IoT Time Preview: Smart Home Chapter

By Ken Briodagh March 02, 2017

IoT Evolution, the leading media brand for the Internet of Things (IoT), has published a book outlining more than 150 of the leading trends in the IoT industry, entitled “IoT Time: Evolving Trends in the Internet of Things.” The book, written by IoT Evolution Editorial Director, Ken Briodagh, seeks to explore the factors that have shaped the recent past of the developing industry and use those to predict the trends that will drive the next period of growth. Each of the trends is explicated and illustrated with a case study or product review that supports each position.

In this weekly series, we’ll be previewing chapters for you to read in the hopes that you’ll like enough to read the whole thing. To do just that, for free, click here. Alternatively, there’s a paperback version available on Amazon for $14.99.

Chapter 1: Smart Home
Trend: Acquisition and diversification
Comcast Buys Icontrol Networks Division

Comcast is in millions of homes already, but it wanted a bigger bite. Making a big step in that direction, the company acquired part of Icontrol Networks Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that creates technology and platforms for connected home security and the IoT.

The two companies have been partners since Comcast launched Xfinity Home in 2010, and now Comcast has integrated the Icontrol “Converge” software platform, which powers the Xfinity Home touch-screen panel and back-end servers, allowing those devices to communicate and manage home security sensors. It will also run cameras and thermostats in the home.

“Icontrol has been innovating around the Internet of Things since it was founded in 2003, and built edge-based platforms and technologies that support connected home security for not just Xfinity Home, but for a number of leading MSOs,” said Dan Herscovici, SVP and GM, Xfinity Home in Home, Comcast, in a blog post. “We look forward to continuing to serve customers using the Converge software platform and to growing Icontrol’s wholesale business by accelerating the development of new services and features.”

Trend: Make it easy
Research Shows that DIY is Giving Way to DIFM

The Smart Home market had been dominated by do-it-yourselfers (DIY), early adopters and, to put it plainly, nerds, up until the last year. But, that has changed, according to research revealed this year from Icontrol Networks, a connected home platform developer.

The report returned that “do-it-for-me” (DIFM) folks are increasingly happy with easier to use Smart Home products. Icontrol's DIFM Smart Home Survey respondents said that they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their systems. Beyond satisfaction, those with professionally-installed solutions feel the cost is justified: about 96 percent said they would purchase their systems again and 98 percent would want professional installations again.

“These survey findings validate the importance of the do-it-for-me market in smart home adoption overall, with incredible customer satisfaction rates from decision to purchase through use,” said Bob Hagerty, CEO, Icontrol Networks. “This data should be an eye-opener for what we can expect in the future of smart home adoption. No one size fits all when it comes to the smart home and consumers want the option to choose what fits their lifestyles and needs.”

While 98 percent of respondents said their systems were easy to learn and use, most are still using their systems for single-device control instead of whole home automation where devices work together. When asked about difficulty of usage, most reported setting alerts, schedules and automation rules as the most difficult features of the system to use.

While security and data concerns are typically the biggest smart home topics, these proved to be less of a concern for DIFM customers. Of the total respondents, 97.4 percent agree or strongly agree that their systems will not be accessed illegally and nearly 91 percent agree or strongly agree that their data will not be used for marketing purposes.

Trend: It’s all about the users
Development Guidelines for Devices

Nick Swenson, Founding Partner, Swenson He, a boutique software engineering firm specializing in the Internet of Things as well as other emerging technologies and platforms, said that there is a clear path for successful IoT development for manufacturers who want to develop innovative, user-friendly products.

He wrote that 3 principles must be followed when designing a home product that interfaces with a mobile app.

First, keep it simple. A mobile app should simplify user experience (UX). Some manufacturers have rushed to release connected products that sacrifice simplicity for flash. Swenson called out Nespresso for its Prodigio one-cup espresso maker, which uses a mobile app that allows users to order refills, remotely start brewing, and schedule brewing, which he said actually complicates things for users.

Second, add value with function. Mobile apps must provide additional functionality. Smartphone users are already familiar with UX paradigms of mobile apps, giving manufacturers the opportunity to add functions that were never before possible.

Third, know the users. A connected product must provide capabilities an advanced user would expect. The average user purchasing a connected home product is more likely to be an advanced user. Anova recently released a connected precision cooker that allows users to monitor and set cooking temperature and timers based on pre-conceived recipes in the app. Advanced users have been critical because it impossible to deviate from those recipes due to lack of a manual override feature.

Trend: Make it interoperable
Arrayent Introduces EcoAdaptor for Nest Developers

Smart Home found itself at a crossroads. Consumers were not flocking into the ecosystem nearly quickly enough to satisfy the number of products being released. One of the factors holding up that process was interoperability.

Arrayent, the developer of the Arrayent Connect IoT platform released in 2016 its first commercially available EcoAdaptor, for Nest. The EcoAdaptor for Nest was designed to help global brand owners reduce time to deployment associated with the Works with Nest product certification process.

