Why Google Is Working on Home Mesh Networking

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's Sundar Pichai, in an on-stage interview at the SXSW show, drops broad hints that his company is working on home mesh networking for multiple applications.

Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai apparently has mesh networking on the brain. He mentioned it twice March 9 during an on-stage interview at the SXSW (South by Southwest) film and technology festival in Austin, Texas.

Pichai is in charge of Android, Chrome, Google Apps and even the company’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, which is working on modular phones and digital tattoos, projects that were acquired from Motorola, but will not be sold with the rest of the mobile device company to Lenovo. He was speaking with entrepreneur and writer John Battelle.

The “digital tattoo” idea is really a flexible, durable electronic sticker with a mini power supply, microphone and wireless transceiver.

During that conversation, Pichai announced a forthcoming wearable computing SDK and said that wearable devices “need a mesh layer and a data layer by which they can come together.” He gave the example of a “smart jacket” as something Google would need to support in the future.

He mentioned mesh networking again in the context of home automation. When asked about the company’s recent acquisition of Nest, which makes smart thermostats and talking smoke detectors, he said that Nest devices could be part of a “mesh layer” Google may be working on.

A mesh networking topology is one in which each node in the network can also relay data to other nodes. Mesh networks enable ad hoc networks and also self-healing networks—like the Internet—where a missing, damaged or offline node causes the data to route-around the problem.

In the context of future home automation, for example, you might turn off your home sprinkler system from work using your smartphone. The Internet could relay the command to your home WiFi network, which would relay it to your smart smoke detector, which would relay it to your smart toaster, which would relay it to your smart external lighting system, which would relay it to the sprinkler. There is no need for the sprinkler controller to be within range of WiFi. If the toaster disconnects, it would instead route via the lamp. This is an over-simplified example, but you get the idea.

It’s reasonable to assume, also, that the “mesh layer” for wearables is the same layer, or at least can interconnect with, the “mesh layer” for home automation. Both these categories of device should be able to connect with various sensors around the house and on the user’s physical person, say embedded into the “smart jacket” Pichai suggested in his comments.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hints of Google’s intention to explore mesh networking in home automation applications.

A little over a year ago, Google released the 4.2.2 update to Android. Sharp-eyed sleuths noticed a telling comment in the code: “Allows access to the loop radio (Android@Home mesh network) device.” Google rolled out its Android@Home initiative, a play for home automation, at the company’s annual developers' conference, Google I/O, nearly three years ago.