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Bosch has set up a new company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH, for the internet of things and services: the company will supply compact electronic products and software expertise designed to make devices and objects intelligent and web-enabled across a broad range of applications. It will initially focus on sensor-based applications for intelligently networked homes, or “smart homes,” as well as for activities in the fields of traffic, transportation, and logistics.
“From vehicles and smart phones to containers and machines – by 2015 more than six billion things will be connected to the internet. Entirely new services will emerge that will transform people’s everyday lives and open up huge new business opportunities. These services will rely on the smart networking of devices within wider systems,” says Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH. “Setting up Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions is a key strategic step in our plans to expand our portfolio for the internet of things and services.”
Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH is headquartered in Reutlingen and will also have sites in Coimbatore, India, and Suzhou, China. It specializes in the development of networked sensors and actuators. Actuators convert electrical signals from sensors or control units into a physical action, such as automatically switching a light on and off or opening and closing a valve.
Tiny components of the connected world
Tiny MEMS sensors with their microscopically fine structures can be used to measure acceleration, air pressure, the earth’s magnetic field, yaw rate, noise, or temperature. The sensors can be intelligently programmed using software algorithms and equipped with microcontrollers, miniature batteries, and tiny radio chips, enabling them to process measurement data and send it over the internet to other devices, such as a user’s smart phone. In principle, this makes it possible to bring all the things that people use in their everyday lives online, gradually merging together the real and virtual worlds.
Building on many years of expertise in electronics and sensor technology
More than almost any other company, Bosch can draw on many years of expertise in the development and manufacture of electronics and sensor technology. As the world’s largest supplier of MEMS sensors in terms of sales revenue, Bosch produces more than one billion micromechanical sensors a year for the automotive and consumer electronics markets.
“The introduction of MEMS sensors in automotive electronics in the 1980s and 1990s marked the first wave of growth. The second major wave has been their widespread incorporation in smart phones, tablets, and games consoles since the beginning of the 21st century – and the internet of things and services now heralds the third wave. We’re convinced that it will far surpass the first two waves,” Denner says. “Sensors, signal processing, batteries, and transmitters have become so small, energy efficient, and inexpensive – even as all-in-one units – that they can be used in their billions. And at the same time radio networks are now available almost everywhere.”
Multiple applications for greater comfort, security, and efficiency
Using a combination of sensors and software, a smart home can, for instance, detect that the windows upstairs are open and link this piece of information to a weather forecast from the internet. To protect the house from an approaching storm, the system would be able to automatically close the windows and lower the shutters. Meanwhile, “smart plugs” can be used to switch a nursery’s irrigation system on and off depending on the soil’s moisture content. Sensors integrated in packages and consignments of goods can be used to monitor their transportation. The data shows whether the goods have been handled roughly, dropped, left out in the rain, or exposed to unusual temperatures, so responsibilities can be correctly assigned at all times. And if a consignment disappears, the recorded geodata allow the route it took to be easily tracked. With the rapid increase of internet commerce, this is a fast growing market.
Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions at CES 2014
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 in Las Vegas, Bosch will be presenting many of the possibilities for the home offered by the internet of things and services. Combined in a radio-enabled network, multiple sensors will continuously read and transmit information on their immediate environment. This will enable authorized users to find out which doors are open or closed, how noisy it is, and how the temperature, pressure, and humidity have varied over the course of the day at different points in the booth. This combination of sensors will turn the Bosch trade fair booth into a showcase for devices that maintain radio contact and exchange information with each other.
And ABB, Bosch, Cisco, and LG aim to set up a consortium to provide a software platform for smart homes. The companies have now signed a memorandum of understanding to this effect. The plan is subject to approval by the antitrust authorities.
Under the memorandum, the parties intend to develop an open architecture for data exchange. The software platform would allow diverse devices and services to interoperate, and to exchange information with each other. Application software distribution will also be enabled. This will allow appliances and devices made by different manufacturers to be part of home automation, security, healthcare, and entertainment services. A common platform such as this has not been available up to now, making it a challenge for appliances and devices – light switches, motorized roller blinds, washing machines, multimedia equipment, smartphones, and tablets – to communicate with each other or to simply exchange information over the internet in a standardized way. The common platform is one more step toward the internet of things for the home, in which physical objects will be networked.
The software platform is intended to make the standard available to all manufacturers, software developers, and service providers. It is intended to unite diverse services in areas such as energy management, security technology, and convenience and consumer electronics. This will enable new business models: software developers, for example, will be able to develop diverse apps for these areas. And in the future, end-users wanting to have automated control for their electronic appliances in residential buildings will no longer have to choose between different technologies.
Safety, convenience, efficiency
Thanks to sensors and software, for example, a smart home will be able to detect things such as upstairs windows that are still open, and combine this information with weather forecasts on the internet to close the windows and lower the blinds before a thunderstorm breaks. To give another example, during vacations, the controls can switch on lights at random to deter burglars. What is more, if a motion sensor is triggered, the smart home can alert a security service and feed a video stream to the owner’s smartphone.
Diverse appliances, but one language
The above applications are already possible today. However, each of them requires a technical solution of its own, and the various solutions are not always compatible with each other. ABB, Bosch, Cisco, and LG intend to develop a common language that allows the appliances to communicate with each other. Under the standards that the consortium intends to establish, and that would be available to all manufacturers, appliances would be connected to a home gateway, which itself would be connected to the internet and a software platform. In this way, the services of different providers can interoperate. In the future, anyone who buys a new refrigerator, washing machine, heating system, or other type of electrical appliance featuring the consortium’s certificate of compatibility can expect that the appliance will interact and be compatible with the other appliances already in their smart home.
Once these open standards have been developed, the parties’ aim is that these compatible appliances will communicate with each other over radio networks such as WiFi, ZigBee, and other wired connections like KNX. A central control unit in the building manages all the individual appliances, and also creates a secure internet link. Any control unit can perform this function, regardless of manufacturer, provided the unit runs on software that satisfies the relevant standard. Independent software developers can also program new apps that allow the central control unit, the heating and air-conditioning, and the electrical appliances throughout the building to be controlled over the internet. The software platform’s sophisticated security architecture helps to ensure that only authorized persons can access the functions in any one smart home.
About the smart home
“Smart home” is used to describe buildings whose appliances are connected with each other, and thus offer their occupants new functions and services. In most cases, these can be controlled remotely over the internet. The terms “smart house,” “smart living,” and “e-home” are sometimes also used to describe the same approach. Whatever the term used, the meaning is the same. One of the benefits of such intra-connectivity in smart homes is efficient energy use, an important issue for the future. For example, if energy prices are available on the internet, homes can react automatically to them to cover their needs as cost-effectively as possible – and this without their occupants themselves having to act. The washing machine would then start when electricity is cheap. A further central issue in smart homes is security through things such as condition monitoring. Smart homes will also make ambient assisted living possible, for example in homes that are adapted to the needs of the elderly.