is Matter the key to interoperability?


With the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) officially launching Matter this week in Amsterdam, Netherlands, embedded systems design specialist ByteSnap Design offered its own perspective and predictions for smart homes, as part of World Smart Home Day on 3 November 2022.

The company’s Dunstan Power, director for ByteSnap Design, said its engineers highlighted the trends to watch in smart homes, including the rise of Matter standard, homes powering the move to off-grid, and consumption dictated by energy suppliers.

Power said that Matter has been a hot topic since its inception in 2017, which was created to bring together multiple IoT technologies into one unified solution, which are driven by the CSA working with all the major smart home ecosystem players under one umbrella. The goal was to create a single open-source software stack that allows developers to build cross-platform smart home products without having to worry about compatibility issues. This initiative attracted big names such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo, and Lenovo. In addition, the consortium also counts Apple and Samsung as members.

Dunstan Power_ByteSnap Design
Dunstan Power

Speaking about the potential for Matter, Power said, “It’s difficult to say if the matter standard (Matter) will be “the one thing” to unite IoT – there are still too many differences between the various standards, and they are not compatible with each other. There are many elements that could unify the industry, and it will take time. For example, the transition from VHS to DVD took about ten years. Despite the negativity around it, we’d like to see things move forward, as this could be the interoperable ecosystem that everyone’s looking for.”

Moving to other trends, here are ByteSnap Design’s predictions or trends to watch related to smart homes.

Connecting smart homes and cars to go off-grid

The future is in connecting more devices to the home. For example, an electric vehicle will interact with an energy management system in the home. Heat pumps, washing machines, car chargers, solar panels, batteries, will create an IoT ecosystem. The idea is that, during the day, excess energy doesn’t get exported to the grid, instead being stored in a battery. If there is no battery, it goes into your car.

If you don’t have a car, it goes into your heat pump or your water storage for latent energy; running your dishwasher, or your washing machine, whilst there’s surplus energy available. For this to happen, devices need to communicate with each other and also with a central system.

Consumption times dictated by energy providers

Against the backdrop of an IoT-powered system that keeps energy in the home or vehicle, new products need to be designed with energy demand response in mind. In the future, for energy from the grid, your home, and energy provider may reveal when to use devices for optimal energy conservation. For example, there will be peak points where consumers go home and plug in their cars, so stored energy can be used, or if it’s not necessary to charge right at that moment, the home can take charge.

 As part of the bigger picture, devices need to be designed so that they can react when instructed to use less energy as part of demand response programmes. This may be something controversial as consumers want access to energy at any time. However, in times of energy shortages, balance is key, and consumers may need to adjust the times when devices are used. To bring consumers on board with these changes there will need to be financial incentives from the energy suppliers.

Design to minimize supply chain disruptions

Global supply chains are affecting the rollout of smart homes. The best approach to mitigate supply shortages is to ensure that designs support different hardware variants transparently. Flexibility is more important than ever. For example, using a different chip may mean that different storage is available. For a design where 8KB of storage is necessary, it may be cheaper to buy 32 KB from a very similar processor. 

This will affect the unit cost, but a product will be available. Manufacturers, such as Tesla, operate like this all the time, by creating a product that is supported when certain chips disappear. Early higher cost should mean less pain later.

The rise of software-as-a-service – subscription models on IoT services

With the rise of cloud computing and mobile devices, software as a service (SaaS) has become the new normal. SaaS offers businesses a way to deliver their applications over the internet rather than installing them on individual computers or servers. This model allows companies to offer their software to customers without having to worry about hardware maintenance or upgrades.

While the concept of SaaS was initially developed for enterprise applications, the idea has now spread to consumer apps too. The popularity of SaaS has grown rapidly because it provides convenience, flexibility, scalability, and cost savings. In addition, SaaS also helps organizations reduce IT costs and improve productivity.

There are already several startups working on new ways to use smartwatches, fitness trackers, thermostats, and other connected devices. Firms offering subscriptions for IoT devices include:

1) SmartThings

2) Nest Labs

3) IFTTT

4) Insteon

5) WeMo

A challenge for these startups is understanding how to monetize their business. They just want to sell subscriptions to their customers. This approach doesn’t work well when you consider that some IoT devices are used only a few times per month. Therefore, they will need to find ways to keep their customers engaged after the initial sale.

In the meantime, BMW has jumped on the SaaS bandwagon, adding subscription models to standard features in some of their vehicles such as heated seats. There is already consumer backlash against this as “subscription fatigue” is already setting in in many subscription services.  

Compliance rules

IoT device developers need to ensure security, reliability and interoperability. The internet of things has also created a number of new legal issues. For example, companies might be held liable for data breaches caused by faulty equipment. This means that manufacturers must take extra steps to ensure that their IoT products are safe and cybersecurity compliant before releasing them into the marketplace. Compliance refers to meeting certain standards, rules, or guidelines, covering areas including safety, such as fire prevention, and privacy (data protection).

In addition, compliance requires that a manufacturer designs products to conform to specific industry standards. For instance, a medical device must adhere to FDA standards, and a car must follow FMVSS standards.

Licensing costs are somewhat of a fiasco. Developers of smart home devices need to account for certification licensing.  For white labelled products, each stakeholder needs to obtain a license, even though the product and the software are the same.

When designing for Matter standard, for instance, you must be accredited. The CSA has an updated ledger of approved devices. There are similar requirements for Apple Homekit, Google Home, and other smart home ecosystems.

Voice assistants and children

Bence-boros-unsplash-smart home
(Image: Bence Boros / Unsplash)

Voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are now being integrated into homes across the globe. These devices allow us to ask questions, play music, read out text messages, order food, using only our voices. With these new features, voice control is becoming more common. As children watch their parents use these tools, they might start using them too. The rise of voice assistants has also led to concerns over privacy issues.

Children are starting to use voice assistants at home, but some experts warn that this trend could cause problems down the road. For example, children who use voice assistants may develop habits that could impact their social skills later in life.  As such, the responsibility lies with parents to encourage their children to use these devices correctly and safely.

Conclusion

The main takeaways from ByteSnap Design for smart home product designers are:

  1. Design new products with energy demand response in mind (for the home energy management systems of the future).
  2. Beat the chip shortage by designing for hardware contingencies – early added cost should mean less pain later.
  3. Plan carefully for licensing and certification requirements for your smart home product.

Since smart homes are constantly evolving to play an ever-expanding role in future societies, the aspiration is for smart homes to enable us to lead healthier lives and provide us with greater convenience. The company said that this presents a plethora of opportunities for product developers.


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