Thoughts on lighting thanks to Noon’s launch

The Noon light switches.

I’ve been thinking about lighting a lot thanks to the launch of Noon last week. Smart lighting in the home can offer more convenient control, health benefits and ambient information all with a voice command or a touch. Lighting is also becoming a source of infrastructure whether it’s sensors, speakers, alarms or even cameras.

But no one solution can provide everything in one bulb or switch. Alex Ruan, a general manager at Sengled, which puts cameras, speakers and more into light bulbs, says he hopes consumers buy a new bulb for each function as their life demands it. This requires a lot more thought about light bulbs — something most consumers don’t think about unless they’re converting to LED or a bulb has burned out.

So far it seems that the result of connectivity and digitization in lighting won’t be in easier, cleaner lighting experiences, but a chance to paralyze the consumer with endless choices about what to cram into a light bulb or switch. This is the environment that Noon has launched in.

Noon is a startup that has been building a connected lighting system for the last three years. Like the Otto lock, another recent luxury smart home product launch, it feels as though Noon is offering a product that would have made sense in 2015 before companies wised up about the challenges of supporting connected hardware and consumers became leery about paying for it.

Noon is a light switch that offers pre-programmed settings and sensors that can detect motion so they know when to turn on. The idea is more in tune with the intuitive home that predicts and meets your needs rather than the pre-programmed and command-driven home most of us live in today.

The Noon system is designed for large open rooms that have multiple light switches. My combined kitchen, living and dining room would be a good example. I’d install the Noon Director switch ($ 200) for one of the lights I want to control and then replace any of the other lights I want to control with the available Noon Extension switches ($ 100). From there, Noon tests the lights controlled by the switches and builds three different lighting scenes that use them. You can also create custom scenes.

As a user, I don’t program anything. Erik Charlton, the CEO of Noon, told me that in his company’s research about 70% of users had changed out a light switch, so he was hopeful that DIYers could install this. I was and still am skeptical of that number. However, the cost will be the big factor here. To layer all the lights in my massive downstairs room, I’d have to spend $ 1,000 replacing nine switches. I’d also want to swap out my colored Philips Hue bulbs in the living room initially because Noon sees those as white bulbs. (Charlton says that may change one day.)

This feels pricey unless you look at where the Noon folks are coming from. Their competition is the Lutron Caseta switches that cost $ 65 a pop. They are trying to replicate the custom programming a lighting engineer would offer with the Lutron professional line. The idea is that Noon combines customized lighting design with automation, whereas most other options on the market only provide automation.

Improving and automating my lighting has been the main reason I got into the smart home. It began with a connected WeMo switch in 2012 that saved me from having to climb behind my Christmas tree to turn the thing on and off. I then graduated to Hue light bulbs in 2013. The promise was less about automation (I hated going to an app to turn my lights on and off) and more about the ability to use the Hues for ambient information and fun.

Fun was obviously had in the many dance parties held in my living room, and my ambient information efforts ran the gamut from changing the light bulbs to red when the Cardinals scored a run (for my husband) to turning the lights blue when an email from a specific person arrived (for my daughter). I even made a bat phone (for my editor).

From there I graduated to switches over bulbs, and then to the Amazon Echo, multiple smart outlets and Lutron switches controlled by voice. In 2015, I made a Christmas video showing all of the lighting control pulled together. But if I thought I had reached the pinnacle of lighting automation, I was wrong.

While I did have fancy scenes that offered “dinner party” lighting or “movie” lighting, I had to manually program them and every new connected device that entered my home (and this happens a LOT) to work together. Add to this a trip to visit a high-end lighting startup called Ketra and the CEDIA show this summer and I realize that we’re only cracking the surface when it comes to the available innovation in lighting available to users today.

Noon’s best bet may not be in focusing on giving the middle class a millionaire’s lighting, but in automatically orchestrating the huge amounts of lighting options already available in homes to make it easier to program and live with. That way I could still get my ambient information from my Philips Hue bulbs where and when I need it, use a Sengled as a security camera near my front door and pull both of those back into everyday lighting when I don’t need their “double identities.”

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Here are the reasons behind today’s crazy chip deals

The proposed Broadcom buy of Qualcomm would dwarf the previous year’s chip M&A activity. The data includes announced transactions not closed deals and is complete through Q3 2017. Thanks to IC Insights.

