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Weightless reinvigorates its IoT platform, targeting crowded ISM band
Weightless SIG moves from TV white space spectrum into global ISM bands, as progress on white space deployment stalls. Sub-GHz seen as future for Neul's Weightless IoT protocol, but SIG is exploring additional spectrum options, including acquisitions or platform licensing for UHF Weightless-N. Read more

GreenPeak launches new remote control chip and smart home mHealth cloud platform, plans for future without ZigBee
New GP565 remote control chip for smart home enabled set tops and Family Lifestyle cloud-based monitoring platform are the main stories for GreenPeak at IBC. But speaking to CEO Cees Links revealed plans for life after ZigBee and the importance of the cloud rather than the type of connectivity protocol. Read more
More RIoT Research:
  • Ant-sized energy-harvesting radio hints at trillion-device IoT Read more
  • Telecom Italia spreads its IoT favors between Jasper and Ericsson Read more
  • Intel’s new Edison targets wearables, misses mark on IoT apps Read more
  • Logitech leaps into IoT with Harmony whole-home remote and hub Read more
  • EchoStar tease Sage smart home system at IBC Read more
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Around the web:

This week in around the web, Libelium has launched its Smart Logistics platform for asset tracking, Seed has built an “idiot proof” BLE chip and app, aimed at making device discovery simple, and DAQRI launched a smart construction helmet, with HUD visor. For the more code-fluent readers, here’s a look at how to compile and run the AllJoyn package, and a look at Graphene’s potential in IoT, and Apigee has released the open source Zetta program, aimed at bridging disparate IoT APIs.
Luxury home automation brand Vivint buys Space Monkey for its cloud storage expertise, and Google has acquired Lift Labs, the wonderful company behind an auto-balancing spoon for those who struggle to eat due to tremors and other neurological conditions. Also in the connected-utensils sphere, Chinese web giant Baidu has produced contaminant detecting smart chopsticks. CMSWire also quite correctly points out that mobile devices will be the gateways to the IoT, and the Verge wants you to meet the godfather of wearables.
Elsewhere, Interoute picks Wyless to run the Wyless Porthos Management Platform across the Interoute M2M Virtual Data Center, and the GSMA wants SIM cards in every IoT sensor. Gemalto has certified its Cinterion PCS3 M2M module for use on Sprint’s US network. Also, Orbcomm has announced that its 6 new OG2 satellites are now operational.
Here’s a look at 9 scrappy smart home underdogs, and Ecobee released v3.0 of their pre-Nest smart thermostat. IVEE Sleek wants to be the voice control hub for the smart home, and Sony is using Control4 for its device discovery protocol. Network World tries to use a Revolv hub to link a range of separate hubs together, with mixed results, but Revolv has now launched an IFTTT channel.
GM has abandoned its own connected car system in favor of Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay, and Nokia’s HERE mapping division is playing with smart traffic lights and an Oakland County connected car infrastructure ecosystem. Elsewhere in the connected car field, Volvo and Ericsson have partnered to work on Volvo’s Sensus connected car system, and there will be 42 million driverless cars by 2035, from 1.1m in 2024.
Cisco takes a look at retrofitting a dumb city, and here’s a look at DIY smart hydroponics and its potential in smart cities. Aviva Energy has picked SeeControl for enterprise its IoT energy management, and the smart grid proves its worth after Californian earthquake. 43% of US homes (50m) now have smart meters, and lastly, GE and Accenture have partnered to monitor oil and gas installations over the industrial internet.
Weightless reinvigorates its IoT platform, targeting crowded ISM band
One of the factors which may delay some internet of things (IoT) progress is the lack of agreement on standards for wide area machine-to-machine connectivity. As the pros and cons of licensed cellular versus long distance WiFi versus proprietary sub-1GHz solutions are debated, one of the would-be standards, Weightless, has extended its platform into new spectrum bands to boost its relevance.
Weightless was originally developed by UK-based Neul to harness the TV white space (TVWS) license-exempt frequencies. Trials have been run and Neul makes chips, but progress has been limited by the uncertainties over this spectrum. Outside the US, few countries currently allow use of the TVWS for commercial wireless data and so the economies of scale of a global platform seem far off. “We hoped that there would be an opening up of white spaces around the world,” said Professor William Webb, CEO of the Weightless SIG, in an interview with GigaOM. “That simply hasn’t happened.”
