Internet of Things : My disappointment(s) with the Fibaro HomeCenter 2

Recently I started investigating and investing in Home Automation. I feel the market is readying itself for mainstream and some interesting products are now available. It started with me buying a set of Philips Hue light-bulbs, a motion sensor and a Raspberry Pi. Connecting these devices with the help of existing apps and some tinkering with open source ‘Home Assistant’ and ‘Home Bridge’ allowed me to create simple automation scenes and use Siri to set the lights in the living room and hallway.

This first success led me to think I could take the possibilities inside my house to the next level; I researched extensively possibilities of various Home Automation platforms. In Europe there are various systems available. In the end I decided for the Fibaro Home Center 2 system. Based on Z-Wave technology, which allows 2-way communications between central hub and device, with a mesh network to combat low connectivity situations it seemed the right choice. Fibaro also has a ‘Light’ version of this hub, but I wanted to have some serious strength running my IoT platform so opted for the strongest system. It also promised interconnection with my Hue, SONOS and (upcoming) Alexa systems, so I was really excited to get started.


Fibaro's compatibility claims
Source: https://www.fibaro.com/en/compatibility/

It turned out to be a terrible disappointment.

Before I describe my activities that led me to the final conclusion, there are a few things to note:

  1. There are 4 ways to access devices and sensors in the Fibaro system:
  • A simple panel that shows an on/off or volume/brightness slider.
  • Through a magic scene creator that works with simple colored boxes that allow you to do an IF…THEN scenario
  • A more complex colored boxes interface that allows more variables
  • The LUA programming language

Fibaro Colored Block 'programming'
Source: http://www.5smart.ru/page/kak-rabotaet-umnyy-dom

  1. I researched everything, I have seen more YouTube videos than I care to remember and have seen more programming examples that I wished for. I took a quick course on LUA programming.
  2. I am not stupid with DIY projects in house; electric cabling, switches, dimmers and wiring. Most of this stuff I have done in the past on my own. I understand the color coding of wires, the difference between Ground and Neutral and have had my fair share of accidentally touching a Live wire (at least once in a person’s live…).

Let me first give you an overview of my purchases from the local Domotica Shop in the Netherlands:

  • 1 Fibaro Controller Home Center 2
  • 3 x Fibaro Module Dimmer 2
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Single
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Double

btw: these things are not cheap so I really researched (at least so I thought)

Secondly I will go into the various activities I undertook to get this box running the things I wanted.

Connectivity with Philips Hue lights and sensors

As far as I have researched it, there is no out of the box support in Fibaro for Philips Hue. There is the possibility to download a virtual device component that will connect to the individual Hue lights. Unfortunately this means I was unable to address the Hue lights in the visual programming interface of the Fibaro (a colored block system) and can only address the lights through the programming language LUA. This was a major set-back as I was let to believe integration between Hue and Fibaro would work out-of-the-box.

The Hue sensors such as the motion sensors and dimmers are not accessible through the Fibaro; maybe they could be accessible through the LUA programming interface, but I found no evidence for that.

Instead of being able to address the Hue lights in the ‘Magic Scenes’ or the ‘colored boxes’ interface, I had to install virtual devices using the Philips CLIP API Debugger. This would give me the API Access code that could then be used to activate the virtual devices. After that the virtual devices would become accessible in other code, that I had to write for the scenes. Are you still there?

Due to the lack of access to the Hue sensors, I would have to rely on the Fibaro sensors, which I hoped not to (to be honest I knew upfront that the ‘rely-on-Hue-sensors-part was going to be tricky as they do not support the Z Wave protocol in use by Fibaro).

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming

Connectivity with SONOS

I have 4 SONOS loudspeakers. 2 are connected in a stereo pair. One other is in the kitchen and one is upstairs in my study.

