Broadcom tries tickling developer interest with $20 multi-sensor kit

In an effort to prod gadget makers to build new Net-connected devices, the chipmaker announces a compact kit that can be turned directly into products.

Broadcom's Wiced Sense Kit is combines a thermometer, accelerator, gyroscope, compass, and humidity and pressure sensors into a $20 package for developers to build Internet-of-Things prototype devices.
Broadcom's Wiced Sense Kit combines a thermometer, accelerator, gyroscope, compass, and humidity and pressure sensors into a $20 package for developers to build Internet-of-Things prototype devices. Stephen Shankland/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chipmaker Broadcom will announce a $20 hardware kit on Wednesday designed to make the Internet of Things a reality, not just a buzzword.

The Wiced Sense Kit is designed to make it easy for hardware designers to build hardware that can sense its environment and communicate that information back to a mobile phone, home communications hub, or other nearby device. Broadcom's hope is that the kit will sell more chips for smart baby monitors, smart door locks, exercise monitors, and other such devices.

"We're creating an environment that allows for all these great ideas to come to market much faster," Brian Bedrosian, Broadcom's senior director for wireless connectivity, said at a press event here on Tuesday.

The Internet of Things refers generally to bringing networking to thermostats, cars, traffic lights, and any number of things that today lack computing smarts or network communication abilities. A key part of the Internet of Things promise is making use of sensor data: Did somebody just enter the room, meaning it's time to turn on the lights? Is the tire pressure dangerously low, meaning it's time to alert a driver?

It's an interesting idea, and everybody from scrappy crowdfunded startups to Google wants to cash in on it. When consumer markets for smartphones, flat-panel TVs, tablets, and PCs saturate, the tech industry fixates on the next thing.

Broadcom isn't the only chipmaker angling in on the market. Texas Instruments' $25 SensorTag has the same suite of sensors and a Bluetooth connection, too. And unlike Broadcom's device, TI's SensorTag has an Android app, not just an iPhone app.

Broadcom gives away a lot of software and even government certifications for wireless communications, but it doesn't give everything away. "We sell chips," Bedrosian said. Specifically, in the case of the Wiced (pronounced "wicked," for Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices) Sense Kit, the small processors called microcontrollers and wireless communication components using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The "all-in-one prototyping kit" comes with an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, thermometer, and a detector for air humidity and pressure.

Brian Bedrosian, Broadcom's senior director for wireless connectivity, announces a $20 wireless sensor kit for hardware developers.
Brian Bedrosian, Broadcom's senior director for wireless connectivity, announces a $20 wireless sensor kit for hardware developers. Stephen Shankland/CNET

"It allows you to use this as the first version of your end product," said Sid Shaw, a senior product line manager at Broadcom. Once developers download the free software that communicates with the device, "In under a minute, you have wireless link set up and now can do technology evaluation."

It can be sold, too. A developer could follow Broadcom's design, remove any unneeded sensors to cut costs, repackage it with an appropriate new plastic housing, and sell it right away without having to worry about components interfering or about obtaining necessary permission from the Federal Communications Commission.

For the most part, Broadcom isn't aiming the kit beyond developers. But its low price could give it some modestly broader appeal.

"For $20, it would make a good Christmas present for kids in science fair projects," Bedrosian said.

Update, 9:28 am PT: Adds mention of Texas Instruments' competing product.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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