So the SIG or industry group which controls the Weightless specifications has announced a new implementation, Weightless-N, targeted at the UHF 800MHz-900MHz spectrum, which include the US’s 900MHz ISM frequencies and the 868MHz band in Europe. Although these frequencies cannot support the speeds of the white spaces version (now called Weightless-W), they are internationally open and have a wide ecosystem already.
These are also target bands for the UltraNarrowBand (UNB) technology which underpins several IoT-focused technologies, also hoping to become de facto standards. These include Sigfox, which has signed partners to deploy M2M networks in several countries already; and Senaptic, a start-up deploying systems based on Plextek’s UNB platform.
So a battle is brewing in the UHF band, which has the good coverage and penetration qualities needed for many wide area M2M networks. Weightless will have some catching-up to do, having originally made a bet on the TV white spaces taking off more rapidly than they have (and in many cases, the momentum behind them is being driven by rural broadband rather than M2M, as seen in Google’s and Microsoft’s trials in Africa). It has started work on a new air interface, necessary for the very narrow ISM bands, and the project is “being progressed systematically through the Weightless SIG working groups and is anticipated to be completed rapidly”, within a 3-6 month timeframe, with trials scheduled for the first half of 2015 and commercial deployments targeted for the end of next year.
Any would-be standard needs scale and broad support to make an impact, and Weightless is seeking this in two ways –by inviting new contributors to its effort, even perhaps rival narrowband solutions; and by extending into as many low frequency bands as possible, potentially offering a solution which IoT-minded cellcos might adopt.
In the first respect, the SIG said in its statement that it “welcomes new members to contribute to the evolution of this important new standard and invites proposals from non-members in the drafting of the specification”. More significantly, it added that it “invites companies that currently have proprietary solutions in this space to engage and adapt these to comply with the new standard”. This is presumably a call to organizations like Plextek and Sigfox to consider joining forces and creating a harmonized solution for the UHF band, dedicated to IoT rather than an adaptation of general purpose standards like WiFi and GSM.
As for additional spectrum options, Weightless will seek to steal a march by going after licensed frequencies in this band too, something it could achieve by acquiring spectrum itself or with partners; or (more likely) by licensing its platform to existing licence holders. In theory, at least, that could provide a licensed spectrum option below 1GHz which would be more optimized for IoT requirements than current licensed solutions – GSM in 900MHz and LTE in 700MHz and 800MHz. The body said: “Weightless-N will typically be deployed in unlicensed spectrum in the region 800-900MHz ... It is also designed to work in licensed spectrum around these frequencies.”
There is a potential market for such a solution in IoT markets, such as smart metering, whose requirements are so different from the mobile broadband assumptions behind the design of LTE. These applications revolve around absolute reliability and ubiquity, but often transmit only small amounts of data on a periodic basis. Platforms such as Sigfox’s are optimized for that type of usage, but they are confined to unlicensed frequencies.
Many applications would do best in licensed spectrum,  for security and QoS reasons, but the cellular technologies come with many question marks. GSM fulfils some coverage, cost and low-power requirements, but is unlikely to last for 10 years or more in most areas and has issues with penetration through walls and pavements. LTE has longer shelf life, and can support the minority of M2M services that require broadband, but it is optimized for mobility, which is generally unnecessary in M2M. Neither of the cellular options have driven terminals down to the cost levels claimed by Sigfox and Plextek, despite their scale. And although the 3GPP is working on LTE adaptations optimized for M2M, with low cost terminals and simplified protocols, this is part of Release 12 and so commercial availability will be at least another year to wait.
Then there is WiFi, also unlicensed-only, but with many extensions to improve its security and QoS. The 802.11ah effort is pushing WiFi from its traditional high frequency bands into the 900MHz ISM spectrum, though the standard is unlikely to be included in mainstream commercial products until the second half of 2015. However, companies are already working on pre-standard developments – for instance Greek start-up Antcor showed off silicon IP for 900MHz WiFi at this year’s Mobile World Congress. It will target home and industrial automation and will cooperate with Bluetooth or ZigBee for the “last few centimetres”.
