This week's IoT news
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What's next for Thread?
by Stacey Higginbotham
Nest will open up its version of the Thread wireless protocol used in its thermostats, cameras and smoke detectors.  The news this week is both a signal of Thread's maturity and an effort to get more companies to use the protocol when building devices for the smart home. 

There are dozens of wireless protocols designed for the home. They range from Wi-Fi to proprietary efforts such as Insteon. But in 2014, Nest and several other companies decided that the smart home needed one more. So it created Thread, a wireless protocol that would use the same radio as the existing ZigBee standard, but would use IPv6 so it could directly connect to the Internet, as opposed to going through a hub.
Devices like the Nest thermostat currently use Thread. Now, others can use it too.
But as Nest released Thread, it was one of several companies pushing a different set of standards for the smart home. People were frustrated, wondering if the industry needed yet another radio. When it comes to radio standards, getting from a proprietary protocol to something as big as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth takes many years. No one knew if the smart home had that kind of time. We still don't.

Greg Hu, the head of the Works with Nest program, says the company decided to open source the Thread code to help make it easier for developers and chipmakers to work with the protocol. Before Nest took this step, a company trying to build a Thread device would have to pay to get access to the protocol. Now they can download the OpenThread variant from Nest. 

Hu says the Nest had planned to open source Thread, but wanted to wait until the code was more mature. He says that OpenThread is licensed under the BSD license but that is a company wants to get a device certified it will have to join the Thread Consortium. 

Essentially you can tinker all you want for free, but if you want the logo, you'll have to pay. 

Now that the code is available to more companies, the question for the industry is if products will follow. Big Ass Fans, one of the seven companies that launched Thread with Nest, isn't yet using Thread in its products. Landon Borders, director of connected devices for Big Ass Solutions, the maker of the fan, says that the company makes a modular box with the radios inside that can be swapped out when the standards change. Today the fan runs on Wi-Fi, but eventually it could run on Nest.

Hu says there are lots of products using Thread  "in the pipeline" awaiting certification so we should see them shortly. We'll have to wait and see.
Startup Profile: Breezometer
The star of the internet of things is often the humble sensor. But what if you could drastically cut down on the number of sensors and replace them with math? That's the idea behind BreezOMeter, an Israeli startup that tracks air pollution. The company takes an amalgamation of weather, environmental, traffic and yes, sensor data to calculate air pollution at a granular level.

The company emphasizes its algorithms over its sensors, and Ziv Lautman, co-founder and chief marketing officer, told me that it would be impossible to offer the data BreezOMeter has if it relied solely on getting air quality data from sensors. There just aren't enough installed yet. Instead, the company takes into account weather patterns, traffic, buildings and more to try to understand local pollution. It will check that data against available sensors, but the biggest influence on its measurements are weather patterns and traffic.

BreezOMeter was founded in 2012 and offers data in the U.S., Israel, China and the UK. The company also has partnerships with a variety of commercial entities such as Dyson and GE's Current. Current is combining BreezOMeter's algorithms with its connected LEDs in streetlights to track how traffic affects air pollution. 

The company offers both iOS and Android apps for consumers to check their air quality, but the real money is in signing deals with larger companies to offer customized access to BreezOMeter's data through an application programming interface (API). Smart cities are one target audience, but healthcare and even real estate buyers are interested in quantifying how pollution can affect local areas. 

BreezOMeter has raised at least $1.8 million in funding.
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Since a quarter of residential energy use is consumed by gadgets that are “off”, Kevin and I discuss how to measure and cut back on that power consumption with a few connected devices. We also talk about Apple’s rumored Home app for HomeKit, the launch of OpenThread, the open source version of Nest’s Thread protocol and the new Almond router from Securifi. We also touch on HP Enterprises' hop into the internet of things and Hitachi’s new formal IoT group.
The Almond 3 router. Image courtesy of Securifi.
Then we go to Rich Brown, who is the executive editor of CNET’s smart home and appliance coverage. We discuss setting up a smart house in Louisville, Kentucky, the site’s favorite gadgets and how the Amazon Echo has democratized access to the smart home. The big theme of our conversation was compromise, as in, if you want a smart home you are going to have to make compromises.
Picture fewer potholes
SQUID (Street Quality Identification Device), a project from Argo Labs, is an example of using today's off-the-shelf consumer hardware to build a powerful tool to solve a big problem. The project uses a camera and an accelerometer to track potholes in NYC.  The information collection is totally passive (as in the driver doesn't have to do anything).  Once the potholes are documented, the idea is to assign crews to fill those potholes in the most efficient manner possible.
A still from a video demonstration of the project. When you click on the map, you get a picture of the actual pothole documented.
News of the Week
Toll Brothers eyes the smart home? My savvy husband noticed that home builder Toll Brothers has registered several new domains that relate to the smart home. The newly acquired domains are,, I reached out to the company, but never heard back. However, as home builders try to find sources of recurring revenue, the idea that they would glom onto the smart home isn't far fetched. For example, KB Homes has an energy efficiency smart home option.

