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Marvell chip makes appliances and LED lights 'smart'

The Internet of things starts at home: Marvell at CES introduces a chipset for networking appliances and LED bulbs wirelessly.

A wirelessly-enabled dishwasher from Kenmore, one of many smart appliances being developed. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Marvell Semiconductor is trying to get in on the ground floor of the smart home.

Today at the Consumer Electronics Show, the company announced a chipset that can add wireless networking to home appliances and LED light fixtures. The gear is designed to make it relatively cheap for manufacturers to make connected versions of common goods, such as thermostats and dishwashers.

A smart home that lets people remotely monitor and control appliances and electronics is likely to be a theme at CES this year as it was last year.


One of the technical challenges with making household items network-aware is that they typically don't have very much computing power. Marvell's Smart Appliances Platform includes a Wi-Fi wireless networking chip as well as a microcontroller to handle the processing involved in communicating with other devices, such as a smart meter or home control application.

The package also includes software that makes it relatively straightforward to write connected-appliance applications that can run on iOS or Android, said Kishore Manghnani, vice president of the green technology products group at Marvell. A dishwasher manufacturer, for example, could write an application so that a technician could remotely diagnose problems, or to allow a consumer to remotely control it.

Marvell has one appliance manufacturer that is planning on releasing a smart appliance based on the system in the second half of this year. With an added cost of $5, the net increase cost of a connected appliance to consumers is about $10, according to the company.

Marvell has created a similar platform aimed at lighting fixture and controller manufacturers. It's first targeting commercial lighting and then hopes to address the consumer market.

The system uses Zigbee wireless chips, which would be embedded into a light fixture's controller, and a small gateway device, which can communicate with 200 individual fixtures or bulbs.

At CES, Marvell plans to demonstrate how the wireless networking can allow a person to manage and schedule lighting from a central point to improve efficiency.

A number of companies, including Daintree Networks and Enlighted, are making wireless lighting systems intended to lower energy consumption. Marvell's system will add a few dollars of cost to lighting fixtures, which will help drive smart lighting adoption, Manghnani said.