A previous blog explained how the connectivity of end devices leads to intelligence. Simply connecting the devices does not by itself produce intelligence, but connecting them to a bigger system that aggregates, stores, and analyzes their data does. Many details still need to be worked out.
An ecosystem for intelligent systems consists of several players, such as chip, OS, middleware, end device, cloud service, back office processing and analytics providers, and system integrators. Ayla Networks, which is still in stealth mode, claims that they provide secure connectivity for an end-to-end solution for an intelligent system. They currently focus on the consumer market but do not rule out expansion into other areas.
Who they are
David was VP business development for a wireless chip company before. After selling it in 2010 , he saw a business opportunity. At that time, end devices were beginning to be connected to form the Internet of Things. But the ugly reality was that those thousands of end devices were very different from each other, with microcontrollers in a variety of architectures and operating systems, as compared with the nonembedded world dominated by Windows and Linux. All those differences sure were a hindrance to accelerating and proliferating the Internet of Things. David and his cofounders saw the need for a generic solution that could absorb these differences. That led to the formation of Ayla Networks.
David and his team started to work on his solutions. Using his background as a chip guy, he teamed up with STMicro because ST is a major player in the microcontroller market. Ayla Networks is a software company and does not deal with hardware, so this is a good combination. Chip vendors focus on how to design and develop new and better chips but are not experts in networking such as Berkeley sockets and SSL. In other words, companies should focus on their core competency and outsource the rest. In the same vein, application vendors are not experts in the lower layers of software that support applications. During Design West, I heard from several players that application vendors should outsource the lower layers and concentrate on their core business; that is, design and develop applications.
So David is saying “Come to us. We will absorb any protocols differences and security needs to support your applications. You do not need to worry about the lower layers and other infrastructure concerns.”
What they do
Ayla provides an end-to-end connectivity software; for example, to remotely control your AC from outside your home with your smartphone. If you implement something like that on your own, you need to develop lower-layer software for the smartphone, including secure interfaces with its OS and networking stack. Then you need to develop an application to work with that infrastructure. Then you need to worry about how to connect it to your target AC. Communication can be via cellular, WAN, LAN, or PAN. You need to choose the right one. Finally, on the target AC, some mechanism needs to be incorporated to receive data and control from your smartphone. For that, a small board with a communications chip on it must be inserted along with the lower-layer software. And as with your smartphone, you need to interface with that chip’s OS and networking stack, on top of developing applications.
What Ayla provides:
- Client-side lower-layer software for applications
- Networking solutions with security
- Cloud services
- Lower-layer software on target appliances
The client-side software can be integrated with your applications and downloaded from Apple Store and Google Play like other applications. Ayla provides whatever networking protocols are required by the applications. In addition, they provide cloud services to connect your client devices to target appliances. David did not elaborate on how they provide such services. Cloud services consist of cloud infrastructures and applications in the form of virtual machines. Because of the proliferation of inexpensive cloud infrastructures services, a startup like Ayla can afford to provide the cloud services. The lower-layer software on target appliances is the same as #1. Application developers can focus on their core business of developing applications without getting bogged down in lower-layer stuff.
Now this seems to require a lot of technical expertise in several areas, such as embedded systems, networking, and cloud. Although these areas are closely related, no one person could address all of them. Although David did not reveal details about his team, he did say that he gathered technical people who had worked together for several years. People who like to innovate and have a passion to create something new are attracted to his team.
Devil is in the details
Many people have discussed controlling an AC from outside with a smartphone or a tablet, and that by itself is nothing new. David told me that now is the perfect time to bring their solutions to the market. Technologies have advanced and the market is opening up. An article by Reuters reports that by 2022 a typical household will own 50 Internet-connected devices, compared with 10 now. David said that we do not want 50 solutions for 50 devices but only a single solution so that any new device can easily belong to the existing network. He also emphasized that creating a supportable product is really, really difficult.
Their infrastructure pieces must be easy to:
- configure with a lot of latitude
- implement with secure delivery
They claim that they have met all four requirements.
They are in a perfect position to collect and aggregate data, but David did not reveal any future plan for business exploiting such a position. But he did not rule out the possibility, either. If I were an AC OEM, I would be very interested in analyzing control data sent by smartphones, to reflect on how to tune my AC features. David told me that the key to the use of Big Data is anonymization with the ability to opt in or out.
What about power consumption? Smartphones eat a lot of power, and additional features like these would consume even more. David told me that his developers pay a lot of attention to curbing power consumption. Power-use optimization implemented as in the iPhone would attain energy efficiency.
We chatted a bit about power in general when everything is connected. My view was as follows:
- Advantages: There are many advantages to deriving useful information from generated data that might be otherwise discarded. Some information can be used to save power.
- Disadvantages: Unless we can intelligently select which data to collect, or keep, or discard, we will end up with a pile of useless data occupying a lot of storage and server equipment, wasting energy.
I think what David said about the disadvantages was interesting. He said that analyzing a vast amount of data, transforming them to a small number of useful data, and discarding the rest might do the trick. I do not know the doability of such a thing, but it is an interesting thought.
David did not give me any concrete future plans, but this system can expand beyond the consumer segment to the commercial and industrial markets. I think there is a reasonable level of traction
in the consumer market at this point, and there will be greater demand later. In addition to a clear application for turning an AC on and off, I can think of a few more examples. Sprinklers for lawns are usually on timers, and occasionally they start to work even in the rain while you are not at home. Your remote device can override this. Or better yet, you can program sprinklers in conjunction with moisture-detecting sensors buried in the ground and with sensors for other local weather.
But I think the really big applications are in the commercial and industrial segments. I think it is very smart of Ayla to choose the consumer market first. There are two reasons. The first is that the commercial and industrial segments are known to be late adopters. The second is that if you target very specialized and sophisticated industry-grade equipment, how many people will know? But familiar appliances like ACs show up on many people’s radar screens; after success in the consumer market, Ayla can enter bigger markets.
The conversation stayed at a high level because they are still in a stealth mode, but a public announcement is forthcoming. Meanwhile, you can register to purchase their design kit by visiting here.