Intel’s OIC unveils the IoTivity standard for device discovery

After launching last July with a press release and promises of taking on the problem of device-to-device communication and discovery, the Open Interconnect Consortium has launched the initial version of its internet of things certification and standard. Called IoTivity, the technology will act as a way for connected devices to share what they are and what they can do.

So any light bulb that runs the IoTivity code will be able to tell any television or washing machine running the IotTivity code that it is a light bulb and it can turn on and off, dim and perhaps change colors. Armed with this knowledge the washing machine might send notifications about loads being ready to go into the dryer to a bulb by forcing it to blink. The TV might use the IoTivity information to dim the lights when it turns on.

The plan is for IoTivity to sit between the radios such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and the higher level apps the device uses. It’s middleware that aims to make things run smoothly without a lot of user or programmer intervention. The biggest rival to IoTivity is AllJoyn, the Qualcomm proposed protocol that is overseen by the AllSeen Alliance. Both standards have similar goals and similar technological approaches to those goals in terms of building out a middleware layer between the radios and the application.

Both even sling the word “open” around a fair bit and have organizations under the Linux Foundation. The difference is how the two are handling the IP and potential standards. In fact, Broadcom left the OIC over an issue on how it handles IP rights late last year.

The issue appeared to be over how the OIC called for companies to license the technology contributed to the group. It uses a provision that requires participating companies to offer a zero-rate reasonable and non-discriminatory license to their code for member organizations, according to an OIC a spokesman at the time. The AllSeen Alliance does not. In fact, at a press conference at CES, Qualcomm President Derek Aberle confirmed that while AllJoyn is open source, Qualcomm hopes to make money licensing technologies built on top of it such as the media streaming tech AllPlay.

Mark Skarpness, chair of the IoTivity Steering Group, says that IoTivity should become a finalized standard and certification by the middle of the year. The standard is what will be implemented on the devices, while the certification will be what is tested and then advertised as proving that two IoTivity-labeled devices work together. We should see devices that implement the standard and are certified by the second half of the year he said.

There are already devices in the market that use AllJoyn, but plenty of companies are waiting to see what the OIC had been working on. Others are happy to implement both if they have to. All end users will care about is that their myriad connected devices will “just work.”

SmartThings’ next-generation hub will support Thread and the OIC

Samsung’s B.K. Yoon, the president of its Consumer Electronics group, gave an inspiring call to openness for the internet of things in a keynote speech at International CES on Monday night that also happened to contain a few tidbits of news about the SmartThings smart home platform that Samsung purchased last summer.

In a conversation last night with Alex Hawkinson, the CEO of SmartThings (shown above with the version 2 of the hub), I found a bit more about the next generation hub planned for April as well as the new premium service tier that will also be coming out in that time frame. I also learned that while the hub will support “legacy” standards like Z-wave and ZigBee while adding Bluetooth Smart, SmartThings is looking ahead to new standards and is planning to support Thread, the mesh-radio protocol that Nest and others have proposed as well as Intel’s Open Interconnect Consortium.

Hawkinson said that if the devices come, they would also support AllJoyn as well. But let’s focus on the hubs for a moment, because that’s what the die-hard smarthome folks are most interested in. First off, the second generation of the hub is about the same size, although square with rounded edges and heavier than the current hub. That’s because it has a set of batteries in there so when your power goes out your hub stays on.

There’s also room for a cellular USB stick if you wish, so you can also have backup internet (See correction note below). Hawkinson said it has always bothered him that given his reason for starting SmartThings — the flooding of his Colorado vacation home — the current version of the product wouldn’t have actually helped because the power was out. Now, the version two of his product would have actually helped.

Alex Hawkinson and BK Yoon onstage at CES

Alex Hawkinson and BK Yoon onstage at CES

That brings us to the premium service level announced. Hawkinson said that people wanted things that the infrastructure couldn’t provide without costing SmartThings money, such as video storage (the hub didn’t have video capability either, but the new one will) and alert escalation. So now when an alert happens, users can set up chains of contacts that can take a call or texts. If a child coming home from school doesn’t trigger an alert a parent might get a text and then a neighbor. If a leak is detected, maybe the escalation goes to a plumber.

This isn’t just a revenue opportunity in terms of charging the customer, it’s also a way to get service providers like HVAC repairmen, plumbers and others involved in the smarthome. Imagine if when you are setting up your SmartThings smarthome and you activate your water sensor and you get a list of local plumbers to call as part of the escalation service. If they get a call, SmartThings gets a referral fee.

It’s like AdWords for the real world. What if when you sign up for this, your home insurer gives you a discount? It might offset somewhat the fee that SmartThings charges. It might not. Hawkinson was mum on the fees for the new hub, the premium service and any other pricing.

Other things to note about the launch are that several new devices and products will be supported by SmartThings, such as Chamberlain garage doors, Honeywell Thermostats, Nest Thermostats, Philips Hue lights, Netgear products, August locks, the previously announced Samsung appliances and new apps for the Gear S and Samsung Smart TVs.

The app will get an update too with more suggested use cases while still letting people program crazy ideas if they want. The sensors will also shrink to about a third of their current size and we’ll see SmartThings eventually move to use Samsung’s Tizen OS according to SmartThings co-founder and CTO Jeff Hagins.

That last tidbit is especially interesting when you consider that Samsung said that Tizen would be the OS for all of its Smart TVs going forward, and that Yoon said that Samsung plans to eventually make every device it sells into a hub for the internet of things.

It sounds like Samsung may be trying to push Tizen as the OS for the internet of things after losing out on mobile to iOS and Android.

Correction: The original article stated that the version 2 SmartThings hub “has room for a SIM card” for backup connectivity. The article was updated at 3p.m. PT to correct that it does not have room for a SIM card, but a cellular USB stick can be used for backup cell connectivity.