Fibaro shown as connected to SONOS
Source: https://www.fibaro.com/en/why-fibaro/

There was no out-of-the-box connectivity with the SONOS system. It required the download of a virtual device (remember those?). As a result I managed to connect to 1 SONOS loudspeaker. It became clear that I had to download a virtual device for every loudspeaker separately. After doing this I was able to start/stop the music and volume of 1 speaker. The others were not responsive. And the stereo-pair was nowhere to be found in the system. Moreover, if the one that worked had no active playlist, it would not do anything.

By now you will have guessed that no devices were easily accessible; all the work had to be done through the LUA programming language.

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming.

Installation of Fibaro modules

So, as it turns out Fibaro on/off switches need power; makes sense right? As a result installing switches behind a light switch can only be done of the box behind the switch carries not only a live wire (brown), but also a neutral wire (blue). It turns out that that is not the case in my house. Maybe more modern houses have this or maybe in other countries, but my house is 28 years old and only has a brown (Live) and black (Switch) cable.

Luckily, Fibaro has a module called Dimmer 2, which can be installed if the neutral (blue) wire is absent. So all is well, no unfortunately not. The switch-boxes in the wall of my house are not deep enough for the combo of a light-switch and a Fibaro module. So I hunted the local DIY market for light switches with a very small footprint and with some clever wire maneuvering was able to fit everything, very snugly, into the switch-box. Following that I connected the module to the Fibaro controller and, voila, I could remotely operate the lights. Alas, the physical switch was not working anymore, which would really not make my wife very happy. I checked the wiring, looked at another 4 YouTube videos (warning, look at installation for “Dimmer 2”, otherwise you will get really confused).

Conclusion: Could work if your house is built to fit Fibaro or you do not mind some reconstruction of wall-mounted switch-boxes (including drilling new holes and putting in new wiring).

Conclusion and words of warning

I have no doubt that the Fibaro system will work, once you get the switches, dimmers and specific other Fibaro modules installed; but this fairyland only exists on the various Fibaro websites. No real life scenario worked for me. Existing wall-switches, existing Hue system and existing SONOS speakers could only be installed with great cost, either in time or with additional investments and serious physical changes in my house. I do not believe that house automation should go hand in hand with yielding a jackhammer to replace switch-boxes.

in conclusion, device-by-device:

  • SONOS – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Lights – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Sensors – no support
  • Fibaro Modules – not working in my electrical system

And a word of warning: the Fibaro website mentions interoperability with Apple HomeKit. This is only true for a very limited set of Fibaro modules/devices; a smart power-plug, a motion detector, a flood sensor and a door/window sensor.

So at the end of a week with not so much sleep and a lot of learning of new things, I concluded that this (rather expensive) set up was not for me and as a consequence I have requested the seller to take it all back; I hope they agree that this was a bust.

PS. I still have my Raspberry Pi running with Home Assistant and Home Bridge. I am very proud to show the Siri integration with the Philips HUE lights, the SONOS Speakers, the Honeywell EVO home heating system and the NEST smoke & CO2 detectors. At least some systems do work in my house, and at a fraction of the cost.

Test of Plantronics Voyager Legend bluetooth headset and Windows Phone

This is just a quick post to let you know that I recently tested the Plantronics Voyager Legend with my Lumia 930 Windows Phone (running Denim). I am glad to report all functions work out of the box:

  • Bluetooth pairing
  • Voice control
  • Full Cortana integration
  • Caller ID announcements when receiving a call

So all-in-all I am very happy with my choice. More test results after some road tests in the coming days.

 

IPv6 – your next cash cow?

For anybody looking at the next big thing, the new 'killer app' or the new gold, I recommend to read a white paper by the Atos Scientific Community called "IPv6: How Soon is Now?".

The paper explains very well the problem with the way the internet is currently working. It points out that we have a serious issue, a 'time-bomb', with the way that devices (computers, networking components and other IT stuff) are connected with each other using this old IPv4 technology. The paper further explains why, in spite of all kinds of intermediate technologies, we need to adopt a new technology, called IPv6, and we need to do that very quickly.