The 11ah specification supports data rates from 150Kbps in a 1MHz band to as much as 40Mbps over 8MHz. Because of the low frequency, it can achieve at least 50% longer distances than conventional 11n Wi-Fi in 2.4GHz or 5GHz. Among the giants involved in the effort are Broadcom, CSR, Huawei, Intel, LG, Marvell, NEC, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Samsung and ZTE.
To ensure that Weightless takes its place in the pantheon of wireless IoT standards, rather than becoming a curiosity like some of its predecessors in the UHF spectrum, it will need to secure the interest of a similar line-up of silicon makers, though the real breakthrough might well be a major operator partnership, allowing it to turn its licensed spectrum developments into real differentiation.
Webb said in a statement: “Enabling the vision of 50bn connected devices requires chipset costs below $2, battery life of 10 years or more and a range of five kilometers or more to ensure ubiquitous coverage from a low cost network. The current Weightless standard delivers on this promise using the TV white space spectrum and provides a feature rich solution, but is subject to regional licensing limitations. Weightless-N aligns with Weightless values and offers geographical ubiquity, right now.”
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GreenPeak launches new remote control chip and smart home mHealth cloud platform, plans for future without ZigBee

GreenPeak used IBC to showcase the launch of a new ZigBee chip and Family Lifestyle cloud platform, but when RIoT sat down with CEO Cees Links, we found that the company is already planning for a future without ZigBee. Links was fairly nonchalant about the possibility that GreenPeak’s cloud platform wouldn’t be tied to ZigBee forever. But in the meantime the company presses on with its chip business.
GreenPeak is a major contributor to the ZigBee standard, as well as one of the leading manufacturers of ZigBee chips. It is currently shipping a million ZigBee chips each week, accounting for around a third of total ZigBee shipments. GreenPeak has now doubled its shipments and revenue for the third year in a row, with around $30 million in revenue to its name.
The company is leveraging its ZigBee sensors to get into the mHealth home monitoring market. The cloud-based Family Lifestyle platform is aimed at ensuring elderly occupants can be checked in on by their children, who might be concerned by their declining health – both mental and physical. But GreenPeak has taken a different approach than traditional monitoring systems, in that the platform doesn’t require cameras or wearable device to monitor a home’s occupants.
Instead, the system uses motion sensors connected via an internet gateway to a cloud intelligence, which monitors typical usage to recognize patterns in daily movements. Once the patterns are established, the cloud system can alert the person who wants to keep tabs on an elderly person, via an app on a smartphone that can also be integrated with social media platforms for more pervasive alerts.
An example implementation might look something like this; a motion sensor on the front door, a motion sensor outside the bed room door, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, and one attached to the fridge. This system could give a solid look at the movements of a person within a flat or home, but it does not require the occupant to wear a pendant or bracelet, which are often taken off and absent-mindedly not put back on again. Similarly, the system doesn’t use video cameras, so the occupant shouldn’t object on privacy grounds or fear of being spied on. This is being pushed as a relatively non-intrusive monitoring system that can help elderly relatives remain in the comfort of their home, safely and lowering the need to hire or provide specialist carers or social workers to perform the same monitoring task.
This system would be able to alert someone to the fact that their relative had gotten up in the morning but hasn’t opened the fridge all day (and is therefore forgetting to eat), or hasn’t been noticed in the home since they left for their usual shopping trip. Bathroom visits and sleep schedules could be checked too, and if a sensor was attached to the medicine cabinet, you could also perform a simple form of medication compliance checking. The small insights gained from a system like this are meant to provide peace of mind to those concerned about the welfare of a relative, all the while enabling that relative to live a little more safely inside their home – with oversight provided in a fairly non-intrusive way.
Unnamed service operators in Germany and China are currently trialing the system, and are expected to roll out the service later this year. GreenPeak says the next phase of the roll out will be aimed at monitoring young children and babies.