Look what the internet of things has wrought! Monday, Broadcom, which was bought in 2015 by Avago in a $ 37 billion acquisition, said it would spend up to $ 103 billion buying Qualcomm. Let’s not forget that Qualcomm is trying to close a $ 47 billion acquisition of NXP that should happen some time next year. Meanwhile, Intel and AMD have surprisingly decided to team up to rival Nvidia with a new graphics chip.

These partnerships and potential deals are an excellent example of the challenges that chipmakers face as computing and connectivity moves everywhere and becomes more commoditized. These are challenges caused by the growth of the internet of things.

The Broadcom takeover offer is an example of consolidation in several markets (communications, embedded computing and mobile) as prices for these components drop and markets shift. Meanwhile, the Intel deal signals Intel’s acceptance that general purpose compute can’t do everything as computing expands to more devices, and if it wants to succeed it has to embrace other architectures to retains its pricing power.

That’s the big picture, but there’s also the mundane facts of day-to-day life as a chip company driving these deals. Making chips is expensive, both in R&D and then in getting the parts designed and manufactured. As consolidation occurs, companies can combine R&D and business lines across many different companies, creating greater economies of scale. In chip-making and design that scale does matter.

Additionally, more and more companies are designing their own chips, whether it’s Apple in its mobile products or Microsoft for its servers. They do this because they have enough scale, and because the tiny tweaks they can make in silicon can differentiate their hardware or services in ways that leave the competition in the dust. Thus, the original chip vendors are left with a market that isn’t exactly shrinking, but one where if a customer succeeds, might graduate from their products.

Let’s hit the Broadcom takeover offer for Qualcomm first. For the last few years, the average selling prices of many of these chips make by Qualcomm, Broadcom, NXP and others have been heading lower and lower. While companies are selling more of them, they are also selling them at lower cost and at lower margins. This is good for the internet of things because it means adding intelligence into a device becomes cheaper, but it’s a double-edged sword.

Essentially as software started eating the world, the value now accrues to software, while the hardware that makes it possible becomes cheaper and almost interchangeable. That puts pressure on the chipmakers. Additionally, they too are getting more and more into building software to make popping their silicon into existing devices easier. A company like Whirlpool doesn’t want to spent its time designing boards or tweaking protocols. It wants to buy a product that “just works.”

That’s good for the customer and helps the market expand because you don’t have to be a firmware expert to design these chips into your products, but it’s expensive for the chipmakers, many of whom have more software engineers on staff than chip designers.

For Qualcomm there’s another challenge at play. Its efforts to swallow NXP (and CSR in 2014)  were all about getting more chips that fit into automobiles, RFID networks and smart home devices because it was seeing its customer base for smartphone processors stagnate. It was attempting to move from the mobile world deeper into the embedded world — which is what NXP did when it acquired Freescale.

As companies like Apple, Samsung, and now, Google, design their own chips for their phones and devices, Qualcomm’s core application processor business is under threat. That’s why we see it seeking new markets such as drones and robotics that also require a bunch of brains at efficient power consumption.

As part of Broadcom, which also makes application processors, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other baseband chips, there’s a huge opportunity to combine communications product lines for servers, mobile and embedded devices. Broadcom, as part of Avago has deep ties in the embedded market through earlier acquisitions of HP’s Agilent and massive ties in the networking world with LSI, PLX Technologies and Emulex.

If we’re looking ahead we can even see that Broadcom buying Qualcomm cements its dominance in embedded and mobile, but it also begins to push it further into servers. Qualcomm is one of several companies trying to use the low-power ARM architecture to build servers that would compete with Intel’s x86 architecture that currently dominates. Qualcomm even has a joint venture in China to build such servers.

Before we get to other other big chip news of the day it’s worth adding that if Broadcom does end up with Qualcomm the big question is what happens to Qualcomm’s patents and licensing business? Activist investors have urged the company to sell the licensing division, which is currently part of of Qualcomm’s fight against Apple. Spinning that out could generate cash to cover the purchase, while giving Broadcom the chip businesses it wants. Whoever buys those patents (Apple has a lot of cash) could build their own networking chips for smartphones and connected devices.

Now, back to Intel: Intel and AMD are teaming up to put an AMD graphics core inside an Intel chip for notebook computers. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge. Intel and AMD have been rivals since the creation of AMD. AMD has the only other license to make x86 chips and for decades it has lost money acting as a foil against Intel becoming a monopoly.

