Spending $3.2 billion for Nest in January, followed by a $555 million buyout of Dropcam in June and last week's acquisition of Revlov for an undisclosed amount, Google is moving quickly into the home Internet of Things (IoT) market. If the devices that these companies offer are easy enough to use, consumers will buy them. In the case of the Nest thermostat, the promise of lower costs on utilities will justify the price for most consumers.
Right now, most of these devices communicate up to the cloud and down to smart mobile devices. But they don’t communicate with one another. A thermostat, a smoke alarm, and camera working together is a bit far-fetched. Cisco’s forecast of 50 billion connected devices and the mushrooming categories of home IoT devices says otherwise. Revolv lists 75 different smart devices on its website, divided into categories that include smart lighting, smart light switches, smart thermostats, smart keypads and remotes, smart audio, smart power outlets, smart sensors, smart security, and even smart window shades.
At the MIT Digital Summit this summer ,Qualcomm’s Liat Ben Zur explained the value of integrating the many devices in the future home IoT. When sensing a fire in a bedroom, as explained, a smoke detector would have televisions and wireless speakers sound the alarm and provide an evacuation route, make smart light bulbs blink and change in color, and unlock all exit doors. The only communication outside of the home should be the 911 call.
Matt Rogers, founder and head of Nest engineering, pointed to another case where communications to the cloud isn’t necessary on the company’s blog:
“[the] Nest works with Jawbone: When your UP24 fitness tracker notices you’re awake, it can tell your Nest Thermostat to start warming up the house before you even step out of bed.”
These two simple examples aren’t that simple. At this early stage of home IoT, the makers of home automation devices have adopted many different communications standards, like ZigBee, Z-Wav, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Revolv’s home automation solution, discontinued with the acquisition, automated the setup and operation of premium consumer devices using disparate networking standards to operate together using a single smartphone app.
The Revolv engineering team begins work today with the Nest platform group responsible for working with developers to add compatibility and capability between Nest and third-party products. Called Works with Nest, the platform group creates application program interfaces (APIs) that enable third-party companies to create applications using the Nest’s knowledge of the home’s inhabitants’ behaviors, such as closing the garage door when the homeowner leaves or turning lights on and off when the homeowner is on vacation.
Rogers told The Verge:
"It's a super strong group. When it comes to home wireless and home communication, this is the best team out there. They've been in this industry for about a decade."
Revolve’s engineers will inject into Nest their experience integrating disparate devices into the home IoT network, also referred to the proximal network. They also have experience connecting the proximal IoT to the cloud with apps that let users create rules to automate the operation of home IoT devices, such as turning on the heat, lights, and stereo when the homeowner’s smartphone recognizes that they’ve started their commute home.
Rogers explained Nest’s motivation for buying Revolv.
"It isn't about turning Works with Nest into a business. It's about building the platform so other people can build their businesses on it. We'll sell more Nest products into a richer ecosystem."
The richer Nest ecosystem could mean a lot to a home IoT device manufacturer. Integration challenges extend far beyond getting devices with disparate protocols to talk to one another. Security and privacy are at the top of the list. Nest has adopted the Internet Task Force OATH 2.0 authentication standard for secure communications and has the scale to implement it. Nest and Revolv agree to protect user privacy by isolating data from Google. When these devices connect to third-party networks, such as electric utilities, regulations will become very important. Utilities want to automatically manage home appliance power usage to reduce the utility’s peak loads, which is expensive to produce, while saving the consumer money.
Nest’s privacy and security built into its platform and management of regulations will simplify and reduce the cost for independent IoT device makers to deliver products to market and magnify their value by integrating their products with other IoT device makers’ products.