The internet of things gets industrial strength collaboration with GE, Electric Imp & Quirky

Electric Imp, the startup trying to build hardware that makes it easy to turn any idea into a connected device, has signed a deal to provide its hardware and cloud services to companies participating in a GE-led hardware challenge.(s ge) The industrial conglomerate said last week that it would team up with industrial product design site, Quirky, to enable people to build new connected devices.

For Electric Imp the partnership is a validation of its approach to the internet of things and a chance to help bring a proven model of innovation to the hardware hackers trying to build products for the internet of things. It’s also a showcase for the new hardware development model pioneered by Quirky and taken even further by crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indigogo.

Last Thursday, GE said it would open up its hardware patents for a Quirky-sponsored design competition. The goal of the competition it to bring a few connected devices from idea to physical product in time for the 2013 holiday season. From the blog post announcing the partnership:

GE will open thousands of its most promising patents and new technologies to the Quirky community for the development of new consumer products; and a co-branded product development initiative to build a full line of app-enabled connected devices for the home in areas such as health, security, water or air that will be developed using advanced manufacturing tools and technologies. This new line of products will be co-branded Wink: Instantly Connected.

GE will open up patents in the areas of optical systems, including holographic and fast-focusing lens technologies, GE’s Ultra-High Barrier thin-film technology to protect electronics form the elements and GE’s telematics and asset tracking technology. Add in Electric Imp’s connectivity modules and the cloud backend and inventors can create connected products that could become powerful monitoring applications that could be used for environmental scanning, security and a variety of other purposes.

The collaboration between GE and Quirky has an April 17 deadline, which is pretty quick, but there will be later iterations of the competition as well. The idea reminds me somewhat of the Innocentive model, where corporations post research challenges online in the Innocentive community and entrepreneurs or researchers post answers.

The challenge in the research business was in finding ways to crowdsource solutions to complicated problems in a way that enticed people to participate. In the burgeoning hardware development movement there are several challenges, including a possible patent thicket innovators have to clear. There are also the complexities of getting connectivity into devices and then building out services that can use that networked hardware. Designing a physical product for manufacturing is another area where startups can fail.

Thus, this partnership tries to eliminate as many stumbling blocks as possible, which is why it’s worth watching.