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The IoT and Thermostats

Aug 15, 2014

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last year, one of the hottest tech trends today involves the Internet of Things (IoT).  That’s the name given to our anticipated future where everyday objects are connected to the Internet to better serve us.  Objects like cars, fridges, locks, pets, utilities, medical devices and so on.  Wearables are also a big part of this.

As technology companies contend to enter the IoT market, they frequently buy startup companies with expertise in the area.  One of Google’s first acquisitions in 2014 was Nest Labs, the makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Protect smoke detector. Google paid a staggering $3.2 billion in cash to bring Nest into the Googleplex.  That is fully 25% of what they paid for their entire Motorola purchase.  Google’s motivation is clear – they want Google networked hardware in as many homes as possible, and are willing to pay billions to achieve it.  Every bit of data coming from homes will be recorded for posterity and data-mined.  Google is playing for high stakes, when they stake out the high ground in IoT.

Figure 1:  Nest’s ridiculously photogenic, internet-connected thermostat

When Nest announced a meetup to talk about their developer API, I put it on my calendar immediately.  And just as well, because there were a lot of late signups who couldn’t get in.   The presentation was given by one of Nest’s engineering team, Mark McBride, a really good speaker with a great slide deck.

Figure 2:  The Nest API covers 4 functional areas

Mark described the 4 functional areas that have a Nest API.  These are:
• thermostat control (Nest makes a very attractive thermostat to control HVAC)
• “protect events” (this involves safety, primarily relating to smoke detectors’ status)
• Home and Away (the building wide status; is it occupied at present, running on auto or manual, etc?)
• ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival, allowing Nest to anticipate the arrival home of an owner, and bring the building to the requested temperature at the right time).

All the APIs are RESTful endpoints, with access authenticated through the industry-standard OAuth2 library.  Implementing the API as REST sockets confers the advantage of simplicity, as well as making the features available to every platform that supports Secure Sockets Layer (essentially every platform that supports networking).  You can, if you wish, code to the API in Javascript, and use a browser as your execution engine.  Mark showed numerous examples of this in the presentation.

Golgi greatly improves data transport for battery-powered mobile devices.  And that’s the user component at the edge of the Nest ecosystem!  The smart thermostats and smoke detectors connect to your home subnet, they chatter through your ISP with the Nest data center.  The Nest data center takes instructions from mobile devices to relay back to the individual heat control/sensing components in your home.

By using the Golgi library, app developers can achieve higher reliability and performance for their Nest apps. Golgi is free to use for the first several thousand app users.  After that you might ask “is reliable data delivery important for a thermostat?”  Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not, but how do you feel about data coming from a smoke detector?  How about data from your home security system?

This meetup was a fascinating look at development for products that point the way to our future.  Developers should keep in mind approaches like use of Golgi, that can dramatically improve mobile apps.  And I can’t resist pointing out that with $3.2 bn cash in their pockets, the connected thermostat and smoke detector engineers have really, wait for it,  feathered their own nests.  Bada-bing!

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