Home sweet (virtual) home
The number of smart home device providers is constantly growing. But how do you know if your product works? Stuart Corner checks out Silicon Labs’ new virtual demo home.
The smart home landscape is challenging to navigate. There are many different devices for monitoring and controlling your domestic environment, on-site or remotely.
They come from a huge array of vendors and use a baffling, and not necessarily compatible, range of wireless technologies to communicate: Bluetooth, Matter, Thread, WiFi, WiSUN, Xpress, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and more.
It’s tough. Even the supply side has problems. To help smart home device developers understand the plethora of communications technology, US company Silicon Labs has created a 3D virtual smart home experience. It takes participants on an interactive journey to showcase how wireless technologies make smart homes more convenient, secure and energy efficient.
The experience is aimed at Silicon Labs’ target market of companies developing smart home products, and not at consumers. However, anyone interested in turning their residence into a smart home should find it informative and useful.
Silicon Labs senior campaign marketing manager, Jenn Hoffman, says the company could evolve the experience into something more focused on end users of smart home technology.
“We are always open to that conversation because we agree it’s an interesting way for consumers to understand what it means to make a house smart and the possibilities of all of their devices being connected,” she explains.
Regardless of whether this happens, she says the 3D virtual experience will continue to develop to reflect the IoT landscape and Silicon Labs’ product portfolio.
Silicon labs provides the technology – software, systems on a chip (SoCs) and expertise – to help others build wireless communications into their connected devices for smart homes and other applications.
Jenn says most of Silicon Labs’ device-maker customers have plenty of wireless expertise, “but the big advantage of working with Silicon Labs is we go beyond just the silicon and wireless and have software, security, tools, ecosystem support, and expertise to help our customers in all aspects of wireless connectivity.”
She adds: “We have many resources including our training section and community that is devoted to helping our customers streamline development and get to market faster by providing information and support no matter where they are in the journey.”
So, the 3D virtual smart home experience has been created in this context: “We built the platform to not just show our SoCs and modules but demonstrate what our products enable and how they work with the entire IoT industry.”
Jenn says it has been well-received. “Customers have commented how great it is to see us utilising new technology to showcase our portfolio and our customers’ success.
“It provides a unique and clear view by starting at the house level, then applications and then the chips those applications can be built with.”
Viewers can travel from one room to another throughout the house – entrance, kitchen, office, bathroom – and see the smart home devices in each room, or they can click on a map of the whole house and select different smart home applications.
These include motion sensors, doorbell cameras and door locks in the area of home security; LED bulbs, plugs, switches, climate control/HVAC, shades and blinds, smart speakers, smoke sensors and refrigerators in area of automation; and things like smart toothbrushes, blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps in the area of health.
However, the real focus of the virtual experience is the information on wireless protocols and ecosystems: Bluetooth, Thread, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Matter, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings, Amazon Sidewalk, Google Assistant, Ring, Amazon Alexa.
Clicking on any of these names will bring up another screen giving access to detailed information on that topic: use cases, benefits, how to get started and details of Silicon Labs’ products and services for that technology.
In that list of protocols and ecosystems, Silicon Labs sees one as being particularly important: Matter, formerly known as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP).
Matter is a proprietary, but royalty-free, home automation connectivity standard. Its development was initiated in late 2019 by Amazon, Apple, Google Comcast and the Zigbee Alliance.
Mikko Nurmimaki, senior marketing manager for Silicon Labs’ home and life business unit, says that Matter will be one of the most significant developments in smart home technology.
“Matter will tear down the boundaries between the current smart home ecosystems,” he says.
“Consumers will be able to mix devices of different vendors and use them in the ecosystem of their choice, controlling them via their preferred app. Finally, people will be able to buy devices with confidence, knowing that they will work with their other devices at home.
“With Matter, device makers won’t have to produce multiple SKUs per product to address the users of different ecosystems. This reduces R&D costs and time-to-market.”