Why Google Is Working on Home Mesh Networking

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2014-03-11 Print this article Print

That’s not much information. But combined with Pichai’s comments, it appears that Google is planning something big around mesh networking for home automation. We may hear more about it at this year’s Google I/O in June.

This reference to a “mesh layer” for both home automation and wearable computing got me thinking about the commonalities between the two from Google’s perspective. Although these are very different categories from the consumer’s perspective, they’re no doubt viewed as very similar from Google’s viewpoint in the following four ways:

1. Ad hoc networking. Both home automation devices and wearable computing devices need to detect, connect and participate fluidly with wireless networks, including at least WiFi, Bluetooth and whatever Google is working on for mesh networking.

2. Radical and unpredictable hardware form factors. In both cases, Google is faced with the challenge of cultivating an app ecosystem for devices that may or may not have a screen, may or may not be mobile, may or may not run on batteries and may or may not have microphones or speakers. Even Pichai’s two examples show the range—smart watches and smart jackets.

3. Voice command interface; cards interface. Some home automation and wearable devices will, however, have direct user interfaces and these have to include either voice command interface, cards interface (as does Google Glass) or both.

4. Need to interface with many arbitrary sensors. Even in these early days, it’s apparent that wearable computing is intimately connected with the quantified self, which means body sensors for measuring heart rate and other vital signs. The same goes for home automation; Google’s Nest thermostat, for example, is based entirely on a temperature sensor and the Nest smoke detectors rely on multiple sensors. Fast forward a few years and homes, clothing, cars and everything else will contain multiple sensors from which data needs to be extracted and ultimately delivered to both home automation and wearable devices.

And, really, the larger categorization for home automation gadgets, wearable computers and sensor is the Internet of things, a category that encompasses not only consumer products, but enterprise, manufacturing, government, healthcare—you name it.

To me, the most exciting prospect in all this Kremlinology is that a powerful company like Google is preparing to build two (presumably) major app ecosystems around mesh networking.

It also suggests possible commonality for developers and even hardware makers around home automation and wearable computing. For example, an app built for a lamp to turn it off and change the light color with a voice command might easily be ported and become a smartwatch app, if both run a similar version of Android and both communicate using similar standards.

It’s early days and this is a lot of speculation. But Google’s hints at a mesh-networked future for both home automation and wearable computing are a promising development.


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