Don’t get me wrong. AMD has some awesomely smart engineers who have built technology that leapfrogged what Intel was offering at the time. But execution challenges, and even dirty practices from Intel always dogged it. AMD did see the importance of graphics processors early on. In 2006 it purchased ATI Technologies, which made graphic cards, and ended up with GPUs that would later help AMD stay competitive with Intel as parallel processing became more and more important in compute.

It even sold the mobile graphics division to Qualcomm, which then used it to build better graphics into its applications processors.

Intel is putting the AMD Radeon graphics tech inside an Intel Core chip designed for the notebook market in a deal that signals Intel’s acceptance of its lack of graphics horsepower. Intel tried to design a graphics chip back in 2008 but eventually gave up after realizing its architecture wasn’t competitive with AMD’s or Nvidia’s GPUs.

Mostly the Intel/AMD partnership is about the new Intel recognizing that the heyday of general purpose compute is over and that the x86 architecture can’t do everything, especially in a constrained power environment. Under CEO Brian Krzanich Intel had increasingly embraced the concept of heterogeneous architectures from custom-made chips for machine learning to the ARM architecture of mobile. So why wouldn’t it work with its former arch-rival?

After all, like every chip company in a world where non-custom silicon is everywhere and worth less and less, Intel has to survive. To do this, it has to make its chips work everywhere they can and ensure that they still sell for a premium.

At a macro level, both deals are a result of more computing in more places putting pressure on pricing, power consumption, as well as the shifting market for semiconductor companies who may see their customers graduate to making their own silicon as they succeed. Stuck in the middle, chip firms have to consolidate to survive.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

The internet knows a lot about you … and your kid

How much of our data is for sale?

A little less than half of 190,000 people surveyed around the world by Mozilla said that the loss of privacy was their biggest concern about living in a connected future. The 45% of people who are worried are presumably adults, but a new paper asks “what about the children?”

Two UNICEF researchers drilled into the privacy implications for children as we connect more things and apply data analytics to the information those things collect. The resulting paper is a summation of everything we fear about data collection only applied to children.

The paper raises multiple points about the need to safeguard children’s interests as we connect more devices to the internet, create digital footprints and hand over more and more of our lives to be divvied up as bits of data to be bought and sold. It also claims that the solutions we have in place, such as the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Rule (COPPA) in the U.S. or the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are geographically fragmented and not up to the task.

Some of the concerns are ones that parents have been thinking about for a while. For example, children can’t give consent to the use of their photos and personal information when their parents post it on social media. The same goes for schools, camps and friends’ parents who also gather and post data on children. Parents also have a role to play in signing kids up for services.

They should read the terms of service and consent to them on behalf of their offspring. But that’s where the role of parents comes to an ignoble end. That’s because many adults can’t understand the implications of data mining from those who might get their hands on childrens’ data and to how that data can be used to make sweeping (and incorrect) generalizations about a population. They also may not understand the risks of their children growing up digital; with a larger digital footprint made over more of their lives, children are at a greater risk of deanonymization because there is more data to work with. From the paper:

While these negative experiences are not limited to children, this generation will be the first to experience these issues throughout their life cycle, and particularly at early life stages and critical junctions in their personal development and public life. Furthermore, ensuring privacy – even with appropriate anonymization in longitudinal data – is also extremely difficult, given the fact that such data will have multiple transactions per individual; hence indirect identifiers will be greater than eight – the recommended maximum to prevent reidentification (El Emam, 2016).

So children could be targets of data collection and mining their entire lives without ever giving their consent. Even if their parents consent on their behalf it’s a crapshoot as to if the parents understand what they are giving up.

To solve these challenges the paper discusses familiar elements such as the right to be forgotten — which is now part of the GDPR legislation — creating a framework for companies that offer services to kids letting them revoke consent as they age and even respecting that children are not kids on the day before their 13th or 18th birthday and adults the day of. Instead, consent throughout childhood should probably evolve on a continuum that respects the maturity of the kid.

The final point the paper brought up, which is worth considering by all of us, is the looming prevalence of passive data collection. Devices such as the Nest thermostat, that track when we’re home, or our phones that can create a digital trail of where we’ve been without our taking any actions, are just the beginning. More devices will track us and more complicated algorithms will allow them greater insights into our lives.

