The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) (Oct 2, 2017) estimates over 30 million US homes will have some home automation or smart home system installed by the end of 2017. They reported a Nielsen forecast of over eight million more connected homes in 2018. That’s a pretty substantial penetration… about 24% … since there are only about 125 million households in America (2016). Gartner estimates nearly 5 billion devices will be in play by the end of this year.
It only took about six years for cell phones or the Internet to reach 50% of US homes. Though the notion of a “smart home” gained popularity and momentum at the turn of this century1. The Nest™2 thermostat (2010) was one of the first consumer devices to get any real traction. SmartThing™ hub launched in 2012. Now, Amazon Echo™, Google Home™, Apple Homepod™ and others are vying to provide the platforms for the envisioned home of the future. Audio command environments like Alexa™, Cortana™, Siri™ and Google Assistant™ all hope to become the voice for the smart home.
Similar to the early days of home computing, a lack of industry standards and concerns about interoperability are hampering the market growth of these products. Home computers needed the right paradigm before they experienced high penetration. Today’s home automation environments seem to be at the CP/M™ stage of compatibility and not yet settled on the right paradigm.
Recognizing this, Amazon and Microsoft are partnering to better integrate their Alexa™ and Cortana™ digital assistants. Alexa users will be able to access Cortana™, and vice versa, on a range of devices. Microsoft has also announced a planned launch of a Cortana™ speaker system with Harman Kardon. They plan to push their digital assistant into cars, thermostats, and more devices.
So far, the Amazon Echo™ commands about 70% of the market for these hubs. Google Home™ follows up with about a 24% share, not leaving much for the other contenders. Each of these silos struggle for the consumer’s attention. But the consumer needs to beware! Lack of interoperability and product compatibility has created a minefield for disgruntled buyers. Product returns and increased customer support costs are eroding already narrow profit margins.
To remedy this, a number of standards bodies are attempting to address the issue. Most of these are focused on the promotion of a given proprietary environment e.g. Qualcomm or Nest™. Others are organizations such as the IEEE which has more than 350 standards applicable to IoT. The Reverse Logistics Association is working with the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), which is creating and promoting industry wide standards for inter-connectivity.
SQRL Codes to The Rescue!
The OCF has over 300 member companies worldwide. Most of the tier one companies are represented. Originally called the Open Interconnect Consortium, and founded in 2013, the group organized to create standards to the emerging Internet of Things marketplace. Their highest priority is to define standards for on-boarding of IoT devices. Their on-boarding tool (a smart phone application) will utilize SQRL codes. The subcommittee focused on solving this issue is chaired by Clark Stevens, Principal Architect at Shaw Communications.
“SQRL codes provide a convenient and consistent way to communicate the information and to verify and synchronize credentials for proper and secure installations.”
–Clark Stevens, Shaw Communications
He notes that the SQRL protocols will be of significant value in helping consumers to identify issues of interoperability and compatibility by providing more information in the limited space available on external packaging. This will undoubtedly reduce the number of product returns. By facilitating multiple fields of information in a single label, manufacturers will be able to communicate ample information that will allow consumers to make informed decisions and segue to the desired information with ease. He said, “SQRL codes provide a convenient and consistent way to communicate the information and to verify and synchronize credentials for proper and secure installations.” Customer satisfaction will rise. Product support and returns costs will diminish. Who can ask for anything more?
The following fields were stored inside the SQRL code (displayed on the above smartphone):
If you scan the SQRL code with a standard QR code app on your phone or tablet, you will see the string of characters below. This looks like nonsense to our eyes, but to our SQRL reader under development by InforMission Solutions, LLC, it will look like the picture of the phone, above.
This protocol was created by the Standards committee of the Reverse Logistics Association. It was submitted and accepted by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and given the Data Identifier (DI) of MH10.8.2.12N. RLA’s Standards Committee is in the process of getting the protocol approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as well. It is currently also under review by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) Standards Board. More information can be found at www.rla.org/sqrl.
Bruce Brown, CEO, InforMission Solutions, LLC, has been an active member of RLA’s Standards Committee for the last 4 years. He is credited with much of the design work that now gives SQRL codes the flexibility to support IoT and traditional products. InforMission provides systems and apps to produce and read SQRL codes.