September 2013

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Cees LinksEMAIL INTERVIEW Cees Links & HomeToys

Cees Links, Founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies

Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the WiFi Alliance. And, he was instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking.

as published in August 2013 Issue

ZigBee and the "Really Smart" Home

The Real Smart Home consists of sentrollers - sensors, controllers and actuators like motion sensors, temperature sensors, smoke detectors, humidity sensors, leakage detectors, light sensors, etc., are all connected to the internet. Cloud based apps receive this data and compares it with expected or desired values, and then transmits a signal to the home actuators which control the various systems.

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HomeToys:  What is ZigBee? How does it compare to WiFi and Bluetooth?

Links:  ZigBee can be best understood as low-power WiFi. ZigBee is a low-power standard protocol that we expect will be found in the future in every home for connecting sentrollers: sensors and controllers like thermostats, light switches, motion detectors, electronic door locks, etc. The key characteristic for ZigBee is its long battery life. Whereas WiFi networks are focused on high bandwidth and are very suitable for internet access (content sharing and distribution), ZigBee networks are for the Smart Home, enabling low power, low data rate applications in which the battery life is longer than the life of the product.

Bluetooth is a connectivity technology with a lower power variant: Bluetooth Smart. Like ZigBee,  Bluetooth Smart is developed for sentrollers but a typical applications  are Body Area Networks: connecting a heart rate monitor, or a blood pressure monitor to a cell phone, for continuous monitoring – or for connecting certain devices like a keyboard or a mouse to a PC. So, what Smart is for Bluetooth, ZigBee is for WiFi. ZigBee is for low power networking while Bluetooth Smart is for short range, low power connectivity.

HomeToys:  What new services will home owners get as a result of the Smart Home and ZigBee?

Links:  Initially we see three types of services that will be migrating to ZigBee base: security services, energy management services and home care services.

Security services are available today, but are relatively expensive because they use proprietary technology. New generations of security services will be ZigBee based and integrated with the set-top box and smart phone and will be very cost effective. Subscribers will also be capable of remotely controlling the locks of their house with their smart phones, from any place in the world. 

Energy management services in particular will allow people to manage their energy consuming devices from any place in the world. Subscribers will be able to turn on/off their lights, heating/air-conditioners, etc. from anywhere.

Smart Home services will also become available – services that automatically react to stimuli within the home – for instance - systems can make sure that empty rooms do not have unnecessary lights burning or heaters on.

Home care or assisted living is a set of services that can help the aging generation to live comfortably, being able to send a warning to family or any service organization if there is a medical problem.

HomeToys:  What is the operator’s view of the Smart Home? How do cable operators and service providers see the Smart Home rolling out?

Links:  Phase 1 is clearly to get ZigBee in every set-top box. This is already “paid for” by the remote control application that was previously based on infra-red. Infra-red, requiring line-of sight, limited in range, sensitive to sunlight and using quite some battery power is on the way to be phased out by most of the larger cable operators and replaced by ZigBee radio based remote controls. 

ZigBee in the remote and in the set top box is essentially placing a ZigBee base station (comparable to a WiFi router) in every home, providing   the launching board for Phase 2: the rolling out of the earlier mentioned services. 

During this phase these capabilities will be marketed as vertical (solution-based) services addressing specific needs of the subscriber that would like to buy security, energy management or home care. 

The Smart Home will start with Phase 3, where the vertical services will converge into complete Smart Home service, where sensors of one service will also be used for other services. For the motion sensor of a security application is also used in an energy management application.  

Actually, Phase 3 is what we prefer to call the “Really Smart” Home.

HomeToys:  What is a sentroller and why should we care? Why will the Smart Home will create an expanding market for sentroller device developers?

Links:  Sentrollers are already around us today in the form of thermostats, light switches, motion detectors, door locks, actuators, light fixtures, etc. However, currently they function as stand-alone devices fitting a specific purpose. As all these devices become connect together and getting connected to the internet, where they become controllable with smart phones and other devices, we need an overarching term for the entire ecosystem: sentroller. 

The reason we care is that we may expect from the future that our homes will show a consistent integrated behavior for all these devices, and this will pave the way for a new way of living, with increased security, comfort and increasingly  capable of managing our energy consumption.

HomeToys:  Is the ZigBee smart home solution compatible with other devices and systems that a home may already have installed?

Links:  Yes – we live today in an integrated internet infrastructure. We are capable of sharing information anywhere. Our computers, tablets and smart phones form a set of consistent devices that can access information straight from our homes. When we are with friends we can pull up photos and videos from our home server and share them. However, if we want to change the temperature setting on our thermostat, currently that is not possible. We can reach our homes, but we cannot reach into homes – and that is what ZigBee is going to change.

HomeToys:  How will the new Open Smart Home Framework make it easier for smart home device manufacturers to develop new products for a global market?

Links:  ZigBee is a large standard, addressing many application domains (Home Automation, Building Automation, Smart Energy, Telecom Services, Retail Services, to mention a few).  

With the Open Smart Home Framework we have put some boundaries around the ZigBee technology in the home, the Smart Home, essentially ignoring the various ZigBee layers that do not apply to the home, and the end-consumer. The Open Smart Home Framework is fully ZigBee compliant, but it selects only those parts that are relevant for the individual consumer.

HomeToys:  What devices and controllers will be required for a Really Smart Home and what will they do?

Links:  The Really Smart Home consists  of sentrollers -  sensors, controllers and actuators like motion sensors, temperature sensors, smoke detectors, humidity sensors, leakage detectors, light sensors, etc., are  all connected to the internet. Cloud based apps receive this data and compares it with expected or desired values, and then transmits a signal to the home actuators which control the various systems.  For example, if a sensor registers that the temperature is too low, the cloud based intelligence then sends a signal to the home heating system actuator, telling it to turn on the heating.  

If the house is armed and motion is detected, an alarm will go off in the home as well as summoning law enforcement. If an unusual amount of electricity is being used, an alarm is sent to the user’s smartphone signaling which device is consuming too much power and enabling the user to remotely turn it off , etc. There are no real limits to what the Smart Home could be and could do - we only see glimpses of where it starts and with what applications.

HomeToys:  Energy Management is a key element of today’s smart home concept. Can a really smart home actually manage energy or does it just monitor it like many of the current EMS systems?

Links:  Energy management is key in the Smart Home concept, but in an integrated way, so it supports safety and security, as well as comfort. Heating a room or keeping the lights on, if there are people in the room is something that can easily be implemented. Turning off the heater (or air conditioner) when someone opens the window, is just another example. So, there are several functions that can be easily implemented and that go way beyond the monitoring s we know it today.

HomeToys:  Are there devices to interface with a solar energy system in a home?

Links:  Well… that is still a stage further away, because a solar energy system is more or less an adjunct to the electricity grid reducing the dependency on central energy generation or even returning excess supply. 

However, there is a known existing situation. For example: solar panels and fire. Rooftop solar panels are recognized as a serious electrocution hazard for firemen. So, if a Smart Home detects a fire, the automated turning of the solar panels might be an interesting thought. This may sound somewhat farfetched from where we are today, but on the other hand, it is a good example that the boundaries of the Smart Home are yet to be understood!

HomeToys:  How will the Internet of Things impact ZigBee and the Smart Home?

Links:  Just like WiFi started at home (remember Apple’s iBook and Airport), and from there ventured into enterprises (“enterprise hardened”, into the industrial space (“industry hardened”), we expect that ZigBee will start at home with the Smart Home but will expand from there into many neighboring areas, into building automation, industrial automation, etc. The Internet of Things exists  of many things connected with many technologies – but definitely, ZigBee will play a key-role!


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