The other bit of recent GreenPeak news comes in the form of a new chip. The GP565 is aimed squarely at remote controls for the TV set tops that will likely become the central hub for smart home subscription services. The GP565 supports voice control and motion sensing, and uses the new ZRC 2.0 protocol (ZigBee Remote Control, fully backwards compatible). Its intended use is as a whole-home controller; one that leverages the large scale deployment of ZigBee chips in US set tops (all set tops since 2012 according to Links).
This use case relies on the set top acting as the smart home hub, or at least the link to a hub, but it is very similar to the approach taken by EchoStar’s Sage set top (see separate piece). In this implementation, the devices are configured by a central intelligence which also acts as the UI for the hub – the TV screen allowing users to see through their security cameras or navigate their lighting preferences, for example.
But the GP565 will enable both gestures and voice-input to navigate this UI, as well as support for legacy RF audio and visual equipment through the IR-RF Download feature. This allows the remote to control devices that were designed and manufactured before IoT became the buzzword it is today, and with any luck live up to its billing as a whole-home controller for every Thing in the house.
On the more in-depth technical side, the GP565 comes in two editions, with 120 kilobytes of flash memory and 8 kilobytes of RAM, or 240kb and 16kb respectively. It uses a 40 pin silicon footprint, with improved receiver sensitivity and output power according to GreenPeak.
But the most interesting topic of our conversation was the aforementioned IBC discussion with Links was on the future of ZigBee and GreenPeak. Links reaffirmed GreenPeak’s goal of providing the $5 10-year battery-powered ZigBee sensor, built around a $0.50 chip. And while business is good, Links noted that there is erosion in GreenPeak’s revenues that comes to somewhere around 10% per year. This of course prompted the question, what if ZigBee doesn’t win out in the smart home.
Links answered by comparing the smart home to buying a kitchen, noting that if you buy a designer kitchen you don’t think about the plumbing, but you do care that it works. As long as the pipes are shifting the water correctly, the maker or brand of the pipe doesn’t matter. Quite bluntly, Links admitted that if ZigBee was no longer the cheaper option, GreenPeak would quite happily move to where the value was – in the cloud system, where the water flows to.
So if ZigBee is someday not the best piping method, GreenPeak will be falling back to its cloud-based white-label Family Solutions smart home service, which will shortly begin testing the market. That’s quite a shift; from a silicon vendor to a service provider, and the CEO seemed remarkably unperturbed by it.
But Links is confident that ZigBee isn’t going to suffer such an ignominious defeat. When we put the threat posed by Z-Wave to him, he pointed out that GreenPeak alone ships more chips than the whole Z-Wave Alliance – which is based on proprietary technology from Sigma Designs and is not at all like the open(ish) standards favored by the ZigBee Alliance.
And Links then pointed toward the adoption of WiFi, a technology he was heavily involved in developing. He noted that had you told him 15 years ago that there would be ten WiFi devices in each home, he would never have believed it, and yet now it is almost commonplace in developed markets – making GreenPeak’s prediction of 100 ZigBee devices per smart home in 15 years seem rather conservative, once you go around counting the number of things you could potentially connect.
And when you start doing the math, with 600 million homes connected to the internet currently, and with that number set to grow over time, that’s a lot of potential smart homes to fit ZigBee chips and devices in. But regardless of the chips, it seems that GreenPeak is beginning to move into the area where the real value lies in the IoT – sitting in the cloud, connecting all the data that flows through the innumerable pipes.
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Ant-sized energy-harvesting radio hints at trillion-device IoT
Researchers at Stanford University and UC Berkley have designed and built a radio wave energy-harvesting radio and computer SoC, which combines all the required computing power, antennas, radio and communication software stack onto a device the size of an ant – only 3.7mm x 1.2mm. The all-silicon construction of the unit means that it could be mass produced using existing techniques, giving it a cost of “pennies per device.”
The device uses RF waves in the 24GHz band to generate power, and transmits in the 60GHz range – a process that requires two separate antennas. This harvested power then lets the chip run the required computation and send a signal back to the origin of the request, before powering down again into sleep mode. STMicroelectronics manufactured a hundred of the modules as proof of concept, in 65nm CMOS, which required only standard wafer printing equipment.
