Valentin Sawadski

Smart Home Platforms - Bringing IoT, the User and the Web industries closer together

A lot has been already said about SmartHome platforms, however the discussion mostly focuses on the interoperability and how it will make various devices work together. The most prominent and probably biggest platforms being Google Weave and Apple HomeKit. With the release of Weave in the coming months I thought it's time to highlight some of the implications that have not been mentioned much: Guest access to improve user focus and marketing based on devices discovered on the home network. Especially how it will grow the consumer IoT closer mobile and web industries.

User focus and guest access

Besides allowing devices to work easier with each other a common SmartHome platform will also allow users to easy interact the devices. Right now to control the appliances dedicated apps are required, each with their own set up and user accounts. While this might be okay for the "home" where set up only happens once, this is terrible for places like in hotel room. Just imagine installing 3 different apps to change the temperature, TV channel and unlock the door. A common platform would allow for umbrella apps that might already come pre-installed on your phone and give access to basic functionality of the devices. If combined with a guest access in the sense of "anyone on the same WiFi as the lights can turn them on/off" this will improve the usability a great deal. Together with a discovery feature, the phone could automatically send your preferences to the devices as soon as you connect to the hotel WiFi, and thus put the users needs in the center of the hotel experience.

Device Discovery Marketing

Another important aspect of device discovery is that this information is of value to many more people. The phone and any other devices on the platform will be able to find out what other devices are there and probably also details on manufacturers, model, software version, etc. This information can then be evaluated in different ways:

  • Manufacturers and independent software providers will be interested on the size and status of their installed base. They can learn in what kind of homes these devices are installed and identify possible integrations with other devices and prioritize features
  • Advertisers can use this information to find potential customers. Think of it as a "Homes who have this device also have this device" to advertise interesting products.

Deployment statistics for apps are already collected in the App Stores of Google and Apple, therefore I suspect them to collect such statistics as well sooner or later. And for those manufacturers or advertisers who are not happy with the data collected by the built in mechanism will have to option to deploy code on devices to collect data independently, similar to todays 3rd Party Tracking Cookies on the Web.

Consumer Privacy Consequences

From a consumer perspective such data must be handled with care to respect user privacy. As a wild prediction it could be that internet routers will soon have a Firewall that forbids certain devices to talk to each other, similar to Ad-Blockers in the Browser. In any case, such a platform will change the business of the consumer IoT and make it grow closer to mobile and web industries.

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Connectivity - the driver for Innovation in the Industry 4.0

The buzzword of Internet of Things or Industry 4.0 is often connected with the Idea of Digitization. However, the term is inadequate to describe the essence of it. Industrial machinery and products where digitized over 10 years ago, the key changes to happen concern the flow of information. Most production tools are still "silos" where a lot of valuable information is locked and constrained. Connectivity will allow the flow of information and data to create positive effects of increased flexibility and efficiency.

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Ethical Things

MIT Technology Review recently did a very good piece titled "Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill" in which they claim that "carmakers must solve an impossible ethical dilemma of algorithmic morality". This sparked off a Twitter conversation with @e2b where I stated my view that Self-Driving cars and other things will not be considered a set of algorithms but as being which will be subject to ethical considerations.

Ethical Cars

From Machine Learning to Autonomous Agents

I understand that technically speaking the machine still follows a pre-defined program and therefore does not have a "free will" which it would need to do independent decisions. However such machines, once deployed, act autonomously in absence of their creator or operator and react to new situations to the best of their knowledge and capabilities. Therefore I suspect most people will think of them as autonomous agents rather than a set of machine learning algorithms.

Ethical Considerations

These autonomous agenst will try to maximize their payoff (e.g. driving safely or energy efficiency) based on environmental inputs and the actions they have available. The actions of course have consequences so that the agent must outweigh the consequences to pick the desirable action.

Now the question remains what needs to be taken into consideration by the agent to pick the action. If the decisions of the agent can have negative (possibly even fatal) outcomes this, in my opinion, needs to be taken into consideration by the agent. Because if the agent would maximize his primary payoff (e.g. economic value) no matter what it could potentially take drastic actions (e.g. robbing, fraud) that harm other agents or people. This behaviour might not be tolerated. However one could argue that deciding not to include other factors of consideration is already an act of implementing ethics (or lack thereof) into the agent. In any case ethical considerations have been made.


The header Image was taken from the MIT Technology Review Article. All rights belong to the respective owner.

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Physical Security in the IoT

Security in the IoT is still a very active topic. Work is being done on all aspects of the IoT, the network, the data but also on the physical level?

Physical Security is concerned with protecting the device internal and external hardware. It aims to ensure the integrity of the deployed hardware and prevent unauthorized access to privileged manufacturing and debugging interfaces against attackers with direct physical access to the hardware. So naturally it involves sturdy enclosures, mechanic locks and such, all of which is expensive to manufacture.

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Appointment Scheduling Sucks!

Appointment scheduling sucks! It always goes like "Hey how about this Saturday?", "Oh no I can't Saturday. What about next Tuesday?" and so on and so forth. Also it only get's worse with more and more people involved.

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Phone Data Leakage Through Unprivileged Sensor Access

Access to physical Sensors like Acceleration and Orientation/Gyroscope is considered unprivileged on Android Phones. Most likely because the data captured by these sensors is considered not harmful or sensitive.

However analysis of sensor data from the device quickly reveals that certain device usage patterns are clearly visible. The most sophisticated attack known to me even shows that a tap-logger can be built which records any user interaction with the screen.

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Facebook's stretch towards IoT

Facebook aims at Internet of Things through Parse for IoT which was revealed at this years F8 conference. While it seems a bit odd at first that a company which started by connecting people through the internet is now aiming at devices, I believe it is a significant move for Facebook and the whole IoT-Sector as such. The reason why I believe this is because there is so much striking resemblance of how Google got into Android back in 2005.

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Brains, muscles, eyes & ears - A simple way to describe and design a real word sensor/actuator system

While in the process of brainstorming an improved architecture for "regular" sensor/actuator systems it came to me how hard it actually is to come up with a clean scheme for such things.The design quickly becomes something where Information, roles and states of the Devices/Agents get mixed into a complex mess! Which is not surprising since in the end there are many interconnected agents forming a larger system.

So to simplify the process of designing such a system I propose a "low-tech" modelling scheme which I believe can help setting the right frame to define a common language to describe and express what even the most complex system should or should not do:

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