Following the news two weeks ago that the ULE Alliance would move to support the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn framework, we made sure to pay the two a visit at IFA. The move adds a very capable PHY layer to the AllJoyn stack, which was recently boosted by Microsoft’s decision to add the AllJoyn stack and software to Windows 10, with Microsoft also donating its Z-Wave bridge to the Alliance’s work.
It looks like AllJoyn is taking the lead, with its main rival, the Open Interconnect Consortium and its IoTivity framework, only due to shortly release its spec to the public – while AllJoyn has already been deployed on some 100m devices.
At the AllSeen booth, Qualcomm was on hand to show off its new 4010 WiFi chip, which integrates a microcontroller as well as the WiFi functionality to help reduce design complexity and manufacturing costs. Also on display were developer boards from Freescale, Renesas and STMicro, with support for the 4002 WiFi module.
Qualcomm’s 4531 Linux development platform was also on hand, powered by a MIPS SoC with 2×2 802.11n WiFi. Qualcomm confirmed that there would soon be new additions to the 4000 range of chips, with the completion of the CSR acquisition to add Bluetooth audio modules and 802.15.4 to the AllPlay range – the product Qualcomm sells as the basis of wireless audio products, which saw the initial deployment of AllJoyn devices in the wild.
Next up, we moved to the wot.io stand, where Andrew Khoury was on hand to walk us through the mechanics behind the company’s data handling platform. Khoury explained that wot.io was using bridging software from Higgins, also at the show, to translate AllJoyn to the cloud – as AllJoyn is inherently a local protocol and needs to be interfaced with at some point if you want to control it over the internet, as it is not an IP protocol.
Once parsed by the Higgins bridge, the data is passed to the Data Service Exchange, where it can be pushed to a number of platforms. We were walked through bip.io, Scriptr and Circonus processes, and drag and drop environments that let users push this data into other apps or processes.
The idea behind platforms like wot.io is to easily turn the data that you can collect from end-devices and extract value from it – whether it’s just a case of identity or asset management or something much more complicated. The wot.io platform has been built to make that as simple as possible, so that developers who don’t have data or cloud expertise can more easily add the function to their products and services.
We also took a look at Kii’s cloud platform, which promises to remove the complexity of managing multiple vendors and SDKs, as well as simplifying the testing and deployment process to reduce IT expenditure. The service provides an entire software stack, and can also be supplied as a fully managed service, in public or private cloud deployments.
The system can also pull analytics and usage data from its deployment, with measuring tools from Kii that should provide greater insight and opportunities for ROI. Kii is currently powering some 10m NTT Docomo devices, and its AllJoyn integration will add a new range of devices to its offering. An example given was a child-tracker device that used AllJoyn at the local level, but was bridged to the cloud.
Next up was Chariot, which builds an OS and middleware for IoT devices that enables rapid device on-boarding, push notifications and over the air updates. Chariot was acquired by Affinegy, and started out as a home network management platform used by Telkom SA and Vodafone. Via Chariot’s platform, companies can interact with AllJoyn devices, as the protocol is local only, but Chariot also serves as a way to link AllJoyn and non-AllJoyn devices.
We eventually made it to the Higgins stand, where we met James Kane, who explained that Higgins had been working with AllJoyn before the company was spun out from parent Two Bulls. Kane said that there were OpenWRT versions of the Higgins software, which means that it can be installed on all sorts of devices, from routers to refrigerators.
The Higgins software has two layers; the lower level functionality and the user interface (for devices that will use Higgins as the main interface). Hierarchies and rules can be built into the system, and the platform is able to synchronize rules and events between multiple instances of Higgins on the network – meaning that messages shouldn’t be lost in the ether.
A Higgins app is available on end-devices, but it is also available in white-label offerings, something that Kane said is often the case with brands. Consequently, Higgins and AllJoyn present a means of bridging the gaps between different brands, as if the app gets enough traction, its lower layer functionality could provide stepping stones between the likes of Electrolux, a current customer, and others which choose to adopt Higgins.
The ULE Alliance booth – voice-powered smart home kit:
A few halls away, the ULE Alliance was on show at IFA, with a number of hardware partners demonstrating their portfolios to the public. We met Avi Barel, the Alliance’s business development director, who gave us an overview of the initial progress with the new ULE certification initiative.
With 9 products certified in the past month, Barel said the alliance is aiming for 40 by the end of the year. Barel said that support for legacy devices was also being worked on via the AllJoyn Core group. Aiming to create the legacy hub functionality in software, which can then be run on the hub itself
We saw a developer kit from Lantiq, which was acquired recently by Intel to expand Intel’s footprint in CPE from predominantly DOCSIS-based cable modems into Lantiq’s area of expertise – DSL, LTE and GPON gateways and home equipment.
