The smart home devices are getting more complex and demanding more intelligent designs. To address the issues, Sigma Designs introduced new development kits and software solutions for a higher level of interoperability with expected device functionality. Sigma Designs also pointed out the market drivers for the sizzling smart home market.
Market drivers for $10 billion market
Peter Huang, Business Development & Technical Manager of Sigma Designs (Asia) Ltd. Taiwan Branch indicated the market is heating up with explosive growth over the past three to four years. First of all, consumers are ready and willing to spend money on the devices and services. Secondly, smartphones and tablets, becoming the more affordable and easily accessible controllers, boost the market penetration and enable the easier control over smart home devices. “Previously, the traditional control panels cost FOB NT$20,000, and the end-user price could cost as high as NT$100,000,” Huang mentioned.
From the industry’s perspective, large industry players like at&t, BT, Orange have entered the market to seek new services and revenue streams. Operators’ push is another major driving force. Huang indicated that global smart home market scale is forecasted to surpass US$10 billion in 2015; one of main drivers in the home control market is that telco and security companies have entered the market aggressively since 2010. Last but not least, with the technologies evolving and getting mature, home control solutions are becoming mainstream and accessible.
New demand, new solutions
Previously, Z-Wave developers design products with binary files. Since 2015, Z-Wave Alliance provides open source codes of middleware to authorized members for customize designs. Facing surging demand of cloud applications, Z-Wave Alliance and Sigma Designs offers solutions to put Z-Wave data to the IP layer, and introduced two development kits to shorten development timeline.
Huang explained two major remote control technologies—P2P and connectivity through proxy servers. The traditional proprietary system is designed with a controller like home hub to control devices at home, and provides remote control via P2P technology. For data and behavior analysis and prediction, it is necessary to put all the data to the cloud. All the controls are done via the cloud platform. It can truly realize the smart home as what Nest does. Users don’t have to set up or control smart home devices all the time. It requires the proxy server, or so-called cloud server, to perform the task. Huang indicated that it requires stable network infrastructure and full coverage locally. For example, the US and Taiwan are two ideal places to realize the true smart home dreams.
Sigma Designs released Embedded Development Kit and Controller Development Kit, leveraging Z-Wave over IP (Z/IP) software early this year for the development of Z-Wave controllers and end-devices. The Embedded Development Kit is designed for end-devices, such as remotes, sensors, switches, door locks, lights, sensors and thermostats, running on RF868, 908 and 920 MHz. The solution provides quick prototyping with embedded sample applications and Z-Wave RF modules. It also provides application framework, for building new software applications, to modularize the codes with predefined applications for easy task deployment. The versatile development modules enable easy hardware prototyping.
The Controller Development Kit is a Linux-based reference design for both in-home and cloud based services. The Z/IP Gateway is included with a host build environment in Ubuntu Linux creating targets for the TI BeagleBone Black. It utilizes TI's BeagleBone Black platform to create an open platform. It contains both the Z/IP Gateway and Z-Ware offering as full source code releases, for developing or modifying Z-Wave controllers. It can be applied for gateways, portals, televisions, set-top boxes, and additional consumer electronics products and services.
Connects to the cloud
With Z-Wave Z/IP Gateway, developers can design solutions based on P2P technology. Z/IP Gateway is an application that handles all communication between Z-Wave and Z-Wave for IP in a similar way that a home router handles the communication between the home PC and the internet. The Z/IP Gateway allows polling from multiple connected Z/IP clients such as tablets, PCs and smart phones. With its Z/IP Gateway and Z-Wave for CE SDK, P2P remote control is enabled with nearly no latency and fast data transmission.
Z/IP Gateway provides instructions on compiling for various platform, and full explanation of each API. Developers can build the application code directly without referring to the source code. With the sample code, they can know how to utilize the libraries to perform Z-Wave functions like ZIPGW discovery, adding / removing node, controlling nodes. The demo code that runs on Ubuntu O/S and BBB platform.
Z-Ware C library contains a C API that can connect to a Z/IP Gateway and discover all connected Z-Wave devices exposing them as software objects. Besides, it converts the C API into Serialize ZIP commands and sends them to Z/IP Gateway.
The Z-Ware Portal is a reference solution on hosting a Z-Wave Web program on an open source Server, connect to the Z-Ware C lib and eventually connect to the Z/IP Gateway to access Z-Wave devices remotely. Different UIs are available for TVs, smartphones and tablets. It also features iOS & Android Web Renderer—source code to create a full screen UI on the iOS & Android device. The Z-Ware Portal binaries can be installed directly on Ubuntu OS.
In comparison with other low-power wireless technologies, Z-Wave technology adopts sub-1 GHz frequency featuring less interference for stable connectivity. Besides, Huang said, “in smart homes, interoperability and backward compatibility are also important. The newly-developed Z-Wave products now can even be backward compatible with the 1st Z-Wave certified products launched in 2004.”
Eric Cheng, Regional Product Marketing Director of Sigma Designs (Asia) Ltd. Taiwan Branch said, “Z-Wave features interoperability that you can buy one Z-Wave door locks from one of seven different companies and they all communicate with one another. It provides price competition, resilience of supply and future proof products. Consumers can purchase what they want from the retail stores like New Egg or Home Depot without thinking of interoperability. For product manufacturers, they can just focus on the know-how and produce the single product for different application markets.”
Huang added, “Z-Wave’s mesh network technology requires low bandwidth, energy and computing power, fitting for most smart home devices.” Z-Wave technology features low-power battery-to-battery operation, ideal for battery-powered sensors. The technology is designed to for whole-home mesh network coverage, supporting up to 231 devices per network. Each node works as a repeater.
Huang commented, “developers should put more emphasis on the application layer and user-centered scenario designs to meet the consumers’ demands. They are more crucial than hardware design when it comes to successful designs for smart home.”