Introducing Lumada, Hitachi's new IoT platform: Hitachi has shifted its former data services business to focus on the internet of things.  The conglomerate, which has more than 900 different businesses, will now have an internal business that helps provide data normalization, analytics and connectivity for projects that Hitachi's business units work on. It also launched an internet of things platform called Lumada which the new division will use to build data analytics and other services. As I've said in a previous newsletter, since the goal in the industrial internet is to make services that are reusable and scalable, it's worth noting that the head of Hitachi's efforts here think it could achieve an 80% re-use rate for efforts it builds for customers.

Look, HP Enterprise has an IoT platform too! Not to be outdone by Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, SAP, Honeywell, Hitachi and a host of startups, HP Enterprises has created an IoT Platform that so far sounds like a data repository as opposed to an offering that delivers device management and provisioning. So, this is more akin to what IBM first launched two years ago when it announced the Internet of Things Foundation Product.  Although, IBM's IoT Foundation effort seemed a little bit more well-defined than what HPE is trying to sell. (WSJ)

Calling all smart home business models: The economic model where people exchange their data and eyeballs for free content works on the web, but it's not going to work for the internet of things. Because connected consumer devices share such personal data with companies and because many require long-term cloud support, just buying a device isn't enough. People don't want to share that data with marketers and it is expensive to support a device online for the 15 or 20-year life cycle of a home appliance. That means the industry will require subscriptions or giant players who are willing to lose money on cloud service to support a connected product in the long term.  (O'Reilly)

Google's Chirp will take on the Amazon Echo: Two months ago, the news broke that Google was building a voice-activated connected speaker like the Amazon Echo. Now Recode says the project is called "chirp" inside Google and it should be out later this year. It won't be out in time for Google I/O next week, but many of the features it will rely on, such as speech recognition and machine learning, will be covered at the conference.  (Recode)

Hacking diabetes: Tech-savvy parents are building homemade insulin pumps for their kids because the devices are too slow to come on the market. The story can be read as an indictment of slow regulatory process around medical devices, but should probably be read as an enticement for people to start learning to code and understand the tech available to solve problems. For example, in the story, parents admit that the device breaks down and they had to learn to code in order to build one. But the promise of medicine becoming user accessible is getting closer.  (WSJ)

Spotlight on Shodan: "Many people think that the web is the internet." With this quote, this story about Shodan, the search engine for connected devices, kicks off and covers the challenges of securing devices connected online. Now that we connect power plants, webcams and more to the internet, there are millions of openings into residential and corporate networks, many of which aren't password protected. In fact, most people don't realize the dangers of connecting unsecured devices to the internet, but if they read this, they will.  (New Scientist

A new security model for billions of devices: The CEO of blockchain security startup Guardtime has penned an essay discussing how security thinking should evolve for billions of connected devices. The essay focused on data integrity, ensuring that data hasn't been accessed or compromised while stored somewhere. As one expects, he argues that the blockchain distributed database technology might be a good solution for understanding who has accessed data, but he also offers other options as well. (TechCrunch)

The right mindset for IoT: One of the toughest things to grok about the internet of things is how easy it is to take available tech and turn it into something completely different. It just requires a simple shift in mindset. For example, people always go on and on about having a supercomputer in our pocket, but a startup called Pay Your Selfie has focused less on computing power and more on cameras and the societal acceptance of the selfie. With this, they have built a market reach tool that is nothing short of amazing. The app lets people take pictures of themselves using products from specific brands, and then gives those photos to the brands as a sort of focus group done via smartphone pics. It's a great twist on sucking value from today's awesome hardware. (New York Times)
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