Google inserted itself into the middle of the fast-growing Internet of Things and smart home arena last week with the announcement of an Android-based IoT operating system called Brillo and an API standard, aptly dubbed Weave. Brillo and Weave are being billed as Google's next move into the smart home, but what is a smart home, and why is Google so interested?
You hear the term smart home everywhere, usually in association with home security systems or appliances that tell you when they need something. Google was already involved in smart home technology after last year's $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, a firm that produces smart, self-learning, thermostats and fire alarms. Google acquired Nest to obtain a competitive advantage in providing the hub of the smart home.
Meanwhile, Apple is working on HomeKit - a development kit that enables families to control heating, lighting, security and other home appliances via a wearable Apple device. If Apple and Google are piling in, then the smart home clearly is a huge opportunity. And, many other companies whose products are traditionally found in the home, such as appliance manufacturers and cable TV providers, are incorporating this vision into their strategy.
But actually Brillo and Weave have much more potential than just the smart home. Brillo is a very simple operating system that can run on simple devices. Weave provides a protocol for devices to talk to each other. So they can go even further than the home and provide a platform for all sorts of sensor-enabled devices in the coming world of the "smart city:" parking meters, doors, street lamps, road signs, traffic lights - anything you can imagine. In a smart city, like a smart home, we can optimize the way the city runs, based on real-time data. Before we get too carried away, let's remember that Brillo and Weave just provide the basic infrastructure to get devices talking. It is actually the layers on top of these technologies - the smart Big Data analytics that I call "Thingalytics" - that make the world "smart." But getting the devices operational and talking is the key first step - and making this easy is really important. Which is why Google's announcement is so exciting. Let's imagine what we can do with smart devices plus Thingalytics.
Firstly, what's the point of the smart home? For example, why do you need a refrigerator that tells you when you need milk? The truth is, the smart home goes a lot further than this, and is much more world-changing than that.
Equipping appliances with "senses" gives them "feelings" and the ability to call out for action or help. The data that arises from these sensors can give a manufacturer the insight needed to predict when your appliance will need maintenance. Or it can be combined with other online information so that your smart stove can monitor a complex dish and automatically adjust the temperature in the oven, while showing you progress on your TV.
Your smart fridge can automatically order new water filters for your refrigerator and even add to your shopping list. Your smart TV can create a personalized content stream that learns what you like and even tailors commercials to you.
An interesting side effect to the smart home is how the visibility of the information across multiple homes can educate service suppliers to plan better, improve their products, use less energy and fewer resources and just generally make the world a better place.
Going further, smart homes can offer visibility into how people are using energy, enabling power companies to waste less of the Earth's resources. The smart home will also have smart meters that can be connected to the energy markets - purchasing energy from the most cost-effective supplier and routing that energy the same way packets are routed on the Internet. This is end-to-end Thingalytics - from the power grid to suppliers to home.
We could move to a world where there are incentives, financial or otherwise, for customers to anonymously share information about activities in the home to third parties that can benefit from the knowledge derived. Going further, those third parties can provide insight to service providers outside the home. For example, data indicating that bad weather is keeping more people at home might translate into reduced demand for subway trains in the city - thus saving the city money and reducing our carbon footprint.
And beyond the home, as the smart city evolves, we'll have street lamps that only come on when someone is there, traffic systems that dynamically reroute based on what's happening on the roads, buildings that optimize themselves to the number of people and weather conditions - so much is possible. The smart home is just a microcosm of what will happen in smart cities.
All these things are possible once sensored devices are connected to the Internet and then using digital technology, real-time analytics and algorithms to guide you through the maze of fast Big Data arising from the IoT.
And now Google has entered the fray, bringing its size and presence in the search and mobile technology world. It won't be long before every home is a smart home and every city is a smart city.