Sunil Desai from Moschip gives his two cents

Sunil Desai is a technologist who is passionate about solving problems using appropriate technologies. With over 30 years of experience in R&D, product engineering, technology, marketing and business development he was also the founder of award-winning IoT company, Maven Systems which was later acquired by MosChip. An IoT Solution expert with in-depth knowledge of electronics, embedded systems and software, currently he is working on Machine Learning technology especially Deep Learning. He dabbles in wired and wireless automation technologies such as Wifi, BLE, Zigbee, LPWA, HomePlug, PLC and so on.


How early on did you start working in the field of Smart homes? Are Smart homes a new thing or have they been around for long? Tell us more about the solutions that were popular back in the day.

I was exposed to this area of technology way back in 2004 when the construction industry was in a lull; Digital Home or Smart Home was still at a  nascent stage worldwide. One of the leading marketing firms which worked for a construction company approached us asking “What can be done to offer Smart Homes for the new generation of home buyers?

 

At that point in time, Smart home solutions in India were mainly divided into the following three components placed in different areas of a housing complex:

  1. Home
  2. Housing complex common area
  3. Internet application server
smart home architecture

Typical architecture of a Smart home in mid 2000s

 

At every home, we had video door phone, graphics LCD home console, home gateway, electrical switch control units and various sensors like door open, motion, smoke, gas leak etc.

At housing complex level, there was an application server which, to the internet on one end and all the homes on another end. There were security gate cameras, lighting controls which were controlled by this server. This server was also hosting digital

exchange for housing complex and multimedia server. And finally, there was internet hosted application server to constantly monitor, configure, upgrade all the homes.

This was a great solution, quite ahead of time around 2005. However, it was not really modular and was a very high-end system only for luxury homes. Additionally, the issue was the need for excessive wiring that was needed within a home for installing it, as electrical controls were connected through a pair of wires to a home gateway. In short, this was very time-consuming for installation and complicated for field guys to manage.

With these learnings, I defined a new solution in my recent company, which can be installed quickly and need for all the homes. We also created PoC of this which won national level most innovative design prize in 2012.

By this time, wireless technology had matured, the internet had reached most homes in urban areas of India, internet service providers were struggling to win more customers. Therefore, the idea was around the home modem/router which is provided by ISP (Internet Service Provider), used as your home gateway/controller, your smartphone as home console, standard IP camera as door phone and couple of sensors like door open, motion, fire/smoke, gas leak converted into wireless battery operated ones. The solution was primarily built using standard components. Router/modem was supposed to be provided by ISP with additional monthly charges for monitoring your home security on cloud and installation was almost DIY.

 

How do you think the current state of Smart home technology evolved since the time you made those solutions? Have they improved? If so, in what way?

In 2017, we are living in a great age of Smart homes and home automation in India. This is because low power wireless technologies like Zigbee, BLE; Thread are making sensors wire free and so installation is very easy. These days no one likes to add wires in their renovated homes where wires are completely concealed within the wall.

zigbee protocol

Low power wireless protocols in 2006 improved and became more standardised

 

With powerful WiFi like 802.11n, video streaming from door camera is no more an issue. With IoT, monitoring and maintaining health of your home is now easily possible. And with AI/ML user interface is not just a remote or touchpad, you can talk to your home using gadgets like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google’s voice assistant. From where we started there is quite a bit of consolidation in terms of players and so standards in this space. This is going to make my dream almost a reality. My dream was to build a Smart home using commercially available off the shelf components. With Amazon, Google, Apple taking a major lead in creating intelligent home platforms (Google Home, Amazon Alexa/Echo, Apple HomeKit..) and making it available to industry, you find lot of appliances, sensors which are now compliant to these platforms. Due to this standardization, sophisticated technologies shall now be available at lowest prices to build your Smart Home. With AI technologies taking front seat, you will not need a smart card to know who entered your home using Deep Vision. You can now really have virtual watchman for your home.

 

What are the most promising global technology brands in Smart homes today for the end consumer?

google home smart home gadget

Google Home is one of the most promising AI speakers as they leverage an open source platform which encourages developers to build on their platform.

 

Out of three brands mentioned above, my take is Google Home, reason being open source technology. Historically it has been proven that if you launch an open architecture that always reaches the masses. Only because IBM launched PC in early eighties the personal computing revolution has happened. Same has happened with Smart Phones with Android and I believe it shall be the case with Smart Homes too. And today Google is the only one that is providing open platform for developers and manufacturers both.


If I am a homeowner looking to adopt Smart home technology, can you tell us what all should they look for in a solid Smart home solution?

According to me, there are two types of users in India: 1) Tech savvy which are relatively the smaller lot and 2) common users who are laymen.

As far as the first set of tech-savvy users are concerned, they are either hobbyists or early adopters but they do not determine then the tides turn for the industry.

My observation is that the common user is not a fan of complicated automation; in fact he repels it. Often times, they are the ones who are in their late 30s or early 40s who want to be able to adopt technology easily without changing too many of their habits.

With the advent of these new technologies which rely on the voice interface and are simple to plug, play and use – they would find far more appeal with these common users. They are fun to use, they are affordable and they are modular. They offer personalised experiences which only makes it far more easy to get accustomed to. Most of all they learn the customer preferences with time with Artificial Intelligence. This is the reason why you see Google Speakers, Amazon Echo are entering market, they are also giving next generation voice interface to your Smart home. Your TV has options like Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Now to build a smart home you just need to buy say Google Chromecast, Google Speakers and compatible sensors, accessories as per your need and you are ready to go.

 

What do you think about the state of Smart homes in India? What are the big challenges for consumers?

In India, we have issues like unstable power lines and low internet penetration. For power, you can have a backup, but without connectivity, you are completely stuck. Worst of all, security and safety solutions may also compromise which can pose a serious risk to consumers. And this is the challenge which needs to be resolved by the solution you plan to buy.

Fortunately, there are certain innovative Smart homes solutions that work on a local network rather than requiring a constant connectivity with the cloud.

In urban areas, especially metros Smart home tech has become a bit easier to adopt as these problems are not too grave. Whether the consumer goes to Smart homes and how soon he or she adopts it remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, Smart home technology is receiving some serious traction and attention from the big tech companies like Amazon and Google. It is only a matter of time that they will become common to every household.


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