Thursday, 19 May 2011

Google's Android@Home promises to solve compatibility issues for the connected home

Last week saw Google's I/O developers conference in San Francisco. As well as all the smartphone and tablet stuff the thing that really interested me was Android@Home, an initiative to allow control of connected home devices such as HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), lighting and security via the Android platform.

This is all great news for home automation Android@Home promises to be more user-friendly and, critically, developer-friendly. The Android Open Accessory Kit is open source, there are "no NDAs, no fees and no approvals process" as pointed out by Joe Britt. One of the issues holding back the connected home has been a lack of standardisation. Lots of different devices using different standards and not interoperable with your central management systems or indeed with each other. A colleague of mine has a horror story about a friend who spent GBP4,000 networking all the lighting in his house only to find that the switches were not compatible with the lights.

Indeed one of the first manifestations of this Android-powered home devices was a lightbulb from Lighting Science Group. Link here. It's damn ugly and at USD40 it not the cheapest but scale should bring down prices significantly.

The approach taken by Google initially appears to differ from the prevailing tide of home automation because it concerns itself first and foremost with the end points. Make those compatible with Android and everything else is irrelevant. No proprietary central device management. Just the smartphone, compatible with any end device. But, it seems that one can't get away from the idea of a central hub and a semi-proprietary technology.

Google is looking at introducing a wireless mesh networking technology to connect all of the devices. They're a little cautious to reveal too much but it's low cost, low power, not WiFi, not Zigbee and it operates in the 900 band (which is bad for Europe where 900's dominated by GSM and eventually will be refarmed to W-CDMA). There can be up to 500 devices connected, up to 50m apart (I'm not sure about everyone else but that SHOULD be enough for my apartment) and connects via an Android@Home base station. That's all they're saying. Given that many of the applications will be very light in terms of traffic, a few KB a day/week/month, perhaps WiFi isn't the perfect option.

While Google and Android are big proponents of open source systems, should we assume that this new wireless tech will only be usable by Android@Home devices? That's the big question for me.

Machina Research will be publishing a report in June 2011 entitled Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communication in the Intelligent Building 2010-2020 examining the connected home. Furthermore we will also be releasing a report on M2M in the Consumer Electronics sector around the same time. Both are critically affected by announcements such as this. Visit the Machina Research website or email me for more details.

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