Tech Giants Developing Common Language for Smart Machines
Qualcomm's open-source platform may break down the biggest barrier to smart home connectivity.
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The Linux Foundation announced this week the formation of a cross-industry alliance devoted to facilitating the Internet of Things (IoT) through standardized connectivity and open-source software development. Analysts hope this collaborative effort will break down one of the most substantial barriers to full-scale home and infrastructural automation.
The AllSeen Alliance, as it's called, includes some big names in network and appliance technology: LG, Qualcomm, Panasonic, Cisco, Sharp, HTC, LIFX, Lite-on, Moxtreme, Musaic, and Sears, among others. At the center of the initiative is an open-source project called AllJoyn, developed by a subsidiary of Qualcomm.
As a cross-platform framework for product development, AllJoyn allows various applications, devices, and services to communicate—even without internet access—over different channels, including WiFi, power lines, and Ethernet. AllJoyn’s source code has been contributed to the AllSeen Alliance and is now available to all developers for evaluation.
The purpose of this openness is to advance the IoT, which has thus far been inhibited more so by a lack of standardization than insufficient technology. The use of open-source conventions also ensures that no single company has an unfair advantage in the development of products and services.
“Open-source software and collaborative development have been proven to accelerate technology innovation in markets where major transformation is underway,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation, in a statement. “Nowhere is this more evident today than in the consumer, industrial and embedded industries where connected devices, systems and services are generating a new level of intelligence in the way we and our systems interact.”
Home automation is just one of the possibilities afforded by the Internet of Things—the term used to describe the phenomenon of mass connectivity. Increasingly, mobile, wireless, and sensor technologies are allowing manufacturers to connect formerly unconnected devices—everything from light switches to heating systems. Users can then control these “things” remotely via a mobile device, or hand them over to automated processes; this could allow people to monitor open city parking spaces, for example, or to preheat their ovens from work.
Gartner has predicted the overall Internet of Things will add some $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020. Meanwhile, an estimated 50 billion “things” will be connected to the internet over the same period, up from 12.5 billion in 2010, according to a recent report by Cisco.
Cisco provides a scenario for what this might mean for the average person: Your morning meeting is pushed back 45 minutes… You car knows it requires about five minutes to fill up the gas tank… An accident on your traffic route will force a 15 minute detour… And your train is running 20 minutes behind schedule.
All of this information is automatically communicated to your alarm clock, which calculates that you can afford an extra 5 minutes of sleep. It also signals your car to start five minutes before you leave, and your coffee maker to begin brewing while you're in the shower. It's like something out of The Jetsons.
But not everyone is psyched about this prospect. Technologist Evgeny Morozov is the most vocal opponent to the ethos of “technological solutionism” displayed by many in Silicon Valley, especially when it comes to the IoT.
“On many important issues, civilization only destroys itself by extending the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking about them,” Morozov wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “On many issues, we want more thinking, not less.”
Forrester Research analyst Andrew Rose voiced a similar stance in a Wired op-ed—this one more specifically addressed to the burgeoning IoT market.
“As technology becomes more entwined with the physical world, the consequences of security failures escalate. Like a game of chess – where simple rules can lead to almost limitless possibilities – the complexity of IoT interconnections rapidly outstrips our ability to unravel them.”
Of course, no one will force you to automate your home and connect your dumb devices. But even if you're a luddite, you should prepare yourself for some major infrastructural changes.
Smart home integration is expected to be a big topic of discussion at CES 2014, so stay tuned for all of Reviewed.com's coverage from the big show next month.