“The next exponential growth in connectivity will be connecting objects together and giving us remote control through the web,” said Amin Arbabian, the assistant professor who demonstrated the chip at the VLSI Technology and Circuits Symposium. “By putting all the essential elements of a radio on a single chip that costs pennies to make, you put a bi-directional wireless control system in every light bulb,” or any other device he added.
Arbabian’s work on the unit began as a PhD project in 2011, where he focused on miniaturizing radios to reduce power consumption. If powered by an AAA battery, Arbabian says it could power the chip for a century. But miniaturizing the chip meant reworking the antenna to 10% the size of a WiFi antenna and ensuring it could operate at 24 billion cycles per second – a rate at which standard transistors wouldn’t function, according to Arbabian. The benefit of moving to the higher frequencies was found in the ability to shrink the antenna to a much smaller size than radios using conventional lower frequency RF would require.
In addition, the technical description states “a modified 60GHz transmitter (6-bits per slot) is used to communicate data sequence as well as the local timing reference. Pulse signaling enables real-time localization through time-of-flight. The chip operates with a standby power of less than 1.5uW coming from the reader.”
The chips have yet to be deployed in a product, but Arbabian envisions an embedded mesh network comprised of dozens of chips per home, deployed every 50cm so that the high-attenuation transmissions can be conveyed from one end of a building to another. This architecture would require a hub, as the chips themselves lack the required processing power to self-orchestrate a network.
But this type of connectivity is what is required if we are going to see a world with trillions of connected objects. IPv6 can certainly handle that amount of unique IP address, by several orders of magnitude, but currently it is the cost per device that holds back the trillion-forecast. There isn’t enough lithium in the world to provide batteries for that many devices, but when you apply energy harvesting technology to a device with such a low power consumption, you can begin to see where the trillions of devices might go – and your imagination is your only limit when it comes to deploying a device like this. That, and the physical constraints of optimal temperatures, durability ratings and communication ranges.
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Telecom Italia spreads its IoT favors between Jasper and Ericsson
Jasper Technologies has announced that Telecom Italia’s Digital Solutions unit has selected it to provide a platform for IoT services. The deal will support Telecom Italia’s (TI’s) domestic and global enterprise customers, and brings the number of Jasper operator partners to 22, with 1,500 enterprises using its framework around the world.
Jasper provides what it claims to be the “only purpose built cloud-based platform to enable companies to launch and manage connected services”. Its system supports GM’s connected cars, GE’s jet engines, Heineken’s brewery and keg-levels, Securitas’s alarms, Amazon Kindle’s downloads and  Starbucks’s DSL transaction redundancy system. This latest deal gives companies access to the Jasper platforms over the TI network, both in home markets and while roaming – which is where Jasper sees the value of its cellular M2M product.
TI now joins other operator supporters such as America Movil, AT&T, CSL, Etisalat, KPN, NTT Docomo, Rogers, Telefonica, Telenor and Telstra. However, it will not be using Jasper exclusively. As the IoT diversifies across many device types and applications, some carriers will turn to multiple platforms with different strengths. So TI is also deploying Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform, targeted at the B2B2C electronic devices market – for applications in automotive, connected car and industrial segments and the smart city in particular, including infrastructure and smart metering.
This dual-supplier approach mirrors the fact that Jasper and Ericsson are rapidly becoming the highest profile M2M platforms for carriers, and each one powers one of the main operator alliances in this field. Ericsson underpins the Global M2M Association, which includes Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Bell Canada, Softbank and TeliaSonera; while Jasper has been adopted by the alternative M2M Alliance, whose members include Vodafone, Etisalat, KPN, VimpelCom, TI, Swisscom, Telekom Austria and NTT Docomo (plus many vendors).
TI’s Digital Solutions division was created in June 2013, with the goal of digitally transforming business customers with M2M, IoT, digital multichannel CRM systems and cloud computing. While not a technology provider, it analyzes business models and methods and then advises on how to improve these approaches with additional technology.
An important area of this strategy is IoT connectivity, because turning a previously dumb object into a connected smart product unleashes a host of potential benefits and services, which can generate new revenues for the provider and outweigh the cost of connecting the object in the first place.
Some of the benefits are well known, such as security – it has long been common practice to track cars and plant equipment so that they can be recovered if stolen, and that locational data also allows a business to engage in fleet management and analysis – saving on fuel costs by mapping optimal routes, or planning asset deployments based on historical usage patterns.
