Thingsquare Offers Open-Source Firmware to Enable Internet of Things

The "Internet of Things" concept envisions a world in which myriad devices -- from toasters to streetlights to heating thermostats -- exist in the cloud, and can identify and connect with one another seamlessly. Now, a Swedish-based startup is offering a mini-OS that can be built into device microcontrollers to ease the development of devices that are ready for this kind of connectivity.

"The idea behind Thingsquare Mist is to make it easy to connect low-power wireless devices to the Internet, so that they can be connected with smartphone apps or backend databases," Thingsquare chairman and chief architect Adam Dunkels told Design News. "We see a large interest in adding new forms of intelligence to products in the connected home, in smart lighting, and for smart cities -- this is what we call the Internet of Things."

Mist comes in the form of source code that's compiled into a firmware image that can run on a number of battery-powered microcontroller and Systems on a Chip (SoC) platforms. When Mist is designed into a wireless device, it allows that device to connect directly to a smartphone backend. Mist is based on the Contiki OS, which Dunkels himself developed, and supports the IPv6 Internet protocol for connectivity.

Dunkels explained to us how Thingsquare Mist builds a mesh network of devices in this way:

Thingsquare Mist devices build a wireless self-healing mesh network, based on standard Internet protocols. One of the devices has an Ethernet or WiFi connection. This device, called the router, becomes the access point to the Internet. Unlike previous systems, the Thingsquare Mist is very lightweight, and can run on a small 16-bit microcontroller. Existing solutions require a much more complex and costly device, often running a microprocessor large enough to run Linux.

Thingsquare has released the source code for Mist, so engineers can download it and use it with a number of embedded hardware platforms, including microcontrollers from Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics. "We currently support the TI MSP430, the STM32L, the Freescale MC13224v, and the TI CC2538," Dunkels told us.

Thingsquare Mist is already being used in small-device applications, such as a smartphone-connected thermostat from Tado that uses geolocation mapping to control a person's thermostat at home, turning it up and down according to where someone is. For instance, Tado can intelligently detect when the last person leaves a residence and adjust a home heating system accordingly, but then turn it up again before a person arrives home so it's warm by the time he or she gets there.

Thingsquare also is working on a cloud backend for Mist devices, Thingsquare Haven, that it will reveal in a few months' time, Dunkels said. Haven will monitor the status, connectivity, and health of devices connected using Mist.

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