"To sustain the expected Internet growth, there is no adequate alternative to adopting IPv6."

Furthermore you will read in the paper that we will be running into real problems if we do not make that change and unfortunately the change is happening much too slow.

"Unfortunately statistics from Google paint a (…) picture with less than 1% of total users being IPv6 clients"

This might sound awfully boring and a field of play for the technology wizards in your organizations – this is not for you right? But wait, because halfway through the paper, the authors start explaining that the benefit of this new technology is in the way it can support all possible technical devices (including cars, phones, traffic lights, wind mills, televisions, your shoes and wrist watch, medical devices and almost anything) can become connected – can talk with each other – when we switch to IPv6.

"(…) that IPv6 can now be used on virtually any communicating object, from servers to small sensors, regardless of the underlying (…) network technology."

I think this changes everything; it opens up a whole new world of play for consumers and manufacturers, for service providers and retailers; to create new businesses, to open up new markets and create new ways of making money.

"The IPv6 "Killer App" is likely to be the enablement of the Internet of Things (IoT)"

Based on this you would be stupid to not support this move to IPv6; it will be the engine that allows your business to innovate and grow; your IT landscape will increase thousand fold and you can bring any type of information, sensor or other device into your business platform. That is cool and exciting.

But it will not be easy.

"Although many people think that a migration to IPv6 is primarily a networking issue, the truth is that all IT organizations across server, network, storage and application domains must be equally trained to contribute to both the planning and execution."

The authors explain in quite some detail that you will need to overcome technical hurdles (IP Space Management, IP Address Provisioning, IPv6 to IPv4 interoperability, Application IPv6 readiness and Security Challenges) as well as business challenges (Coordination across silos and companies, Timing issues on what to do first and governance to establish End-to-end responsibility).

"We predict a tipping point when there will be more IPv6-connected users and devices, and therefore opportunity, than the IPv4 landscape provides today."

So, want to grow your business, do the strategically right thing and set yourself up for business growth, agility and all the other stuff you need and like? Migrate to IPv6 now.


This blog post was previously published at http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/09/03/watch-this-space-lucky-7-avoiding-information-overload/

Curiosity drives cloud computing

I like asking questions and I like getting good answers even better. It is because of that, I now have a love / hate relationship with search engines. Most of the time they give me a 50% answer, a kind of direction, a suggestion, a kind of coaching to the real answer. It is like the joke about the consultant; “the right answer must be in there somewhere, because he or she gives me so many responses”.

PH03797IIn spite of all kind of promises, search engines have not really increased their intelligence. Complex questions with multiple variables are still nearly impossible to get answered and the suggestions to improve my question are mostly about my spelling or because the search engine would have liked a different subject to be questioned on.

So nothing really good is coming from search engines then? Well most arguably search engines have brought us cloud computing and a very powerful access to lots and lots and lots of data, otherwise known as ‘the world wide web’.

No wonder I envision that powerful access and cloud computing are the two most important values we want to keep while increasing the capacity and intelligence to do real analytics on large data sets.

In a whitepaper of the Atos Scientific Community, these 2 elements are explored in great depth:

  • Data Analytics needs cloud computing to create an “Analytics as a Service” – model because that model addresses in the best way how people and organizations want to use analytics.
  • This Data Analytics as a Service – model (DAaaS) should not behave as an application, but it should be available as a platform for application development.

The first statement on the cloud computing needs suggests we can expect analytics to become easily deployed, widely accessible and not depending on deep investments by single organizations; ‘as a service’ implies relatively low cost and certainly a flexible usage model.

The second statement about the platform capability of data analytics however, has far reaching consequences for the way we implement and build the analytic capabilities for large data collections.

Architecturally, and due to the intrinsic complexities of analytical processes, the implementation of DAaaS represents an important set of challenges, as it is more similar to a flexible Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution than a more “fixed” Software as a Service (SaaS) application

It is relatively easy to implement a single application that will give you an answer to a complex question; many of the applications for mobile devices are built on this model (take for example the many applications for public transport departure, arrival times and connections).

