Remote Control Is Everywhere, Thanks to Proliferation of Smart End Devices

With the proliferation of smart end devices, we can do what was not done easily or inexpensively before, thanks to innovations such as cloud, low-power yet powerful processors, high-capacity yet inexpensive storage, and enhanced wireless technologies. Many companies have come up with interesting technologies and products in this emerging market. People Power is one such company.

At the recent Tiecon Conference, I sat down with David Moss, cofounder and CTO, to find out what they are up to. Although I did not talk to Gene Wang, cofounder and CEO, I took his picture with David.

 

David Moss (left) and Gene Wang (right)

Both gentlemen are veterans of wireless technologies. David met Gene when both worked at a company called Bitfone, which was later acquired by HP. Bitfone had technologies in wireless remote firmware updates. They founded People Power in 2009. Most of the current employees are engineers from Bitfone.

Because they emphasize the Internet of Things in their website, I asked a question regarding the Internet of Things, M2M, and intelligent systems. David told me that those terms are very poorly defined and all mean that everything would be connected. So he prefers the term the Internet of Everything.

People Power currently has two products: Presence, a security camera, and People Power 1.0, a power meter display. When I read a description of People Power, I was not quite sure how their product differed from their competition’s. Remember, I interviewed Ayla Networks before. They have somewhat similar solutions at a very high level.

Presence

Presence is a remote surveillance camera. That in itself is nothing new; we are very familiar with remote web cameras—they’re all over the place. What I thought was interesting about this was that it has:

· A uniform platform to connect everything through end devices like smartphones and tablets

· Support for three different architectures

· Ease of incorporation of analytics packages

You can turn your iPhone or iPad (an Android version is under development) into a surveillance camera by simply downloading this application to it. A surveillance camera has a motion detection capability that exploits a smartphone’s native feature. The iPhone series consists of several versions introduced over the past few years. Some people traded an old one for a new one or kept an old one in a drawer collecting dust. In one school district, a school needed a security camera but did not have the budget for it. So the district asked for a donation of old iPhones from the community and turned them into security cameras with People Power’s Presence. It can be used to monitor babies and old folks, as well as low-budget public places. David showed me his room in Phoenix while he was at the show with me in Santa Clara, CA. He checked on his room and his pet with his iPhone from time to time while he was out.

 

Presence demo with David holding his iPhone and me with my digital camera shown on both iPhone and iPad mini.

Behind Presence is a platform general enough to be used for many applications, and People Power makes the software available as open source. It is called the Internet of Things SDK, or IOT SDK for short. Under a BSD license, it is available for download at their developer site and on GitHub.

Although the current version of Presence is free, their platform will be licensed later with more features to enable device manufacturers to market their products connected via this platform and to enable service providers to deal with many devices from different vendors.

Architectures

There are three types of architectures for this system.

  Architecture 1

This is the simplest of the three. Its architecture is shown in the following diagram.

A controlling end device, such as an iPhone, connects to the People Power server placed somewhere in Amazon’s EC2 cloud, and relays its request to connect to the remote target device, such as another iPhone or an iPad. The network protocol currently supported is TCP/IP (it can also support such things as Bluetooth and ZigBee) and utilities/applications on the control end device are written in embedded C, Python, and Java. The target device is currently either an iPhone or an iPad. But it could be anything. In that case, unique interfaces may be required.

 Architecture 2

 

 

 

 

This architecture is basically the same as the first. The controlled device now can play the role of networking hub. So with one control device, multiple target devices can be managed.

Architecture 3

 

 

If the target device is associated with its own cloud, it may talk to its own cloud service instead of People Power’s. As long as it makes sense, People Power can implement an interface with that cloud. Also, People Power opens up its APIs, and the other party has the option to implement that interface. Either way, the end device can support many target devices that are not otherwise supported.

Marketing strategy for Presence

Currently, Presence is offered as a free service marketed as freemium to get market recognition; they will charge for a premium version with more sophisticated features later. They have implemented a request board to solicit and collect useful enhancement features. Because they share the suggestions they receive, people can vote on the features they want to be implemented soon. I thought this was very clever.

Analytics

A lot of data moves around through their platform. By collecting and analyzing such data, we can obtain useful information. Because what they have developed is a platform, it can be applied to many other applications and industry segments, in addition to security cameras. They designed their platform to allow easy plug-in of analytics packages, which David told me differentiates them from their competition. Consolidating all types of devices on a single platform enables uniform collection of data and ease of applying analytics.

People Power 1.0, mobile energy management

Another product is People Power 1.0, which works with a power consumption monitor to visualize your power consumption information at home. Some time ago, both Google and Microsoft tried to market their solutions, but those did not work out for several reasons. One is utility companies’ reluctance to share power consumption data with them. People Power partners with Blue Line Innovation, which develops and markets power meters. Because Blue Line taps into a home’s power panel board and measures power usage directly from it, all that People Power 1.0 needs to do is to visualize it. In addition to Blue Line, it works with Energy Inc.’s TED product line. In the school district case above, in addition to using People Power’s security camera product, they are also using a power meter to manage their power consumption.

 Energy consideration

My blog always ends with this consideration. People Power 1.0 is clearly relevant to this. How about Presence? One thought that comes to mind is the saving by remotely monitoring without actually going there. When they add control features in the future, people will implement energy saving by controlling home appliances, such as an AC. A controlling end device tends to be always on, and Presence software does not add much of a burden in terms of energy consumption. The fact that target devices need to be always on cannot be avoided; it comes with the territory. We can put those devices in a low-power consumption mode with some configurable options, such as no detected motion, and get them awakened when something like detected motion happens. We probably need to know how much power is consumed by new devices and weigh convenience against energy consumption.

 

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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