[David Strom's Web Informant] November 4, 2013: How Marshall Rose is building the home of the future

David Strom david at strom.com
Sun Nov 3 08:46:56 EST 2013

Web Informant, November 4, 2013:  How Marshall Rose is building the home of
the future

If you are trying to have more of an autonomous home, you might be
interested in taking a look at what Marshall Rose is doing lately. I am
very fortunate to count Marshall as a friend. Marshall, for those of you
who don't know him, was the inventor of a series of protocols that form the
backbone of much of today's Internet. He is also the author of several
books, including the now classic Internet Messaging that we co-wrote and
features a forward from Penn Jillette.

His current project is called The Thing
I spoke to him while he was in his home test lab where is building the home
of the future. "My definition of success is to go to a zero remote control
environment. I want to stop the madness of having a dozen different remote
controls on the coffee table. Even though many of them have been replaced
by smartphone apps, it still is silly."

So he went about this task in his usual way, by inventing another protocol
and then a management infrastructure that would handle as many of our
Things as possible.

It is true that there are lots of folks who are trying to make homes more
automated, and some of them are coming up with some pretty nifty devices.
But what is at issue is that the Thing they do isn't compatible with anyone
else's Thing. And once you create your device, whatever it might do, you
can't sell that by itself. You need iOS and Android apps, a cloud service
so you can access the information, and some kind of analytics to spot your
usage trends. "The cherry on the cake is all this has become a walled
garden and one Thing doesn't talk to any other. Plus, the economics have
introduced a perverse set of incentives for the Thing makers."

Let's say you have a Nest thermostat, which looks like a pretty nifty
device. And you buy a Netamo air sensor, which looks like another nifty
device. Now you want the two to talk to each other, to note when maybe
carbon dioxide levels start rising at particular times of the day, so you
can turn on your blower to clear the air in your home. Right now there is
no way to do that, because the two Things don't talk the same language, or
even operate on the same networks.

That's where The Thing System comes into play. "We need an intermediary,
what we call a Steward, to implement the communications among Things."
Think of this as a cross between Simple Network Management Protocol (which
Marshall had a hand in creating) with a little dash of Web 2.0 and
Javascript thrown in. "The job of the Steward is to discover your things.
You never have to type in an IP address, it scans your network and knows
what devices you have and figures out how to talk to ithem and has a rules
engine for various actions." Marshall and his colleagues are still working
on perfecting these rules. On The Thing System website, you can see his
progress and which devices he still has to integrate into the Steward.

Some Things are more vexing than others to integrate. Marshall mentioned a
Kevo lock that doesn't communicate via the Internet, just Bluetooth, which
you can read about
Nest thermostat uses a motion sensor to determine when you are home
when you aren't – which works well if you have kids running around your
home, but doesn't if you sit in your office at the other end of the house
and type on your computer. "Wouldn't it be great if the Nest knew that you
were a few miles from home and your car told it to warm up your house? Or
even better, a sensor that knows it is you about to walk in the door and
unlock it for you because you are carrying a lot of stuff?" Yes, it would.

Certainly, smart homes aren't anything new; people have been building them
for years. Almost ten years ago, I visited John Patrick's home in
Connecticut where he put together some very smart systems from scratch,
using the technology of the time. I spoke to him this week where he told
me, "We are a long ways away from anything to anything connections." Back
when I saw his house, he had a Lansonic music streaming box, but since then
he had upgraded to Sonos' equipment and Perceptive Automation's
software. Otherwise his basic infrastructure hasn't changed and
"still pretty leading edge," he told me. "What is frustrating is all the
big guys are at war, and no one box can stream all the available content."
He was intrigued by The Thing System, and wishes them lots of luck.

Meanwhile, you can put together many of the pieces that support The Thing
System right now, including running the Steward on either your PC or a
Raspberry Pi machine.  And maybe the Internet of Things will become a
little more connected and useful along the way.

A link to additional thoughts from Patrick, and your comments always
welcome here:

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