Rob Chandhok, President of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms and Innovation Center, is in a unique position to understand the Internet of Everything. He’s a driving force behind the universal, open-source programming language that’s is going to make your watch talk to your air conditioner, TV, and a host of other electronic devices.
“I can’t wait for the day when I’m not having to install an app for every new thing that I buy, whether it be a Dropcam camera or a Nest thermostat,” Chandhok says. “What’s missing in that is how you connect up things in a standardized way.”
That’s why Chandhok and his team at Qualcomm Innovation created AllJoyn, a simple, smartphone, text-based software that allows ad hoc systems to “seamlessly discover, dynamically connect and interact with nearby products regardless of brand, transport layer, platform or operating system,” he says. It’s also the communication language underlying the AllSeen Alliance, a group of 25 companies supporting an open-source standard for the Internet of Things that includes Panasonic, Sharp, and LG — who announced that they are putting AllJoyn in their 2014 smart TVs, and will also be retroactively upgrading their 2012 and 2013 models. There are some notable holdouts as well, such as Apple and Sony.
It’s a crucial milestone for connecting all of your gadgets, because not only is AllJoyn compatible with small devices but it includes proximity detection. So if your phone rings and it’s across the room while you’re watching TV, the caller ID will display on the TV screen, regardless of whether it’s the same brand as your phone or whether you have the same carrier as your cable operator. “Or it could just show up on your tablet that you’re holding in your hand,” says Chandhok. “Or just show up by being turned into speech and played in speakers in your home.”
As an initial test of AllJoyn, Chandok and his team worked with the Chinese company Haier, a global white-label goods manufacturer, to embed a sensor, Wi-Fi chip, and Alljoyn software into an air conditioner.
“One of the things that Haier does for the non-U.S. markets is room by room air conditioners, because in Asia you usually don’t have central air,” says Chandhok. “Sometimes people leave the room and forget to turn them off and energy can be very expensive, so they wanted to have a feature–if you sense that a person left the room, send it a message somehow and give you an option to turn it off. They built that using AllJoyn notifications.”
At the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin this past September, Chandhok set up a demo where a person would walk past an air conditioner and get a message on their smartphone or smart TV that said, “It looks like you left the room, would you like to turn off the air conditioner?”
“You can ask a question in an AllJoyn notification,” explains Chandhok. “If you click yes, the air conditioner would go off.”
The test had a surprise twist: Phones and TVs weren’t the only thing that could talk to the air conditioner. “That same week we announced the Toq watch,” said Chandhok. “I walk into the room, get my phone on the Wi-Fi network, and the next time that air conditioner sent a message out, it showed up on my wrist–because the watch also speaks AllJoyn.” Qualcomm president Paul Jacobs played the trick again at a late November financial analyst meeting where he used a Toq watch to turn off an air conditioner. The company will be showing this demo at CES this week, where Chandok hopes to pique the interest of developers and small hardware manufacturers playing on Kickstarter and Indiegogo as well.
“We sometimes make our market analogy to the Internet of Things of where we were with CompuServe and AOL before the web really took off,” says Chandhok. They were both on the Internet, but “CompuServe and AOL didn’t really interoperate too much–their roots were in keeping things vertical. And then the web came along and blew everything up and interoperability mattered. HTML let us do things that we couldn’t do before across all these things, and commerce was born out of advertising networks and search engines. We think we’re at that point now. We’re trying to find that technology that will do to the Internet of Things what HTTP and HTML did to the Internet, turning it into the web. Sometimes we call AllJoyn our proposal for the HTTP of the Internet of Things.”
Chandhok recognizes that AllJoyn isn’t perfect. “If it can be made better, if there’s criticisms of it, that’s one of the reasons we open sourced it. We tell people we think they can do it better, they should contribute those changes. From our standpoint, it’s better if more things are connected because we sell connectivity. And we thought that the only way to accelerate this process was to help contribute a really good platform to the open-source community.”