This “1-application-1-question” approach is in my opinion not a sustainable business model for business environments; we need some kind of workbench and toolkit that is based on a stable and well defined service.

The white paper describes a proof of concept that has explored such an environment for re-usability, cloud aspects and flexibility. It also points to the technology used and how the technology can work together to create ‘Data Analytics as a Service’.


This blog post was previously published at http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/03/25/watch-this-space-curiosity-drives-cloud-computing/


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A new business model in 3 easy steps

If you like curly fries you are probably intelligent (1).

This insight comes from the University of Cambridge. The researchers analysed the data from Facebook to show that ‘surprisingly accurate estimates of Facebook users’ race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views can be inferred from the analysis of only their Facebook Likes’.

The possibility to collect large amounts of data from everyday activities by people, factory processes, trains, cars, weather and just about anything else that can be measured, monitored or otherwise observed is a topic that has been discussed in our blogs many times.

Sometimes indicated as ‘The Internet of Things’ or, with a different view ‘Big Data’ or ‘Total Data’, the collection and analysis of data has been a topic for technology observations and a source of concern and a initiator for new technology opportunities.

This blog is not about the concerns, nor is it about the new technologies. Instead it is about a view introduced by a new white paper by the Atos Scientific Community called “The Economy of Internet Applications”; a paper that gives us a different, more economic, view on these new opportunities.

Let’s take a look at a car manufacturer. The car he (or she) builds will contain many sensors and the data from those sensors will support the manufacturer to enable better repairs for that one car, it can provide data from many cars for an analysis to build a better car in the future and it can show information to the user of the car (speed, mileage, gas). The driver generates the data (if a car is not driven, there is no data) and both the driver and the car manufacturer profit from the result.

Now pay attention, because something important is happening: When the car manufacturer provides the data of the driver and the car combined to an insurance company, a new business model is created.

The user still puts in the data by using the car, the car manufacturer sensors in the car still collects the data, but the insurance company gets the possibility to do a better risk analysis on the driver’s behaviour and the cars safety record.

This would allow the insurance company to give the driver a better deal on his insurance, or sponsor some safety equipment in the car so there is less risk for big insurance claims in health or property damage.

It would allow the car manufacturer to create more value from data they already have collected and it would give the driver additional benefits in lower insurance payments or improved safeties.

What just happened is that we created a multi-sided market and it is happening everywhere.

“If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product”

The white paper explains it in more detail but the bottom line is that due to new capabilities in technology, additional data can easily be collected.

This data can be of value for different companies participating in such a data collection and the associated analytics platform.

Based on the economic theory of multisided markets, the different participants can influence each other in a positive way, especially cross sector (the so called network effect).

So there you have it, the simple recipe for a new business model:

  1. Find a place where data is generated. This could be in any business or consumer oriented environment. Understand who is generating the data and why.
  2. Research how: a. that data or the information in that data, can give your business a benefit and b. how data that you own or generate yourself, can enrich the data from the other parties.
  3. Negotiate the usage of the data by yourself or the provisioning of your data to the other parties.

In the end this is about creating multiple win scenarios that are based on bringing multiple data sources together. The manufacturer wins because it improves his product, the service provider wins because it can improve the service and the consumer wins because he is receiving both a better product and a more tailored service.

Some have said that Big Data resembles the gold rush (2) many years ago. Everybody is doing it and it seems very simple; just dig in and find the gold – it was even called ‘data-mining’.

In reality, with data nowadays, it is even better, if you create or participate in the right multi-sided market, that data, and thus the value, will be created for you. 

(1) http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/digital-records-could-expose-intimate-details-and-personality-traits-of-millions

(2) http://www.forbes.com/sites/bradpeters/2012/06/21/the-big-data-gold-rush/


This blog post was previously published at http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/03/18/watch-this-space-a-new-business-model-in-3-easy-steps/