Home Energy March April 2015 : Page 2
EditoriAl At Home with the Internet of Annoying Things T he Internet of Things has already im-proved my everyday life. Devices that communicate with each other deliver smoke alarms. The alliances include ZigBee, the Thread, Homeplug, and Wemo, all of which have recruited big appliance, chip, or communications firms as members. These alliances promise seamless communication and collaboration among their partner prod-ucts, bringing new features that will make our homes more comfortable, safe, and energy efficient. Perhaps, but the reality is that our homes will contain products from more than one alliance. Will products from different al-liances fully integrate with one another? Will they be able to coordinate their activities? In many cases they will not, and this will lead to dozens of unpredictable incompatibilities related to pairing, backward compatibility, or even the choice of a communications medium. Most alliances require their own communica-tions hub, each creating a new and constant use of power. Moving from one home to another could become a nightmare. The built-in networked products (such as the door locks, water heater, dishwasher, thermostat, and smart outlets) will stay with the old home, but the washing machine, microwave oven, and rout-ers will probably go into the moving van. Now imagine trying to install these devices in the new home. The physical installation will be straightforward, but the virtual installation of these devices into a home built around a different alliance will create headaches galore. It will probably be easy to reconnect the big appliances, but the dozens of smaller gadgets—remember the prophetic buzzwords pervasive and everywhere —may require indi-vidual, expert attention. I will save my con-cerns regarding the security of these networks for a future editorial. To be sure, companies will develop inter-face boxes to allow the different alliances to communicate. These boxes will perform the software equivalent of the familiar “three-into-two” mechanical plugs that enabled legacy ungrounded plugs to be inserted in grounded outlets. Only this time, the incompatibilities will be invisible and more complex. A new specialist will appear whose job is to recon-nect a houseful of Internet of Things products to the new network (or more likely, to several networks). I fear that restoring energy-saving settings will be a low priority for this person. The Internet of Things can’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be stopped, because the services it offers provide genuine value. But perhaps there are ways to make it less annoying. We need to insist that saving energy become easier, not more difficult, and to do this, we must encourage standardization and thoughtful design. new services and features that I appreciate. However, as the Internet of Things expands from a few linked devices to a pervasive network, I fear that aggravation will soon re-place appreciation. Are we moving toward the Internet of Annoying Things? We become aware of the Internet of Annoying Things when simple devices be-have in unexpected ways. Or perhaps they display an annoying alert when everything is just fine. More aggravating will be things that demand a password—which pass-word?—before allowing a task to begin. When de-vices are unable to con-nect, they often operate in higher power states, leading to increased energy consumption. Not long ago, the great technical obstacle for broadband was the “last mile” from the central switches to the home. The new chal-lenge is the last 10 feet inside the home once the Internet enters the home and connects with dozens of appliances and other devices— the “Things.” Those last 10 feet are about to become the site of a struggle between emerging alliances of manufacturers of the Things that fill our homes—from refrigerators and entertainment systems to lightbulbs and yASuSHI KATO Alan Meier Senior Executive Editor 2 Home Energy | March/April 2 015
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