So you may have seen the latest Apple launch last night, WWDC 2019. Alongside new iOS updates, computers that look like cheese graters and more, there was one thing that really caught our attention here at Ovon. That’s the launch of “Sign in with Apple”, the latest Apple attempt to protect your privacy (and lock out other companies).
Rather than providing your email address to sign up for services, or logging in with Facebook or Google, Apple will now allow you to sign in with your Apple ID. More interestingly, it will also create throwaway email addresses for you to sign up to those websites where you just don’t want to get spammed with the latest shopping offer every week. This is all backed up by a greater trend towards privacy, restricting app users from using analytics in children’s apps and restricting geolocation data to app developers.
So what does this mean for the average consumer?
Well firstly this certainly makes life harder for unscrupulous email marketing resellers, although we would hope GDPR data regulations are already doing that. And you could also argue that these services have existed for a while, through services such as Temp Mail or Guerrilla Mail. But by integrating them directly into consumer’s everyday activities, rather than just for privacy enthusiasts, it certainly has the potential to make people more aware of the value of their own data. It also further highlights the difference in approach between companies where you are the product (i.e. Facebook) and where you pay for the product (Apple). After all, you don’t get anything for free!
“Your data has value, even if you don’t realise it.”
So why do we care at Ovon?
Well IoT is a space that is rich in data, much of it personal even if you are unaware. Turning on a lightbulb or heating seems harmless enough, until you realise that this gives potential access to your entire daily routine. When this is linked to an app accessing your phone’s data, the potential for misuse is obvious. Here at Ovon therefore we always design with the consumer in mind, thinking how we would want our own data to be used. Minimising access to unneeded data and secure systems to prevent third-party interference should be at the forefront of an IoT consumer’s mindset.
Apple’s move therefore we see as a positive step forward for tech and IoT in particular, as it yet again raises awareness of the value of data and the need to judge a product by all its attributes, including privacy. Well-designed products, such as the ones we produce, will continue as a result to lead the way over unsecure systems that allow vulnerabilities in people’s smart homes.
You may have recently seen the news that over half of British households will see an increase in their cost of energy at the end of April. Ofgem, the regulator who sets maximum prices for gas and electricity default tariffs, have raised the price cap. This means customers who are on a ‘standard’ default tariff will pay an average of £117 a year more, totalling a massive £1,254 annually. Even customers on prepayment meters, often the elderly or vulnerable, will see a price rise of £106 up to an average of £1,242 annually.
While switching deals and fixing prices remains the best way to save energy costs, with a typical household saving £200 annually, it’s obvious that energy costs need to be controlled. Does a smart thermostat therefore make sense to help cut costs and reduce that energy bill shock?
Smart Thermostats: How much do they claim to save?
It appears the latest game is claiming that your smart thermostat saves more than the next companies. Tado says their product will ‘pay for itself in a year’ reducing bills up to 31%. Netatmo go higher and say 37% saving! British Gas and Hive stick to a £130 saving a year. But are these numbers true? Or are they only working from a worst case scenario to the best possible saving?
Will I save money?
Nest and independent studies say customers save on average 10-12% with a smart thermostat. A considerable difference from 37%, but still a great way to save money. Nearly 50% of households with programmable thermostats set them up incorrectly or don’t bother using them. Smart thermostats take the hassle out of this, ideally never forgetting to adjust your temperature.
BUT this does mean you’re much more likely to see savings if you don’t currently bother adjusting your thermostat and make the most out of your programmable one. If you always turn it down when leaving the house, have it set to optimum settings, turn it down at night, then you will see less energy savings.
You’re far more likely to make savings if you are tech-savvy enough to engage with the various apps on offer and have a varied lifestyle that can’t be easily programmed. Being able to set temperatures and turn off on the go is of benefit if you never know where you’re going to be, but if you have a mostly standard 9-5 routine, then it may be less useful. Finally make sure you’re going to stay in the same property to enjoy the benefits. It might sound simple, but if you’re looking to save money through a smart thermostat, don’t leave it behind when you move after 1 year.
Are smart thermostats worth it?
So are smart thermostats a sensible way to save money? Quite possibly depending on your circumstances and certainly one that’s worth investigating! They also have a range of other benefits based on whole home control and comfort depending on the solution you choose.
