This led to the development of the SimpleLink family.
The first application of the TI WiFi-on-a-chip was made by TI customer The Crow Group, which was able to retrofit a SimpleLink module into its home security control panel with just two weeks of effort. Other efforts with LS Research and Murata, which are taking TI's WiFi on-a-chip and packaging it in a FCC-certified module, demonstrate how any electronics maker can now afford to upgrade its devices so that they can join the Internet of Things.