Google encourages smart homeowners to use follow its lead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 10:43pm

Google's Nest Labs has unveiled an industry group to encourage makers of "smart" home gadgets such as locks and lightbulbs to use Thread, a new standard for devices to communicate on a network.

The attempt by Nest, a smart thermostat maker that Google bought in January for US$3.2 billion, to lead the way in how household devices will speak to each other in the future underscores the importance placed by Google on cars, homes and other areas.

It follows similar initiatives by Qualcomm, Intel and other technology companies.

The Thread Group includes Samsung Electronics and chip companies ARM Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor and Silicon Labs. Big Ass Fans and lock maker Yale are also members of the group, which will certify Thread-compatible products.

Thread is a networking protocol with security and low-power features that make it more suitable for connecting household devices than other technologies such as Wi-fi, NFC, Bluetooth or ZigBee, says Chris Boross, a Nest product manager who heads the new group. Nest's products already use a version of Thread.

The radio chips used for Thread-compatible smart devices are already in many existing connected home products that use ZigBee, such as Philips Hue smart lightbulbs.

Those ZigBee devices could be updated with software from their manufacturers to work with Thread after a product certification programme starts next year, Boross says.

"Around that time I imagine that Thread-compliant products will start hitting the market, but people can start building Thread today," he says.

Companies including Silicon Labs, Freescale, NXP and Atmel make chips that could be used in Thread-compatible products, which Boross says will be easy to interconnect and offer improved security.

"Google is an 800-pound gorilla. With its impact on the ecosystem, it could definitely influence the direction the industry goes," says Jim McGregor, a technology analyst at Tirias Research.

Nest said it partnered with Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool and lightbulb maker LIFX to integrate their products with its thermostats and smoke detectors.

Its Thread Group goes even further, adding to a growing field of groups of companies trying to standardise interaction between connected gadgets from different makers.

Last week, Thread Group member Samsung Electronics joined Intel and Dell to form a new consortium.

Earlier this month, Microsoft became the 51st member of a competing group called AllSeen Alliance, which is led by Qualcomm and also includes Sharp and other consumer electronics manufacturers.

Apple, known for strictly controlling how other companies' products interact with its own, last month announced plans for HomeKit, its own framework for connecting household gadgets.