However if you’re looking to develop your own solution, just get in touch! Here at Ovon we’re experts at developing heating solutions, from the very early concept and prototyping to manufacturing. Through the process our projects get prepared to go to market not only with the best device but also with the data, security and cloud infrastructure to enable it. Passion for product design and progressive iteration are the key elements for us.
By 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) will have more than 100 billion connected devices worldwide, each with a dozen or more sensors collecting data with an estimated $19 trillion of newly created value.
These figures above aren’t just a wild guess, but from a leading research paper from Research and Markets. It’s expected that 5G connectivity and AI technology will power this transformation. This phenomenon is known as the Trillion Sensor Economy; sensors are expected to generate bronto-bytes (1000 trillion!) of data by 2025 from the trillion sensors that will be online by then, requiring the Internet to grow exponentially.
So, how important are sensors for the IoT?
IoT opens a world of opportunities to extend the digital into the physical world. New utilisations that focus on the control and monitoring of physical entities are appearing every day. IoT endpoints generate data about things that can be collected and analysed locally or remotely in the cloud.
These endpoints are increasing exponentially day to day due to the large number of sensors that we can use and the new ones appearing in almost a daily basis. Location, movement, proximity, temperature, images, vibration, ambient light, humidity, gestures, energy, contaminants and pollution are just some of the measurable endpoints. Therefore, the business case of the IoT sits on the ability to achieve device data streams for insight, process optimization and decision-making.
The trillion-sensor economy will benefit to the companies who’ve prepared for it.
A future with sensors giving information from surrounding surfaces, autonomous cars, wearables, workplaces and homes is not that far away and will change the way we live, the way we work and even the way our kids play.
For some, it can seem like a logical progression of modern society and even something easy
to accomplish. Nothing could be further from the truth however, behind this revolution there are basic manufacturing processes, hardware, software, data, and infrastructure needs that companies need to utilise in order to be well placed to take advantage of this opportunity.
Getting your company, products and services ready for the trillion-sensor economy requires a multidisciplinary view of all the teams and processes involved. A combination of intelligent devices, applications, connectivity, risk awareness (data privacy), milestones, management and leadership without a doubt requires a team that’s been there before and can help in bringing your idea to life.
Been there, done that
Here at Ovon we partner with our customers in championing the trillion-sensor economy revolution. Experts in end-to-end solutions, from the very early concept and prototyping to manufacturing. Through the process our projects get prepared to go to market not only with the best device but also with the data, security and cloud infrastructure to enable it. Passion for product design and progressive iteration are the key elements for us.
Healthcare, well-being, automotive and connected homes are just some of the industries about to be transformed. Many of the companies we work with have ambitious roadmaps to lead the race and we’re excited to help them capture this trillion-sensor economy. We are looking forward to helping our customers design a thriving future!
Smarthome devices are not just about making our homes more practical. Products such as smart thermostats and radiator valves also help homeowners to save money on their energy bills by using the latest protocols and technology to tackle the energy efficiency problem in many homes. Here at Ovon, we are experts in a variety of protocols, but this time we’re going to explore OpenTherm.
What is OpenTherm?
OpenTherm is a standard communications protocol used in central heating systems for the communication between a central heating boiler and a room thermostatic controller, such as the ones you find on the wall. It enables thermostats to control heating and domestic hot water systems. As a standard, OpenTherm is independent of any single manufacturer.
With traditional heating systems, a simple relay is used to turn the boiler on or off. When the boiler is on, it heats water and your home to the pre-set temperature until the thermostat tells it to turn off. However radiators turned on to full power can often overpass the temperature set. As a result, the thermostat waits until the temperature falls, before starting the boiler at maximum power again. This is not the most efficient way to keep a comfortable home.
Thanks to OpenTherm, a user can get a real and accurate idea about what is happening to the boiler. In fact, it gives a digital and friendly interface that allows the thermostat to change the temperature of the water used for heating. Using a process called modulation OpenTherm boilers can reduce water temperature to balance out natural heat loss through windows, walls, roofs and doors.
As almost all smart thermostats understand how long a house takes to warm up completely, they can measure the heat required to get a house up to the ideal temperature. Therefore, a thermostat can set the boiler to the most efficient water temperature to achieve the comfort needed.
