In an earlier column I mentioned that the folks at Google had recently announced something called Android@Home (Click Here to see that column). The idea behind Android@Home is that, in the not-so-distant future, the entire home will be seen as a network of accessories that can be discovered and communicated with by Android Apps running on an Android device like a smartphone or a tablet computer.
As part of this announcement, the folks at Google talked about the availability of a low-power wireless protocol that will allow very low-cost connectivity with anything electrical in the home – lights, alarm clocks, thermostats, dishwashers, and so forth, but what is the wireless protocol in question?
Actually, I’ve come to learn that the question is a little more complicated than it might first appear. It seems that we should really be asking two questions: (1) What wireless protocol did Google use for their original demo and (2) What wireless protocol might ultimately be used to implement Android@Home and “The Internet of Things”.
Of course another valid question would be “What exactly is The Internet of Things?” There seem to be an ever-increasing number of references to this, but very few of these references take the time to explain exactly what they are talking about. Well fear not, my braves, because “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” as my dear old dad used to say. Sit down and make yourself comfortable because I am poised to reveal all…
So which wireless protocol did Google use?
In my original column I explained how I was rather proud of myself for deducing that the wireless protocol used for the Android@Home demo at Google’s I/O Developer’s Conference was based on SNAP from Synapse Wireless.
I was delighted to receive a great deal of feedback on that original column. Some comments said how wonderful I was (thank you very much), while others asked probing questions. Of especial interest was a reader with a screen name of Valentt who pointed me at a related article on PCmag.com (Click Here to see the full article). In particular, Vallentt noted the following portion of the article:
According to Eric Holland, vice president of electrical engineering at Lighting Science, Android@Home will use a new version of a wireless network developed by Google. It will eventually be open sourced, Holland added.
"Google reached out to us, but we were already working on something similar," Holland said. Wireless Science plans five products, including internal lamps and external lighting fixtures that use the technology. They will ship by the end of the year, Holland said.
Note that when they say “Wireless Science” in the second paragraph I assume that they actually meant to say “Lighting Science”. Also, the reason Lighting Science is of interest here is that it was their lights that were being controlled on a bulb-by-bulb basis during the Android@Home demo using the mysterious, unnamed wireless protocol.
Anyway, based on the PCmag.com article, Vallentt said he (or she) felt that it was likely that Synapse Wireless just saw an opportunity for free publicity and that is why, when I asked, they wouldn’t confirm or deny whether or not SNAP had been used for the Google demo. Vallentt closed by saying “So either Eric Holland is being fed false information or you came to wrong conclusion. Both scenarios are possible. Your comments?”
Well, call me “Mr. Sensitive” if you will, but it appeared as though a challenge has been issued. My honor was at stake. So I leapt into action with gusto and abandon. First of all, using super sleuthing techniques known only to black belt members of the journalistic community, I tracked down Eric Holland’s cell phone number and gave him a call.
I wasn’t coy and I didn’t beat about the bush. After introducing myself and explaining my original column and Vallentt’s comment, I asked Eric if the wireless protocol used in the Google demo of Android@Home was based on SNAP from Synapse Wireless.
Eric’s reply was interesting to say the least. On the one hand he confirmed that Lighting Science had indeed evaluated SNAP-based wireless networks from Synapse Wireless; on the other hand he stated categorically that Android@Home would not be based on SNAP (actually I thought this was a little bold of Eric considering that any decisions pertaining to Android@Home fall under Google’s jurisdiction).
Over the years – and having a 16-year old son – I’ve learned to listen to what’s not
being said rather than what is… if you see what I mean. The point is that Google’s demo of Android@Home was more of a proof-of-concept as opposed to a final product, which means that both of Eric’s statements could be technically correct without actually answering my question. So I rephrased the question, asking if Lighting Science and Google had used Synapse’s SNAP-based modules purely for the purposes of the Android@Home demo without any commitment for the future.
I’m afraid to report to Vallentt that Eric neither confirmed nor denied this fact (grin). What he did say was that he would have to check with Google before he could discuss this topic further. Since that time, Eric hasn’t answered any of my emails or responded to my calls. Now, you can call me “Mr. Suspicious” if you wish, but if I was a betting man, I’d say that this was a bit of a “smoking gun” and that my original article had hit the nail on the head.
But just to tie things down 100%, I also talked to David Ewing, who is the CTO at Synapse Wireless. I put it to David that my street credibility was being questioned and that only he could save the day. Eventually he took pity on me and confirmed that Synapse had indeed supplied SNAP-based wireless modules to Lighting Science; also that David had personally had worked with the folks at Google on the Android@Home demo to ensure that everything worked as expected on the day.
So now I have a great big happy smile on my face because I’ve finally solved the “Case of the mysterious wireless protocol.”
But wait, there’s more, because we still have not discussed why SNAP was used for the Android@Home demo if it’s not going to form the basis of the final implementation, and how all of this ties into “The Internet of Things.” This is an interesting topic in its own right, because it involves all sorts of “stuff” like the Internet Protocol versions 4 and 6 (IPv4 and IPv6), Lo
etworks (LoWPANs) in general and something called 6LoWPAN in particular, and… the list goes on.
In fact, this is such an interesting topic that it deserves a column in its own right … watch this space!