For example, a company called Klue makes software for fitness trackers that can track our hand movements to see if we’re drinking a glass of water or wine simply by the way we hold the glass. That’s a convenient way to track food intake, but it’s also a window into all of our hand motions should the company decide to tweak their algorithms.

The risk in this passive data collection is that none of us will be able to consent to it because we won’t realize what’s being collected and how. It’s a brave new world and our kids will be the first ones to grow up fully immersed in it. And as this paper explains, that’s a scary thought.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

IoT news of the week for Nov. 3, 2017

Ayla raises $ 60 million: The seven-year-old platform as a service company, which helps businesses bring their devices online, has raised $ 60 million in funding from Sunsea Telecommunications Co. Ltd. and Run Liang Tai Fund. The money wasn’t needed according to Dave Friedman, Ayla’s CEO, but it is welcome as Ayla embarks on a joint venture with Sunsea in China called Ayla Sunsea. The two companies will sell Ayla’s IoT platform to Chinese customers. This is the traditional path to market for U.S. companies investing in China.

IoT and the myth of perfect information: I encounter this concept a lot in my reporting, when someone breaks down the promise of artificial intelligence, ubiquitous sensors and usually the blockchain to come up with a theory about how computers will one day be able to see and share all relevant bits of data and convert that into meaning. When this happens we’ll have utterly transparent supply chains, the most efficient agriculture, perfectly tunable manufacturing processes or whatever other efficiency is your jam. I call this the myth of perfect information, and we often get sucked into it as we predict the connected future.

However, I think several things are standing in our way to this path of complete information transparency. Technical challenges such as eliminating glitches, solving latency and maintaining security will stand in the way for a while. And long after those are gone, I think we’ll see business impediments in the form of mistrust among partners and regulatory hurdles. This world also spells the end of arbitrage, which feels like the end of many sophisticated financial instruments. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them. Related tweet stream is here.

Teaforia shuts down: The maker of a $ 1,000 tea-making machine has shut down. This will inevitably lead to comparisons to Juicero, another high-end kitchen startup. But not all expensive hardware is destined to fail. This article explores what makes a connected kitchen gadget successful. Most of the knowledge can be applied to hardware startups of all kinds.  (The Spoon)

This is an insane use for Nest cameras: The story is a bit dated, but the use case is still crazy. A company called Cognition Builders basically uses Nest cameras to spy on you around your home and critique your parenting in real-time. Yeah, it’s like a super pricey Mary Poppins yelling at you or your kids when you don’t meet the recommended rules of the program. And the program? It’s designed to help parents learn how to manage unruly children. Other than the horror that some people will pay $ 80K or more for this is the cool realization that connected devices are already enabling new businesses. (The Cut)

Saildrones are pretty cool: Water quality sensors don’t have to be buoys. They could instead look a lot like a giant American Girl windsurfing toy outfitted with 16 sensors. These devices float unmanned across the roughest seas, with a 20-foot high carbon-fiber sail. They aren’t cheap but they can apparently be operated at a cost of 5% of a manned research ship, which is what they replace. Generally, like we saw in technology circles, when the cost of doing something goes down by a factor of 10 we see adoption. With IoT and machine learning we’re going to see that equation play out across more and more places. That reduction in costs will be coupled with more and more data, hopefully enabling us to spend the savings on fixing some seemingly intractable problems. (CNN)

China’s surveillance state appears again: Last week we discussed China’s new citizen score, and now we turn to the companies making the ubiquitous surveillance of Chinese citizens possible. In some cases, the companies are based in the U.S. Come for the story, but stay for the video on a filmmaker who created a film based on surveillance footage.  (Wall Street Journal)

Here’s a new security worry for hospitals and patients: We have discussed malware on MRIs, hacked infusion pumps and hacked pacemakers, but this is a new one for me. Security researchers have shown that devices made by Boston Scientific that pull cardiac data from patients encrypt the data as it travels to the device but not once it’s on the device. I’m less worried about my Social Security number and heartbeat data getting stolen by someone who has physical access to the device (after all, in some hospitals they could just pick up my chart) but the issue is what happens when that device is trashed. The researchers bought their devices on an auction site for used medical equipment and found patient data, suggesting that not all hospitals wipe the drives of these machines before disposing of them. Let’s get some basic security training here, please. (Gov Info Security)

