Underwriters Laboratories creates Living Lab for real-world IoT testing

The house provides a real-world environment where many smart appliances, devices and systems interoperate in close proximity with one another

Underwriters Laboratories creates living lab for real-world IoT testing
Underwriters Laboratories

What could go wrong with IoT devices? A lot when it comes to dozens of such devices working close to one another if not tested for interoperability first. Is the connected thermostat interfering with the smart TV? Or has the IoT-enabled door lock been hacked through the security camera?

How do you to test if the smart appliances from different vendors work with your smart home ecosystem? Is one compromising the security of another? How do consumers really use their IoT devices?

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) uses a real home fitted with IoT appliances and devices as a testing lab to find out.

UL's history 

UL was founded in 1894 to help companies “demonstrate safety, confirm compliance, strengthen security and protect brand reputation.” UL specializes in checking for compliance to standards and certification.

The need for IoT interoperability, functionality, performance and security testing is critical. The IoT domain is fragmented with multiple standards and protocols. Vendors offer platforms and APIs to integrate devices into their own ecosystem, but they are unaware of the other devices that a customer might also be using. Could a device connected to one IoT platform be interfering with or creating security risks for other nearby devices connected to a different IoT platform?

How UL's Living Lab Works

UL has a two-story home that offers a real-world environment to see how devices communicate with one another—to identify interoperability, functionality and performance issues that may arise. IoT products are used by real people in the home to see how they work in a real-world environment.

In a home, several factors can affect device and network performance:

  • Layout: the number of walls and ceilings
  • Ambient noise from other devices or people
  • Acoustic characteristics such as soft carpets, drapes and furniture
  • Competing signals from a neighbor's Wi-Fi network or other radiating devices
  • Multiple devices on the same network clogging bandwidth

Combining platforms, brands and products

Consumers often combine varying brands, products and platforms to create a highly customized "smart home." Manufacturers need to anticipate how a consumer may combine their product with other solutions. UL’s simulated home environment has solutions from different IoT vendors:

  • Voice-activated assistants
  • Appliances (range, dishwasher, refrigerator)
  • Different lightbulbs and lightbulb socket configurations
  • Indoor cameras, TVs and speakers
  • Two different internet routers
  • Smart locks and doorbell systems
  • Thermostats, smoke detectors and sprinklers

UL’s Living Lab is a real home near San Francisco. It is used to understand how and what factors cause interoperability issues. Vendors can also use it to test their own products in real-world scenarios with commercially available products from other vendors.

The Living Lab provides a real-world environment in which many smart appliances, devices and systems are located in close proximity to one another. High ceilings, large areas of glass, mirrors and fully furnished rooms may cause performance issues for smart devices. Only one variable (device) is tested at a time while keeping all the conditions in the home stable. This systematic testing provides better insights on device interoperability, performance and user experience.

Underwriters Labs IoT testing Underwriters Laboratories 

Cybersecurity testing

Security risks multiply as residential and commercial products become more interconnected. Verifying against known vulnerabilities and exploitable weaknesses in software can help prevent systems from becoming susceptible to cyber attacks.

UL Cybersecurity Assurance Program (UL CAP) mitigates these concerns with the UL 2900-1 standard. It provides trusted third-party support to evaluate the security of network-connectable products and the vendor processes for developing products with a security focus. The UL CAP is recognized by the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP) as a way to test and certify network-connectable devices within the IoT supply chain.

Some new readers may prefer to watch this clip to understand UL's testing process.

A lot has changed over the last hundred years. But UL’s mission "to promote safe living for people by the application of safety science and hazard-based safety engineering” is just as relevant today with IoT as it was back when it was testing safety matches.

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