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Summary:

Thingsquare, the company behind the lightweight Contiki OS for the internet of things has released development kits that let people build products that go directly online, without going through a hub first.

Adam Dunkels, co-founder and chief architect of ThingSquare.
photo: Sara Arnald

Thingsquare, a company building out a cloud-based platform for the internet of things, released development kits today that let devices go online without going through a hub first. Through its partnership with Texas Instruments it is making development boards available that run its code and on top of TI’s radios and processor.

Because these modules can take a device directly to the internet without passing through a hub first, the idea is that they are good for objects like street lamps and parking meters where hubs don’t make sense.

Thingsquare uses the 2.4 GHz band that’s shared with Wi-Fi over which radios create a mesh network of connected devices, much like the Weightless standard is doing with white spaces between the TV broadcast channels — only the current models of Weightless use a hub to aggregate sensor data. However, a key difference in the two is that Thingsquare is envisioning larger modules whereas Weightless’ model uses tiny embedded sensors.

Still the idea of connecting many items that are outside a home or business network is a real challenge that large and small companies are trying to solve. City streets have access to cellular networks, but airtime on them can be expensive and the radios are pricey as well. Using unlicensed bands means you still need a way back to the internet, but that’s where mesh networks can help.

For Thingsquare, whose clients include the LIFX light bulb and the Tado thermostat, the development kits are the gateway drug to the main revenue stream: a cloud-based service (or software a customer can run on their own servers) that helps manage devices, services and connections. The closest analog to Thingsquare is probably Electric Imp, which sells hardware that connects things to its cloud.

Yes, this means Thingsquare is one of many internet of things platform plays out there, but as this is early days, it’s worth throwing these platforms out there to see what sticks. Adam Dunkels (pictured), the CEO of Thingsquare has a history in this space, developing IoT-ready operating systems and protocols. For more from Dunkels, check out my podcast with him from May.

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  1. Congrats to Adam and the Thingsquare team on this new devkit based on the Texas Instruments CC2538! Paired with Contiki OS, this is a very interesting springboard for applications that benefit from mesh network connectivity.

    I would add precision to the statement that this platform will “let devices go online without going through a hub first”. Unless I’m missing something, a hub/gateway (or cloud router as it’s described on their webpage) is still required to provide Internet connectivity at one of the mesh nodes. Of course, if there’s already a mesh in place, there’s no need to add an additional hub.

    SigFox is one of the few companies with a network in place that allows true hub-free connectivity where devices seamlessly connect to their base stations (they have about 1000 antennae scattered across France). Ultra NarrowBand (UNB) technology makes that possible at the expense of data throughput. Therefore the “things” that SigFox connect and those that Thingsquare connect are in different leagues.

  2. A network of 802.15.4 devices (such as the CC2538) does require a connection to the Internet at one or more points in the mesh, via an 802.11 radio, or a copper Ethernet connection, 3G or whatever. The description of Thingsquare’s hardware kit on their page describes the kit as including “one Internet router for cloud connectivity via Ethernet” to connect the 802.15.4 network to the LAN.

    So the description that “these modules can take a device directly to the internet without passing through a hub first” is perhaps of limited accuracy.

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