Arrayent said it expects that forthcoming adapters will expand the ability for connected products to interact with other IoT platform APIs in a secure and scalable way.

“Our customers want to expand their businesses beyond stand-alone products to create service-oriented ecosystems that integrate through Cloud-to-Cloud connections,” said Cyril Brignone, CEO, Arrayent. “With our new EcoAdaptor for Nest, our global brand customers can more quickly build on the Works with Nest API to increase the functionality and value of their own products.”

The EcoAdaptor program is made many strides toward using APIs to encourage interoperability in a way that the Connected Home markets needs. As more and more companies do likewise, it is to be expected that consumers will find ways to bring their homes into ever more connected systems of things. And that’s a win all around.

Trend: Innovate to succeed
Conexant Announces New Technology

Conexant, a software developer and fabless semiconductor company that provides solutions for voice and audio processing, introduced a variety of solutions in 2016.

The RoomAware Optimizer processing solution was designed to improve consumers’ listening experiences from the existing speakers in a TV. The new solution was added into LG Electronics 2016 OLED and UHD TVs. LG called the feature “Magic Sound Tuning.” The tool automatically adapts speaker output to a room’s acoustics and the location of the TV in the room.

“We have a longstanding, strategic relationship with LG and we're pleased that RoomAware Optimizer will be widely available in their new line of OLED and UHD TVs with the Magic Remote,” said Saleel Awsare, SVP and general manager, Conexant.

Another device that Conexant announced was its CX20926 low-power audio/sensor SoC, which brings voice control to battery-powered devices. The chip inside the device features always-listening, voice-activated wake-up capabilities that turn battery-operated devices like smart voice remote controls, wearables and headsets into smart applications. With the CX20926, devices are always listening for wake-up voice commands while the device is powered off, which saves battery resources.

“Our new chip takes everything we've done for these markets and brings it to low-power, battery-run applications -paving the way for consumers to use their voice to take control of the devices they use most,” said Awsare.

The third device that Conexant unveiled was its 4 Microphone Far-Field Voice Input Processor. The device uses the company’s Smart Source Locator (SSL) and speech recognition in far-field conditions of up to five meters away from the target device to add voice controls to third-party apps and devices.

“Conexant's audio solutions allow people to control everything from their tablets to home appliances using only their voice, and the CX20924 takes this to the next level by adding environmental cues and directional awareness into the mix,” Awsare said.

Trend: Multi-purpose lighting
Smart Home Gateway Lights Up the IoT

Lighting emerged as a key element in the emerging Smart Home, and I saw in-home lights begin housing many IoT functions, like Wi-Fi nodes, Bluetooth beacons and security features.

Gooee, a smart lighting ecosystem provider that connects OEMs to the IoT, developed a multi-protocol enterprise IoT gateway that connects lighting and sensing devices to its cloud platform. It was developed to include a cloud-integrated OS, so it can support multiple communication protocols like Bluetooth, Zigbee and WiFi and Ethernet and Serial ports.

“In the early stages of our eco-system’s development we planned to work with existing gateway devices, but were unable to find anything that offered the adequate support for our platform to run efficiently and reliably,” said Simon Coombes, CTO, Gooee. 

The Gooee gateway also has an ARM-based processor, operates offline through a local and secure RESTful API and MQTT over WebSockets, and allows third-party service integrations thanks to a localized secure app-container. It runs Gooee’s Bluetooth Mesh, which was engineered for the company’s lighting and sensing end-points to handle the bandwidth needed for the volume of sensing data created. Gooee also created and built a device to extend the range and end-point count that the gateway can support, called the Puck. It’s a power-over-Ethernet to Bluetooth extender device that runs Mesh protocol and works with the gateway to extend the device’s range and increase the number of end-point ‘hubs’ that are managed by the technology.

"Ensuring we can handle the wide range of environments is critical, so having offline capabilities with a local, security conscious API, and a distributed multi-gateway environment means we offer our customers better performance levels found within costly on-premise hardware,” Simon added. “Many hub and gateway manufacturers claim their devices support thousands of end-points, in some cases tens of thousands. That might be possible if you need a limited amount of control and are just turning groups of lights on and off. At Gooee, we are dealing with individual end-point control and a vast sensory network generating large quantities of environmental and energy data – put simply, our gateway is designed for this kind of enterprise scale.”

Trend: Consumer demand leads, IoT follows
From Smart Meters to Rooftop Solar

Customer satisfaction and expectation metrics are important benchmarks in the developing IoT. Deepak Garg, chairman and CEO, Smart Utility Systems, wrote that the ability to match good customer experiences with their needs and wants is a winning combination, and that companies that fail to use the tools to exceed expectations will often fail.

