It’s 2018. Your speaker in the kitchen can talk to you. The living room TV knows your favorite shows to binge, and your computer brings up your favorite content before you even have a chance to pull up your web browser. In case you haven’t noticed, technology is advancing, and so are our most beloved products. But what’s behind this change? How in the world does your refrigerator connect to the internet, and what’s allowing our most basic household appliances to suddenly connect to our smartphones? It’s not rocket science, instead, it’s a small, low-cost WiFi microchip known as ESP8266.
In August of 2014, Ai-Thinker developed a module known as ESP-01, which allowed smaller micro-controllers to connect to local WiFi networks. The Chinese manufacturer opened the door for connecting household items to the internet, and paved the way for future innovations. When it first hit the market, the code within the module was strictly Chinese, but hackers quickly began translating it to Western languages, and big business suddenly became involved when corporate entities soon realized the chip could be produced and sold at an extremely low cost.
In late October of 2014 a Shanghai based corporation known as Espressif Systems released a software development kit that allowed users to ditch the outdated micro-controller in exchange for a more sleek, easier to use chip that no longer needed to be controlled by a separate device. The China based firm open sourced all of their developments, allowing hobbyists to tweak the intricate design, giving them the freedom and ability to connect their most basic appliances to the internet.
For now, the ESP8266 acts a key player for hobbyists, but has yet to find its way within commercial products. However, products such as Amazon’s Alexa use extremely similar microchips, the difference being that the large corporation refuses to share highly coveted technology through open sourced data, leaving consumers and competitors in the dark.
Where the ESP8266 really makes a difference, is within the housing market. ‘Smart homes’ are the new trend within upscale neighborhoods littered across the United States, and TV shows across HGTV proudly boast the all-in-one connectivity shared within their newly renovated homes. Without the ESP8266, or a microchip of similar capability, your lights wouldn’t be able to turn on through your phone, and you’d be stuck in the cavemen days where you have to actually get up to change the temperature in the room.