SAN JOSE, Calif. — The long-held vision of connected home appliances is becoming a reality. White goods makers such as Electrolux, Haier, and their competitors in the AllSeen Alliance are gearing up refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, and more that ride WiFi networks and run Linux.
The group will stage a demo of connected appliances at the Consumer Electronics Show in January showing products on the market or on the way. Most are based on a new generation of low-cost 802.11n WiFi chips.
They will communicate with each other as well as cars, smartphones, and cloud services via open source software originally developed by Qualcomm under the name AllJoyn. Qualcomm gave the code a year ago to the Linux Foundation to maintain under the name AllSeen.
“Our appliances will be part of an ecosystem with other appliances including white goods from competitors and brown goods from someone else,” said Roberto Dorigo, head of the Global Technology Center at Electrolux, who spoke to EE Times from his office in Italy.
The AllSeen Alliance has more than 100 members, including a handful of the world's largest white goods makers — Europe's Electrolux, China's Haier, Korea's LG, and Japan's Panasonic, Sharp and Sony. AllSeen attracted companies such as Electrolux because “it is the only code which is open, based on Linux… and you can download it free of charge,” said Dorigo.
Emerging options such as Thread, announced in July by Google's Nest group and the Open Internet Consortium, announced by Intel also in July, have yet to publish their specifications. Both plan to do so soon, and an Intel software executive said it aims to bring OIF specs under the management of the Linux Foundation.
Connected appliances have been a long time coming. A decade ago the former Sun Microsystems led early efforts in smart white goods based on embedded versions of its Java software, but they failed to gain widespread support.
Today, Broadcom and Qualcomm sell single-stream 2.4 GHz 802.11n chips geared for appliances and other cost-sensitive Internet of Things uses. Haier is using in a washer/dryer combo and an air conditioner Qualcomm's QCA4004, announced in September.
“If you consider how many millions of appliances we ship, we can ask for specific chip sets,” said Dorigo of Electrolux.
General purpose WiFi chips require prohibitively expensive amounts of external memory for appliances, said Dorigo. The white goods companies are also using scaled-down versions of Linux. “We don't need a whole computer, no one wants to play games on the display of white goods,” he said.
Instead, Electrolux sees connected appliances using a wide range of WiFi notifications to automate controls depending, for example, if appliances perceive someone is home or not. The company also sees a variety of cloud services such as an oven that can download recipes or suggest cooking methods when you show it the food.
The big white goods makers are far from alone. Nest is among many startups working on products for what it calls the conscious home.
“It's not just about connecting things for the sake of connecting them,” said Jim Reich, co-founder and CTO of startup PalateHome which makes a smart grill. “The connected kitchen… is an area where you can make a big diff[erence] in people's lives,” he said.
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