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MediaTek tries to catch DIY wave with new Labs effort

The maker movement has been growing since its start in 2006, and the Taiwan-based chipmaker is now another major player looking to tap into the trend.

MediaTek's Aster chip, which is the size of a pinky fingernail. (Coffee beans sold separately.) MediaTek

The maker movement, which has drawn in tens of thousands of tinkerers and hobbyists to create their own gadgets, has now attracted major Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek.

The company on Monday unveiled MediaTek Labs, a global effort to provide tools and support to developers, students and makers as they work on what could be the next big thing in tech. The project will first focus on wearable devices and the Internet of Things -- a concept of connecting objects such as lighting fixtures and refrigerators with the Web -- which are both important areas for the chipmaker. But, MediaTek executives said the company has high ambitions for Labs, hoping to support more kinds of products and businesses, with plans to announce more in the next six months.

"We believe that the innovation enabled by MediaTek Labs will drive the next wave of consumer gadgets, and apps that will connect billions of things and people around the world," Marc Naddell, vice president of MediaTek Labs, said.

The project is part of MediaTek's push to raise its profile in the Western world, where it's not a major player. The company's core business is in the East, where it holds a healthy share of Asian markets as a supplier of low-end and midrange chips for mobile devices. Looking to use Labs to gain traction in the US, MediaTek made the project's main hub in San Jose, Calif. -- in the heart of Silicon Valley -- where MediaTek hopes to convince more developers to adopt its products. "Being in San Jose puts us in a really good location for future opportunities and support," Naddell told CNET. Labs teams are also in Stockholm and Taiwan, though Naddell declined to disclose the number of employees focused on the initiative.

He said his company wants to tap into the energy in the do-it-yourself maker culture and hopefully grow with new and hobbyist developers as they come out with products that have market potential.

The maker movement started with Maker Faires, first held in San Mateo, Calif., in 2006 and created by the people behind Make magazine as a mix of science, technology, invention and crafts. Maker Faires are now a core part of the DIY movement and are held in more than 100 locations around the world, including a New York event that attracts 75,000 people each year. Maker Faires have even reached the White House, with the Obama Administration in February announcing a fair at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The MediaTek announcement looks to be another sign of the growing importance of the maker movement and the need for major chipmakers to become active participants in it. MediaTek joins Intel in the space, which last year started offering its Galileo developer boards for makers and new entrepreneurs.

MediaTek Labs is offering a platform it calls LinkIt for $79, which includes its own Aster chip, a processor the size of a pinky fingernail that's used for wearables, and companion Wi-Fi and GPS chipsets. Hardware and software tools are included. The MediaTek Labs website will provide additional information and support. Comparatively, Intel's Galileo boards are available for about $65.