Even more, in many cases, thermostats may set the water temperature to a lower level, using longer heating times to reach the set temperature. Despite how this sounds, longer heating times do not necessarily mean more energy is being used, in fact, this type of heating control can save more energy and be more efficient overall.
OpenTherm communication is digital and bi-directional between the controller (called master) and the boiler (called slave) so how does it work?
Master controllers can come from different sources, but at this point we are going to stop on two:
A Thermostat. It will use its inbuilt smart algorithms to tell the boiler when to change its target water temperature so that it will use more or less energy as needed.
A Gateway or multi point to point. This is a new feature from specification 2.4 that also describes how more than two devices (boiler-thermostat) can be connected by OpenTherm. Whilst OpenTherm is a point-to-point connection, an extra device (gateway) is added between the master and the slave. This gateway has 1 slave and 1 (or more) master interfaces. The gateway controls which data is passed to the slave.
Does OpenTherm save money on the energy bill?
It is really difficult to give an exact figure as it will depend on the home, the number of radiators, heating temperature and the existence or not of smart radiator valves. There are studies that confirm that it can save around 6% energy.
The fact is that by using OpenTherm a boiler only uses the energy it needs to provide the heat required at that point to save money.
Is my current heating system OpenTherm compatible?
The simplest way to know whether an existent heating system is OpenTherm compatible or not is to look for the OpenTherm logo on the boiler or thermostat. If the boiler isn’t easily accessible, the best way is to check with the boiler and thermostat manufacturers to see if OpenTherm.
If you’ve got a compatible thermostat and boiler, it’s worth checking with a heating engineer if the OpenTherm connection is enabled as thermostats that support it have a specific wiring for this standard.
Finally, an OpenTherm controller from manufacturer A can in principle be used to control a boiler from manufacturer B. However, OpenTherm controllers and boilers do not in fact always work properly together. The OpenTherm standard comprises a number of optional features and some devices may include manufacturer-specific features. The presence or absence of such features may impair compatibility with other OpenTherm devices. This is a rare scenario but could be the reason why a compatible OpenTherm system is not working properly.
Alternatives to OpenTherm
OpenTherm is the most popular modulating interface, but some boilers have their own digital interface. There are other standards/protocols such as eBUS and EMS and here at Ovon we work with all of them when developing our smart devices. We promise to go through them and their advantages and inconveniences in the following blogs. Thanks for reading and we hope you found this useful!
Everything started with a simple briefing, why heat and cool your whole home?
The Ovon team designed, developed and sold a cutting-edge smart radiator valve that allowed for room by room control. Today our CTO, Taimur Khan, brings us this blog to better understand why we chose Thread when developing the valves and how important is to have the right tools and knowledge when developing an IoT product.
So we start with the question, what is Thread?
Well it is something in the same category as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G, 4G etc. that are now house hold names and many people understand what they mean. Essentially, it is a wireless communication method, but it has been specially designed from the ground up to make secure and seamless communication between low power devices.
Many will ask why can’t we use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This is a very valid question especially because you can use Bluetooth between say your wireless headphone and your smart phone, or you can use Wi-Fi between you Laptop and your Printer although via a Wi-Fi router.
The problem is that Wi-Fi technology has been designed for a very different application. It’s main focus from day one was to exchange lots of data between devices that are commonly powered by mains. Thus, attempts to use Wi-Fi in battery powered applications have not worked very well and you end up either with a device that runs out of battery life every few weeks or you have to duty-cycle it’s power so much it becomes unusable as a responsive device.
Bluetooth, unlike, Wi-Fi had its beginnings in low powered devices like wireless mice and keyboards and then the latest Bluetooth Low Energy, aka, BLE has gone one step further to even lower powered devices like wearables example smart watches and health sensors etc. But Bluetooth has an inherent problem that some people may not be aware of. The problem is its low range and unavailability of meshing technology. To explain this further Bluetooth low power slave devices like save power by turning off the radio circuit when they do not expect to talk to the master device like a PC. This means that this is more of a one-sided communication and thus results in what we call a star network. A network in which slave devices talk to one master device only. This has a limitation on number of devices that can actively connect to a master.
The problem with Bluetooth was first (commercially) tackled by the likes of ZigBee and Z-Wave. Both technologies introduced meshing, but specifically ZigBee can theoretically have hundreds of devices in a network that talk to each other and pass each other’s messages around the network thus forming what we call a mesh network.
ZigBee and Z-wave technology can be seen in several home automation products that are on sale now a days. Products with these technologies generally can be found in smart lighting, smart locks, some security systems and also in some remote-control applications. The biggest market however for ZigBee has been smart energy and ZigBee has been used in millions of smart meters around the world.
Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) has introduced Bluetooth Mesh technology, which is another competitor in this sector. Bluetooth mesh works differently from Thread and ZigBee in some respects. For example, for those familiar with routing protocols, BT Mesh uses network flooding to transmit packets. This means that a message sent goes to all devices. This is very useful in small home networks and is a special favourite of smart light industry, however this means that the packet latency becomes a problem with number of devices on a network and you cannot transfer large amount of data over this network without completely starving it of bandwidth.
So what is special about Thread, and why do we need Thread when we have ZigBee. The answer lies in the fact that ZigBee has been in development since early 2000s and it has failed to capture the home automation market. It has only risen to popularity in the last few years. ZigBee tried hard during its existence to become a one-for-all protocol. Unfortunately, year after year it failed to deliver intra-operability between manufacturers. So, for example if you bought a Zigbee switch from one manufacturer and a ZigBee light from another manufacturer, officially they should work seamlessly together but in reality, that rarely happened. Reasons was that the functionality of the gateway device had to be defined from start. A gateway must support a light switch already to be able to work for it. Thus, a universal gateway that supported all possible ZigBee devices didn’t exist.
Thread has gone back to basics and defined a protocol from scratch and based it on the internet protocols we use on the daily basis, on our computers, on our phone, on our tablets and even on our smart TVs.
The result is that Thread gateway is a much simpler device. It does not need to know what kind of Thread device is being connected to it beforehand and thus is much more universal. So much so that there is chance that soon Thread gateways may be built in to home Wi-Fi routers as standard.
Thread then continues to make device connectivity simpler and secure. The most common method to bring a Thread device onboard a gateway is by scanning its QR code via a Smartphone app. The Smartphone app acts as a security broker between the Thread gateway and the Thread joining device. All this happen using security technologies that we use on the web and have been tested and developed over many years. In a nut shell, Thread provides world class security of data between devices.
Thread still provides meshing so there can be up to 250 devices on a Thread network. A recent comparison between home automation protocols (ZigBee, Thread and BT Mesh) found Thread to be the best at routing packets and lowest latency of messages. You should not have to wait 5 seconds between pressing the switch and seeing the light turn on.
Thread also gets rid of single point of failure. For example, in ZigBee there is only one Gateway and if it fails then the network connectivity to internet fails. Also, you cannot commission new devices to the network without a working gateway. Thread supports multiple gateways and in a network with more than one gateway, if one fails, another one automatically takes over its responsibilities.
From a developer point of view Thread provides the simplest way to create wireless mesh networked devices.
As time goes on, we will see more and more thread related devices appear on the market. ZigBee alliance in cooperation with Thread have developed the DotDot application layer that brings many years of ZigBee learning to Thread. Although Thread is application layer agnostic, but I believe overtime we should see more and more Thread devices working together either though Cloud-to-Cloud integration or just talking to each other on a local Thread network.
Thread, believe it or not, is the future of home automation IoT devices. And with all the advantages it presents it may become the defacto for Industrial IoT as well.
Remember, we are always happy to share knowledge, so just get in touch!
**Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ovon Technology Limited.
We’ve all heard the stories, seen the viral videos of people falling over using their phones. We’ve heard the complaints about how someone is ‘always online’. It’s fair to say that Millennials love tech, maybe even more than avocados. But what does this mean for the Internet of Things and is it really as simple as saying young people love technology?
Well the first point about IoT is…
Millennials are the LEAST likely to own devices!
A US-based survey showed that Millennials are the least likely age group to own IoT devices. Shocking eh? Here at Ovon we always make sure to research customers before we actually develop a product to avoid misconceptions like this one. This is a large problem for big energy companies and utilities looking at launching smart connected products. With low numbers of home ownership a Millennial doesn’t want to be battling his landlord simply to fit a connected thermostat. That’s before we look at specialist connected cooking appliances and more.
So Millennials aren’t necessarily purchasing connected products, but they’re online right? So what does that mean for your new shiny product? Well this level of tech awareness actually means that Millennials are very aware of issues such as security of devices. In a survey conducted by KPMG, 74% of Millennials say they would use more IoT devices if they had more confidence that the devices were secure. This is in contrast to under 50% of more elderly potential customers in the Baby Boomer generation with concerns about security. Millennials also know a lot more about your company than you think. YouGov last year released a new study showing 61% of shoppers between 18 and 34 years old had switched brands over the last 12 months. A surprising number of these switchers blamed issues in a brand’s supply chain. Millennials are able to find out about that factory scandal from 4 years ago, with social media often amplifying concerns about social responsibility or environmental impact.
So, what are Ovon’s take home points for developing IoT for Millennials?
Know your customer. Don’t just assume because it’s ‘smart’ young people will want it. Home ownership and living situation are important factors for example.
Millennials know what can go wrong. Security and safety are not a given, so make sure to demonstrate why your technical solution is the best.
Millennials know how to dig the dirt. Work with reputable partners and manufacturers. That’s why here at Ovon we only work with trusted partners to ensure we avoid problems.
Again, we’d love to hear any comments, so just get in touch!
We’ve all had visions of the perfect automated house for sometime now. From sci-fi films to the latest excited tech release, it always seems as though the next big thing is just around the corner. After all who doesn’t want a robot butler around to pick up your clothes, cook your food and generally look after things? Admittedly we need to be careful what we wish for (I’m looking at you HAL 9000!)
I can’t let you do that…
But right now it seems the stage we’re at in home automation is that of voice controlled prompts linking to the other smart items in your house. So saying “Hey Alexa, turn my heating on to control your temperature”, it’s not quite the little wheeled robot butler but it’s a start. What the purpose of these blogs at Ovon is to put a different perspective on what’s out there and show the sort of things we might consider while developing. So this article isn’t going to be a review of all the latest smart home devices. There are lots and CNET/TechRadar etc. can easily help you out with that! Instead here are 3 key things to consider when thinking about if you want to control your home.
The smart home dream, everything connected and controlled together.
“Your Home is Your Castle”
Security first. Your home is your castle. But we’re not talking about simply buying smart security cameras. What is arguably more important is your digital home and how easy this is to access. We’ve all heard stories of people’s webcams being hacked or a computer getting a virus. Now imagine if that hack could unlock your front door, turn off your fridge, turn on your cooker… The more connected devices we have, the higher the chance of things occurring. Look for a system that has solid cloud encryption, regularly issues security updates (no system is perfect), uses a secure protocol such as Thread (which we often develop on) and is natively compatible with what you want. The less steps you build in with the less logins etc., the less chance for systems to be compromised. This isn’t however to say there aren’t great workaround aggregator systems such as IFTT but be careful with what you link!
Oh and also, don’t set your password as HOME2018…
Linking directly to security is Compatibility. Working with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit etc. is great. But would it not be better to work directly between devices and remove any possible weak links? So choose products with multi-protocol support, don’t simply believe a manufacturer when he says “of course my Zigbee light works with your Z-Wave switch, they’re both smart” as they probably won’t. But be aware that this market is developing, so don’t buy products that use their own special encryptions and only work in a very specific way with own brand products. This will limit you controlling everything together in future.
User Interface or UI for short, now this is the bit you see. So does it have the features you want? Can you control it easily? How automated is it really, or are you always having to reset schedules? This is a lot down to personal taste, but we recommend always downloading the app first before buying a product so you can try out the look and feel. This is also why when we develop, we use fast, clickable prototypes so we actually build something people want to use and enjoy interacting with.
Looks like a boring spreadsheet, but easy to use, appropriate colours, interacts with desired user control. This ticks many of the boxes for a good UI and therefore experience.
So there you have it, a very brief run down of some key elements to consider. Sounds simple and hopefully it will be! But remember to always look beyond the marketing and analyse whether a product is actually right for you and your customers, not just the latest hype. Any questions, queries or comments? Just contact us! We’d love to hear from you.