(Image courtesy of Samsung, Flickr).

Combining Software Standards for the Internet of Things

Oct. 17, 2016
The Open Connectivity Foundation is merging with the Allseen Alliance to draft standard software for getting devices like light bulbs and thermostats to swap information.

When the Open Connectivity Foundation said in February that it was adding new members to write standard software for household gadgets, Qualcomm’s name stood out. For years, the wireless chipmaker had cultivated an almost identical project, and now it was throwing support behind a rival standard.

But that only lasted until last week, when the Open Connectivity Foundation said that it was merging with the Allseen Alliance, an organization that Qualcomm formed in 2013. It had drafted rival software – also known as an application layer – for allowing devices like light bulbs and thermostats to talk with each other and swap information.

It is one of the latest and most significant attempts yet at solving compatibility problems between devices. For instance, a washing machine using the Allseen Alliance’s AllJoyn software might not be able to send notification about when the laundry is finished to a television running other software.

The Open Connectivity Foundation said that it would transfer the best aspects of the AllJoyn standard to its IoTivity software. In addition, devices running on either software will be compatible with the new standard.

That does not mean that the Open Connectivity Foundation will suddenly connect a kaleidoscope of existing products, known as the Internet of Things. There are many standards competing to translate information between devices. Others are Zigbee and Z-Wave, which both include wireless technology for transmitting data, and EnOcean and BacNet, which target sensors installed in office buildings and warehouses.

Qualcomm was one of the earliest companies to propose gluing standard software for the Internet of Things over wireless technologies. The Open Connectivity Foundation, which was founded by Intel and Samsung Electronics as the Open Interconnect Consortium in 2014, followed with its first application layer late last year.

In the view of industry executives, merging the two groups is a step toward expanding the Internet of Things. “By coming together as one group, we are able to make IoT a more seamless, secure experience for everyone involved, from developers to end users,” said Daniel Lousberg, the Allseen Alliance’s chairman, in a statement.

Their new standard could also become a bigger threat to companies like Apple and Google, which are working on universal translators for household devices. Along with Amazon, they have recoiled from organizations like the Allseen Alliance, which make open-source software.

It is unclear whether Apple and Google are willing to sacrifice control over critical layers of software inside smart household devices. And these companies are clearly trying to control every aspect of their products. Google has started making hardware, including its Home speakers, Pixel smartphones, and thermostats, security cameras, and smoke detectors designed by Nest Labs, the smart home division of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Apple is still trying to turn the iPhone into the smart home’s remote control, while Amazon is allowing developers to build devices that interact with its popular Echo speakers.  

(Image courtesy of Nest).

Other organizations had only made the equivalent of opening chess moves, waiting for one standard to break from the herd. Last year, for instance, the Zigbee Alliance, which maintains radio technology and software, said that it would make it application layer compatible with Thread wireless technology.

Other attempted to bridge gaps between different standards. Microsoft, an Allseen Alliance member since 2014, released code last year allowed devices sharing information with older standards like Z-Wave to interact with AllJoyn devices.

But these efforts have occurred without input from Google and Apple, which are creating islands of software for controlling household devices. In 2015, Google announced that it would offer software, also known as Weave, which would grant permission for devices to share information with each other and a central smartphone app. Nest has developed an application layer also called Weave, but it is distinct from Google's software.

Apple is also trying to build a central controller for connected devices with its Homekit. Released in late 2014 with consumer electronics partners like Philips and Honeywell, Homekit allows users to control garage door openers and security cameras using an app on their iPhones.

But the board of directors for the new Open Connectivity Foundation suggests the reach that an industry standard might have. It will include executives from Cisco, GE Digital, Haier, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Samsung Electronics, among others.

“We are focused on building the most robust, open IoT software solution to achieve our vision – complete interoperability,” said Mike Richmond, executive director of the Open Connectivity Foundation, in a statement.

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