Also on the booth was Gigaset, which has expanded from its beginnings in cordless phones using DECT, the protocol that ULE (Ultra Low Energy) is based on. Over time, Gigaset now sells a range of home convenience devices, with a €200 starter kit plus free app.
With numerous devices including buttons for triggering rules, smart plugs, and an IP camera, Gigaset predominantly uses Dialog Semiconductor chips in its designs, and sells primarily in Western Europe. We also spotted a Bluetooth beacon called the G-Tag, which would allow users to set proximity alerts and location finding for things like lost keys or not forgetting items before the morning commute.
V-Tech has a pretty similar past and present to Gigaset, and told us that its platform was already being bundled by Deutsche Telekom in Germany. The company’s base unit, garage door opener and window sensor are ULE certified already, and the base unit is capable of bridging to IP off-the-shelf. The company also produces an RGB LED smart bulb, which we think is the first remotely controllable RGB lighting product that’s ULE compatible.
Higgins made another appearance, in a gateway demonstration, before we moved on to look at DSP’s stand, which prominently displayed the motto “Give the IoT a Voice.” Key to that ambition is ULE’s ability to carry voice data, thanks to DECT, and because of this feature, DSP has built a smoke alarm that has an integrated microphone – in order to provide voice-control functions to a smart home.
Raz Kivelevich-Carmi, DSP’s VP Marketing and Business Development, walked us through the lineup, and explained that the voice functionality meant different types of devices could be built using the spec. Simple command speech patterns can be stored on actuator devices, so that things like light switches can quickly respond to commands, which are essentially pre-programmed.
Some voice commands will require processing on more powerful devices, and for this, ULE enjoys QoS guarantees for carrying voice data that WiFi doesn’t – something that should improve its performance, particularly in crowded urban networks. Developers could set up voice patterns to be processed on a central base unit, but that processing can also take place in the cloud – depending on the complexity of the question or command.
With the smoke alarm that Kivelevich-Carmi showed us, a home using ULE could very quickly get whole-home voice-command functionality, as well as a suite of audio analytics that can be combined with other services in the home. An example given was using the microphone in the smoke alarm to wait for audio prompts from the environment – so that a triggered motion alarm in the system can query the state of the home, as a dog barking or a window being smashed have two very different implications.
That system can record suspicious activity too, in case the data is needed at a later date – whether for a prosecution, or simply to create event-based histories for a home. In addition, the voice command function can have different levels of authentication. This means that anyone could command a lightswitch to turn off, but that a homeowner would be secure in the knowledge that their kids or an outsider wouldn’t be able to issue commands to the home, as they had trained the system to respond to only their voice – with unique voice signatures for things like locks.
The last company we spoke to at the ULE booth was Crow Electronic Engineering, where Jean-Claude Bennoun, VP Business Development, was on hand to show us Crow’s range of devices and sensors. A designer and manufacturer of professional security systems, Bennoun said that ULE was a path to allow Crow to transition from a B2B model into the direct-to-consumer DIY market. In so doing, Crow moved from its own proprietary protocol, and now can say it has the first ULE certified module for sale.
Bennoun showed us a range of motion sensors, as well as a 4-in-1 unit that combined ambient temperature, a magnetic open/close sensor, water-triggered flood detection, and a wired probe to detect specific temperatures – whether that’s an indoor or outdoor measurement. That 4-in-1 hub is already being sold to refrigerator manufacturers, as well as to V-Tech, Deutsche Telekom, Turkcell and a number of others. Bennoun also pointed out that Crow was able to manufacture its sensors, all done in Israel, to different specs and industrial designs in a white-label offering.
A breaking-glass sensor and a narrow-focused window monitor were particularly interesting, as the traditional magnetic open/close sensors can only arm a security system when the windows are shut – something that you may want to avoid in hot countries. The Crow solution is a wall-mounted sensor that essentially looks down the edge of the wall to ensure that there is no motion near an open window, so that the window can be left open to provide eco-friendly ventilation, but the security system can remain armed.
Crow also showed us a camera that can use ULE to send short bursts of frames, for use in ID verification. ULE can’t provide the bandwidth needed for high-quality video, but it can be used to capture stills or small sections of an event (such as a caller at an intercom system), and still provide that battery-powered option that is very convenient to install.
Also on the stand was a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, which also offered the same option for voice functionality as the DSP device, as well as smart plugs and different iterations of the aforementioned 4-in-1 unit. The smart plug was able to provide metering information too, which is a pretty compelling consumer use-case.