Don’t become a hardware company: That’s the takeaway in this post mortem about the closure of Doppler Labs, a company that was building Bluetooth headphones that would enhance and customize a listener’s audio. With the loss of the headphone jack it’s going to be tougher for external headphone companies to tap into the phone’s computing power and contextual sensors to get the data they need to make better sounding headphones than Apple or Google. They’ll also be hard-pressed to offer services such as real-time translation. (The Verge)

Software is eating the world, but hardware still matters: Every company may strive to be a software company, but when we’re discussing technology that’s supposed to last for years (or even decades) the hardware matters too. Case in point is our cars, and specifically Tesla’s journey to make true self-driving cars. It seems that the current Teslas won’t have enough computing power, which may necessitate a switch. In smaller devices such hardware upgrades can also happen, such as the rush of vendors who had to release new hardware to provide HomeKit compatibility. The point is that hardware still matters and you likely can’t future-proof it for the lifetime of many of the products we’re making connected. (Forbes)

How to update edge devices without spending so much on bandwidth: As edge computing becomes more and more popular, we’re going to see architectures and services develop to help reduce costs and latency for data transfer, over-the-air updates, processing and more. This blog post describes how to de-duplicate files that are already loaded on a device or server at the edge so only new updates can be sent. The code shows how to do that using a specific CDN, but the idea is a fascinating one, especially as memory to store updates becomes constrained on edge devices.  (Fastly blog)

More than a decade later telehealth may be happening: I remember sitting in an auditorium in 2006 watching Paul Otellini, the then-CEO of Intel, share his vision of healthcare delivered remotely using computers and the internet. The rationale was sound and the technology viable, but the regulatory and social environment wasn’t there. Now, in my own city of Austin, schools are using telehealth to share nurses across the district and now the FTC is weighing in to allow the Veterans’ Administration to use telehealth as well. Its moment may have arrived. (FTC)

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

ADT wins temporary injunction against Ring’s new security system

Home security from Ring competes with new services from Wink, Nest, ADT and more.

ADT, which was suing Ring after the video doorbell company hired away most of the employees of Zonoff, has won a temporary injunction against Ring. The injunction, issued Thursday night, will stay in effect throughout the remainder of the trial between the two companies, and prevents Ring from selling its $ 199 Protect security system. With the holiday season coming, and competition heating up in the security market, the decision by the Delaware Chancery Court could become a big deal for Ring.

The drama started earlier in March after Ring hired almost all of the employees from Zonoff, a company that made smart home software. Zonoff had raised money from ADT and was working with the security company to build a smart home platform. However,  Zonoff  had been actively seeking a buyer since the middle of 2016. After a proposed acquisition fell through, Zonoff shut its doors. A day later Ring had made job offers to all of the Zonoff employees.

In a lawsuit filed in May, ADT argued that Zonoff had defaulted on a loan repayment and thus was entitled to Zonoff’s intellectual property, including tech that Zonoff had developed for ADT. ADT argued that Zonoff took that tech with it to Ring and it is being used in Ring’s security system.

The lawsuit has been in front of the court for the last few months. On Thursday the injunction was granted by Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster who said that  “it would be tough” for Ring to argue at present that its current products don’t exploit ADT’s trade secrets.

The news broke on Law360, which has been following the case closely. Ring says that that the lawsuit was an example of ADT trying to delay the launch of a competing product and Ring’s attorney denied that Ring was using ADT-specific technology.

The situation is a mess, but it appears ADT has the judge on its side. ADT in October launched a new security product that combines SmartThing’s hub and software with ADT’s current monitoring. Ring launched Protect in October, adding sensors and a keypad to its outdoor cameras and video doorbell. Also in October, Wink and Nest both launched security products as well. Honeywell followed up this month with an all-in-one security product.

Clearly, companies are viewing security as the gateway to a smart home and everyone wants to fight for their share of the market. It makes sense that ADT has to hop on this trend, even though DIY sensors are a very different product from ADT’s professionally installed, monitored security contracts.  If it takes Ring out of the equation, it can prevent a company that has had tremendous success selling security to consumers from further disrupting the market.

I’m still curious though, what it plans to do about Nest, SimpliSafe, Abode and the myriad other options out there.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis