It was exactly one year ago when I was in New York at the Digital Summit for the Revenue Cloud Demo. At that time I built a drill that charged for every hole and therefore needed an internet connection. I thought, what happens if the drill is not connected to the Internet because I am building a tree house in the garden? This shouldn’t be a problem, because the drill can be brought back into the house and thus into the Internet and to update the current state.
But what happens to something that isn’t connected because Wi-Fi isn’t available, like a washing machine in the basement? In this case I don’t want to carry the washing machine into the living room to update the new state. Based on this washing machine scenario, I thought about some IoT communication protocols that could be used alternatively, and I gave a presentation for the IoT conference that took place here in Munich this week.
The simplest solution would be a Wi-Fi repeater that connects the washing machine to the Internet. But I was also thinking of connecting an industrial machine that uses pay-per-use as a service, e.g. Air-as-a-Service, or something like a Smart E-Bike. So I looked at some Smart Home protocols and LPWAN.
LPWAN stands for Low-Power Wide Area Network and is designed for devices with long battery life (over 10 years), long range and low data rate. Sigfox, LoRa and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are well-known LPWAN protocols. With Sigfox you are dependent on a company and its cloud. LoRa is relatively new and at the moment some gateways still have to be installed and is therefore not so widespread. NB-IoT will be available this year and supported by all telecommunications providers. It is based on LTE and only requires a software update to be available everywhere, as stated in the brochure. LPWAN could be interesting for an industrial scenario, but for my washing machine, which is always powered, it’s more interesting to connect it to a Smart Home network.
Smart Home Protocols
For the Smart Home protocols I looked at ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread and Wemo. The first three can create a mesh network. This could connect the washing machine to the smart fridge in the kitchen and then to the Internet. Thread is relatively new and there are currently only two devices available. ZigBee and Z-Wave, on the other hand, have been around for a while and therefore there are many devices. Another advantage of ZigBee and Z-Wave is that they operate on a frequency other than Wi-Fi. We should think about using this when we build a new labs prototype. I remember two events where people flooded the Wi-Fi during coffee breaks and stopped our Infinite Cart demo (using Wi-Fi) and Moto using Bluetooth on the same frequency.
Wemo pigepacks on Wi-Fi, which would therefore not connect my washing machine to the Internet, if no Wi-Fi repeater is used. But the interesting thing about Wemo is that it can easily communicate with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit (with the Wemo Bridge) and IFTTT. Also an ESP8266 can easily programmed as Smart Home device and can be used in the Wemo network and Alexa switches it on and off.
Wi-Fi is the new water
If you watched our ENERA video, the washing machine is another ideal candidate for washing at night when more electricity is available than needed.
“The internet connection will be as necessary for laundry as the water connection.” — Lars