The difference nowadays is that such systems are moving to mobile broadband networks rather than relying on GSM or on proprietary connections. And broadband allows other benefits and services to be layered in – for instance, the data gathered through connected device usage – knowing when, how and where customers may use a product – feeds actionable data into analytics engines and future business decisions.
The Jasper Platform centers around the Jasper Control Center, which is the consumer facing end of the business. It allows the user to set automated monitoring criteria which can trigger alerts, integrate the Control Center with their own systems via API, and study the data collected by the deployed devices – both historically and in real time. Jasper stresses the speed benefits of the platform, which allows quick changes and decisions to be made.
Jasper says its platform is “a turnkey solution for Telecom Italia’s customers, easily configured to meet specialized needs of companies in any industry. The cloud-based Jasper Platform is the only one purpose-built to enable companies to launch, manage and monetize IoT businesses. Telecom Italia will be able to offer its customers real time visibility, control and other capabilities – like mobile service management, real time support diagnostics, billing and business automation – necessary to succeed and scale their connected business over time.”
“At Telecom Italia Digital Solutions we’re seeing huge thirst among the enterprise community to join the Internet of Things movement and to scale their deployments at will,” said Luigi Zabatta, executive director for M2M & IoT Services at TI Digital Solutions.
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Intel’s new Edison targets wearables, but misses mark on IoT apps
Intel has announced the global release of its Edison IoT chip, which has morphed from its initial SD card form factor and Quark SoC guise into a slightly larger Atom and smaller Quark on the same Tangiers SoC. The evolution was made to add more I/O pins than the SD card would allow, according to Intel, in a package the size of a large postage stamp (35.5x25x3.9mm). Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said “the target is for a $50 retail cost. Like the Galileo development board, it’s going to open so developers can build upon this.”
This move into the IoT and wearables markets is largely seen as a response to the criticism that Intel missed the boat on mobile and consequently lost a significant potential market share. The new chips and developer programs are an attack on ARM’s dominance in the low-power arena, but Intel will also have to contend with the growing shipments of MIPS processors from Imagination Technologies – which trumps both x86 and ARM in terms of power consumption.
The 22nm dual-core Atom CPU is clocked at 500MHz, and is supported by 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 4GB of flash memory. The 32-bit Quark CPU will effectively act as a microcontroller for the main chip, clocked at 100MHz. With 40 I/O ports and dual band WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, courtesy of a Broadcom 43340 802.11 a/b/g/n module, this chip is intended to sit at the heart of developer projects across the world. Intel hopes one of these makes it big and takes off – filling Intel’s order books with new volumes of chip shipments.
The software running on the smaller Quark is a new ViperOS real-time operating system (RTOS), developed from Wind River’s (another Intel subsidiary) VxWorks RTOS. The Atom CPU will run a Linux stack based on Yocto Linux 1.6 – and may attract the attention of the sizeable Yocto Project developer community, bringing more into the Edison ecosystem. Intel has also announced a developer program for analytics wearables called A-Wear, aimed at deploying wearables and the associated intelligence inside the Cloudera (an Intel partner) data-management cloud platform.
Intel says the module will initially support development in the Arduino and C/C++ languages, with support for Node.js, Python, other RTOSs and Visual Programming due in the near future. The Edison is compatible with Intel’s Galileo board, so it should find a home among Arduino developers too. However, its biggest limitation on first glance appears to be its poor operating temperature range, of just 0°-40°C.
But we still aren’t convinced that Edison is a strong contender in the IoT sphere. Back in January when the Edison first emerged, we thought that it was simply too powerful and power-hungry for most IoT implementations – and that is an opinion that hasn’t changed in the 9 months since the launch.
For wearables, this is a solid product – one that can power both premium and budget smart watches and glasses, which users will be happy to charge multiple times per week. However, “the power of a Pentium PC in an SD card,” as the pitch went in January, is simply overkill for the vast majority of IoT products. All that processing ability requires electricity to power it, and if the way around this fact is to run the chip at very low processing levels you have to ask whether any sane developer is going to pay the extra price for processing cycles they don’t need.
So while Edison might not ship in large volumes in typical IoT applications, restricting itself to wearables, Intel’s ultra-low power consumption Quark processors certainly have the technical capability to be embedded in all manner of Things – with its distinct categories of Atom mobile processors and Quark IoT chips.
Intel does seem focused on smartwatches for the time being, especially so given the industry buzz surrounding the Apple Watch launch. It has acquired smartwatch and fitness tracker startup Basis Science for a rumored price of between $100-150 million, but has also released its own MICA luxury connected bracelet – which can convey push notifications from a phone to the user.
MICA stands for My Intelligent Communication Accessory and is the result of a partnership with US high end department store Barneys New York, and the Opening Ceremony retail outlets. Its official launch was at the New York Fashion Week – a fitting venue considering its water-snakeskin and gemstone design aesthetic and $1000 price tag.
The MICA devices are clearly meant to draw attention to new categories of technology, rather than stand as viable consumer devices. But with the Apple Watch Edition’s gold construction and the new MICA devices, it appears that the giants of the industry are targeting the buyers of luxury wearables with their new products – and in turn are hoping to convince consumers that these new technologies are desirable and not gimmicky. Will 2015 be the year of the wearable?
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Logitech leaps into IoT with Harmony whole-home remote and hub
Logitech is branching out its line of home theater remote controls into the smart home at large. The peripherals giant has announced new versions of its top-tier remotes under the “Harmony Living Home” line. The move sees the company move from being able to control Philips Hue light bulbs, August smart locks and the Nest thermostat (with its old remotes), to being targeted at all the connected devices in the home.
The remote comes in two flavors, and neither is particularly cheap. The Harmony Ultimate Home costs $349, and comes with a 2.4 inch touchscreen. The $150 Harmony Smart Control lacks the touchscreen and relies solely on buttons. Both versions require the Harmony Home Hub, which comes bundled with the remotes – but it is possible to buy only the hub for $100 and use the iOS or Android smartphone app as the interface. The hub adds WiFi, Bluetooth and RF communication to the infra-red remotes.
The remote and app allow users to program Activities, to coordinate functions for connected devices. It’s a feature common to all smart home platforms, but trying to program devices on the model without a screen could prove tricky. The mobile app might prove the easier option there, and that app lets users trigger activities when away from home – although there’s no word yet on whether the system will support voice control, which is potentially a major deal breaker given Apple and Google’s dominance in that field and their pending smart home maneuvers. 
Logitech plans on adding another hub to the family to bring ZigBee and Z-Wave connectivity to the table, which Logitech says will be Thread compatible – bringing the upcoming Google smart home ecosystem into the fold. That extender will appear in December and will cost $129. As you can see, this is not a particularly cheap option, especially once you begin to factor in the cost of purchasing enough smart home devices to justify needing the all-in-one remote system.
But the Harmony family has earned itself a good reputation in the A/V and home theater market, thanks in part to its database of 270,000 devices and the necessary mechanisms needed to control them. Now Logitech is taking that approach into the smart home with its Harmony Developers Program, but we think its pricing approach is backwards.
Currently, the high-end Harmony Ultimate Home is being marketed as the must-have component – a truly comprehensive device. On its webpage, the $349 remote takes top billing, but we think the Home Hub is the most exciting device here.
Given that any DIY smart home buyer is almost certainly going to already own a smartphone, the Home Hub is a lot cheaper than some hubs on the market, and a little dearer than quite a few. But once you add the remote control, which you’d pick up in the $150 package, suddenly the bundle doesn’t seem unreasonable. The $349 seems overpriced, given that you are effectively paying $200 for a small touchscreen, so we don’t see it selling like hot cakes.
One downside to the system is found in its requirement to have an always-on internet connection for the hub, even for devices that can be controlled on the local network only in a normal set up. This is down to Logitech using cloud-based intelligence to configure and command the network, and this might prove infuriating on the occasion that your broadband line suffers an outage and you are unable to control your blinds.
But the biggest downside is the price. There are going to be two ways that consumers will most likely enter the smart home; through a paid subscription service added to an existing TV or internet package, or as a DIY project. For the former, it is highly unlikely that Logitech will be behind the remote controls for established pay TV suppliers, and ISPs will likely take the smartphone app approach rather than forking out for a $150-350 remote control.
For the latter, the top of the line Ultimate is far too expensive. You can buy a comprehensive set of devices for that price, including starter kits from the likes of WeMo, Wink and SmartThings. The hub has potential, but all three aforementioned hubs are cheaper and currently have more developed ecosystems – although this is an area where the 270,000 device database could prove its worth. We’ll have to wait and see how well it works in the emerging smart home market.
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EchoStar tease Sage smart home system at IBC
EchoStar is planning on expanding its set top range firmly into the smart home with the new Sage home controller and device ecosystem. The company was teasing the unit, which is designed to plug into an existing pay-TV set top, but has so far not decided on a final specification or business model. Vice President of Engineering David Lett talked us through Sage at IBC, and said that the company was targeting a launch sometime in the first half of 2015.
The box itself is not a full sized set top, but a little larger than something like a Roku or Apple TV. It features HDMI In and Out, an Ethernet port and 2 USB ports – which will support a USB cellular modem for backup connectivity should the broadband line fail, with backup power offered by AA batteries. With its own remote control, the user can watch TV just as they would with EchoStar’s other products. But this remote control has extra buttons, which will bring up the Sage Home UI, or go straight to the required smart home subdivision.
With a single push the UI would pop up onto the screen and shrink the TV picture into the top right quarter. Lett stressed that this interface would allow you to still follow along with the televised content on screen while interacting with your smart home, and we’d have to agree with him. It looked like a very simple system to operate; just the sort of thing that could be offered as a value-add product to service customers.
The devices that were on show and could be linked to the box included the usual range of light switches, light bulbs, motion sensors, a Honeywell thermostat, a Yale smart Lock and D-Link security cameras. The box itself contains ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth Low Energy and WiFi radios – which surprised us initially and seems to lend credibility to the DIY and ease-of-use subject that we put to Lett. There’s enough radios in there to cover almost all the popular smart home products.
Sage is a learning system, which will adapt to the home’s usage. This will allow it to more accurately automate or predict what needs to be done in the home, especially in terms of lighting and HVAC, but it will also know when to alert the occupants to some abnormal behavior. Motion in the basement, gas boilers running at capacity but the home not heating up, etc.
A particularly useful and innovative feature of the Sage system is the way it includes the installation instructions for any of the devices that are Sage certified. This means that if the system ends up being bundled to service consumers, those customers would be able to go to a store, buy compatible certified products, bring them home, and be shown how to install them on their TV – and then have that information beamed to their phone in case the installation location is out of eyeshot. That’s certainly a very convenient feature, especially if you are trying to market this ecosystem to the 80% of US homes that currently don’t have a home security package – where the two most likely deterrents are the upfront costs of purchase and installation, and the complexity of operating the system once you’ve paid or subscribed to it.
Another part of the complexity concern is addressed by the Rules engine in the Sage box. Put simply, this is a natural language installation process that lets you assign a device to a location, and then tell the box what you want this device to do. For instance, turn on the hall and living room lights when motion is detected on the porch. Rules can be programmed to the remote control, so that manual modes can be engaged – such as a rule to dim the living room lights.
The security cameras can also push their video image to the screen, so that if they are triggered by motion, the owner can see the feed on the TV or phone – allowing them to take further action if needed. This could give the viewer a look at who is approaching the front door, perhaps to get hold of the dog before he makes a break for it, or in the worst case scenario, spot a home invader or missionary.
Lett pointed out that nearly all of the police calls generated by automatic alarm systems are false, but that a system like this (which is self-monitored) will allow for only the serious calls to be forwarded to the police. Lett said this would improve the credibility and response to alerts originating from the Sage system. Video footage from the security cameras will be stored in the Sage box and in the cloud system too – one of the benefits of moving into the smart home market instead of trying to build it from the ground up.
The back end architecture is all based on the existing Sling infrastructure that EchoStar already has in place, and there are plans to add the Sage tag to other Dish products, in a similar manner to how the Dish Hoppers have Sling functionality – giving it immediate access to a pay-TV operator and its customers.
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