One key area in which this happened in 2016 was in energy and water sustainability. There are many reasons for these utilities to proactively engage customers, not least because disengaged customers are less satisfied with services, which leads to reduced margins. Garg wrote that utility companies that do not provide customer-centric experiences will fall behind on the conservation targets, miss new emerging business opportunities in the areas of distributed energy and electric vehicles, and miss an important opportunity for operational efficiency and reducing the cost-to-serve.

Garg saw three main strategies in play. The big one was that customers want to be the center of experiences. They don’t want to adapt to the company’s process or needs, but instead want to receive catered service. And consumers are willing to spend more money with businesses that adopt the consumer-centric approach and make products and services fit into the customer’s lifestyle. 24/7 Interaction was also important to consumers. If consumers have questions, they want instant answers. If they want to make a purchase, they won’t wait for typical brick-and-mortar hours for assistance. Finally, multi-channel access and live engagement were very important for making utility services fit easily into consumers’ lives. Garg wrote that typical utility customers want to know about their bill, usage, and efficiency programs, and they don’t want to wait to receive a paper bill or mailer to get this information.

Providers personalized service options and messaging, based on customers’ energy and water use behavior, and used the data to develop tech solutions that are customer centric, available 24/7 and provide multi-channel access.

As an example, Phillips has been meeting the customer desire to save money with energy saving light bulbs that cost just under $10 while using 75 percent less energy than standard light bulbs.

Trend: Smart Metering
Report Calls Smart Utility Meters the IoT Dark Horse

Analyst firm Mobile Experts released its “Smart Utility Meters 2016” report, which attempted to lay out a description of IoT connectivity for utility metering.

Unlike many other IoT markets, the report asserted, the Smart Utility Meter market is well developed, with about 48 million smart meters currently deployed every year. The market started with Automatic Meter Reading to reduce labor costs, but in the past year, the technology has expanded capabilities such that utilities can control individual service, offer differentiated pricing, and manage services.

Trend: Indian Smart Home Expansion
Silvan Unveils New Range of IoT Devices for India

Silvan, a developer of home-automation products and solutions in India, launched a suite of consumer home IoT products: CBELL, SECURE, CUBO, LUMOS, and zPLY. They address entrance management, security, comfort & convenience, and entertainment. Silvan Innovation Labs is one of the fastest growing companies in India in the builder-driven home automation space. Its three product lines include: Consumer wireless, retrofit products meant for existing homes and taken to market through retail channels; project series products for wired completely integrated systems that handle sophisticated and integrated automation needs for new homes; and integrated property service management cloud software that provides value-added services like centralized security monitoring.

Trend: South Korean Innovation
SK Telecom and Conexant Use Speech Recognition for First Smart Speaker in Korea

Conexant Systems, a provider of audio and voice technology solutions, and SK Telecom, Korea’s largest mobile carrier, began work on implementing far-field voice solutions. This made the AudioSmart Smart Home hub hear users’ requests more accurately at a distance.

Enabling speech recognition and voice control from a distance in smart platforms required overcoming the challenges of echo cancellation, background noise, microphone speaker position and several more.

“As the voice-enabled revolution continues to shift the way people interact with devices of all types, reliance on speech enhancement technologies that help devices hear user commands more accurately will continue to grow,” said Saleel Awsare, President, Conexant. “Conexant has been a leading provider of voice processing solutions that improve speech recognition accuracy and enable advanced voice capabilities for years. We are pleased to be working with SKT to bolster the speech recognition performance of their NUGU smart speaker.”

Trend: Insurance as IoT industry
ROC-Connect Launches IoT Home Safety Solutions to Help Insurance Companies

ROC-Connect, an IoT platform provider and creator of the smart home brand OZOM, announced a suite of new home safety solutions designed to help insurers protect their investments, while giving consumers an easy way to protect their homes from fire, flood, and frost. Customers use a smartphone to monitor remotely, and evaluate risks using a new Home Safety Scorecard.

ROC-Connect offered the safety kit and scorecard to insurance companies as a turnkey solution including distribution to the insurers’ customers. The new IoT solutions were set to help insurance providers mitigate risk, reduce claims, improve customer engagement, and generate new revenues.

“We’re giving insurance companies a turnkey solution that will help them exploit the IoT and engage more effectively with their customers,” said Marcus Scheiber, CEO and co-founder, ROC-Connect. “Insurers can move from simply reacting to events to become more proactive, offering their consumers simple and affordable solutions to make homes safer.”

The Home Safety Kit includes fire and water sensors which are monitored around the clock and link directly to emergency services. A broad range of other smart home and IoT devices can be added to the system, including home automation. The Smart Home Kit and Home Safety Scorecard are both supported by the ROC-Master App, allowing insurance companies to stay in constant communication and improve their relationships with homeowners. Insurers can tailor messaging to a homeowner with local weather alerts and advice to help manage any known local hazards such as a bushfire or flood.

In this weekly series, we’ll be previewing chapters for you to read in the hopes that you’ll like enough to read the whole thing. To do just that, for free, click here. Alternatively, there’s a paperback version available on Amazon for $14.99.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Editorial Director

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