Retrofitting Old for New in the Internet of Things

Open Interconnect Consortium home model

Enabling IoT in the home could depend on connecting legacy systems

Major players in the computing industry expect tremendous opportunity in the Internet of Things (IoT) and are rapidly developing new products and services. But while the demand for IoT exists from businesses, consumer uptake may not keep pace.

Currently 4 percent of consumers own an IoT device in their homes, and nearly two-thirds plan to buy one in the next five years, according to a 2014 study by Acquity Group. Despite the on-going hype, there are some who aren’t as confident in the steady consumer adoption of IoT devices in the home. Michael Holdmann, CEO of ConnectingYourThings, says consumer adoption has actually slowed.

Ashish Dua, co-founder of Switchmate, believes consumers have little motivation to replace existing, perfectly functional devices with IoT-enabled ones. “The way we think adoption is going to be driven is by reducing the barrier to installation by making it simple,” says Dua.

Switchmate was among the 150 exhibitors at IoT World 2015, the world’s largest event of its kind with over 4,000 attendees, showcasing connectivity, hubs, sensors, and back-end management services and data analytics solutions.

A visible trend that emerged from the show was retrofitting legacy hardware, with several vendors showcasing devices and services allowing for older, non-smart and non-connected objects to become IoT-enabled.

Switching on IoT

Switchmate, which recently completed Indigogo funding, aims to enable IoT initially within traditional homes and apartments. The company demonstrated an Internet-connected device that fits on top of existing wall switches, enabling the turning on and off of lights via a smartphone app.

Switchmate connected light switch

Switchmate is an Internet-connected device that fit on top of existing wall switches, enabling the turning on and off of lights via a smartphone app.

“With products that are out there today, there is that level of installation that is required and we want to remove that,” says Andy Landles of Switchmate. “We think that will increase the adoption rate of the smart home today, and that anyone who wants to use smart home products, can.”

The initial version of Switchmate is Bluetooth-only, but an Internet-connected hub to allow connectivity remotely is under development. What’s unique about this IoT light switch is that it simply snaps on top of existing switches, which is particularly appealing to those people who may not be DIYers or those residents who aren’t allowed to make modifications to their living environment, like renters.

“What we believe the trend in IoT is right now is that there is only a 2 percent adoption rate in IoT, and those of us being in the [San Francisco] Bay Area believe that it could be more than that,” says Dua.

Landles says other similar types of devices are coming, ones that can be simply integrated with existing infrastructure without complicated installation, such as heating or cooling duct vents that automatically open or close.

Connected Cooker

Wallflower Ember stove top

The Wallflower Ember is a device which that with either electric or gas stoves and could help prevent fires.

Another company, Wallflower, also aims to retrofit existing appliances present in a majority of households that may not be Internet-enabled or IoT-connected in the first place, namely the stove or cooktop. According to Victor Jablokov, CEO of Wallflower, the No. 1 cause of home fires in the United States is unattended stovetops. Its IoT device aims to prevent this and can be retrofitted onto existing stoves.

“We, essentially, are providing a device that will make something that has never been smart, smart. And it’s retrofittable to any stove in the marketplace – no matter if it’s 30 years old or brand new,” says Jablokov.

The Wallflower Ember is a device that works with either electric or gas stoves. While it’s a bit more complicated to connect the gas version, says Wallflower Vice President of Hardware Engineering Iain McDonald, both the electric and gas versions produce the same results. If a stove is left on past a predefined time, users are notified via an alert to their smartphone. They can choose to ignore the alert or extend the time threshold, should what’s on the stove be merely simmering. Or they can initiate a remote shut off of the gas or electricity to prevent a fire. Jablokov says insurance companies are particularly interested in the product, which could be sold through these insurance companies or used to provide rate discounts on homeowners insurance should they be installed.

Making IoT Sweet and Easy for Developers

Another exhibitor at IoT World 2015 sought to lower the barrier of entry for those interested in creating solutions. Relayr Co-Founder Jackson Bond believes it is critical for there to be relatively little friction to entry when developing for IoT.

Wunderbar development board

The relayr Wunderbar is a $150 development board with light, color, proximity, temperature, humidity, sound, gyroscope and accelerometer sensors.

“Like so many technological revolutions, it is all about the tools,” says Bond. “If the tools are easy enough for the right people, then you are going to start having solutions built.”

Relayr provides both software as a cloud-based back-end IoT service and a $150 development board with light, color, proximity, temperature, humidity, sound, gyroscope and accelerometer sensors, all cutely packaged and themed as the WunderBar, complete with Willy Wonka-esque fonts. Relayr’s goal in developing the kit, explains Bond, was to basically break out all of the sensors currently contained in smartphones, allowing developers to place sensors practically anywhere.

“If you can take those sensors out of the phone, be completely modular and take those sensors and put them on anything you want without knowing anything about electronics, and you can start programming those sensors against that sensor data from any thing around you, well that would be amazing,” explains Bond.

Bonds says BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, which includes Bosch and Siemens brands, is working with relayr technology to explore connecting 400 million devices that are currently not connected.

“Most of their devices are still dumb, and I’m not going to change my working dishwasher for the next 10 years because it works,” says Bond. “But you could still provide sensors that you just attach to the thing to collect that data, which would be very valuable for future product development…it’s sort of a retrofit idea.”

Legacy systems are prevalent not only within corporations but also in the home, and potentially represent a marketplace in which decision-makers are non-early adopters or are those reluctant to incur huge capital expenses installing completely new connected systems. Retrofitting and mapping of legacy systems could be the solution.

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