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Plan Emerges to Make Internet-Enabled Devices Play Nicely

An industry hopes to make Web-connected gadgets from different makers work well together.
December 10, 2013

Before you know it, you may be able to connect your “smart” coffeemaker to your “smart” toaster to ensure a properly timed java and bagel.

A group of over 20 tech companies including LG, Panasonic, Qualcomm, HTC, and Sharp has joined forces with the Linux Foundation in hopes of spurring the development of Internet-connected devices that work together regardless of their manufacturer. The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the spread of the open-source Linux operating system, announced the creation of the nonprofit AllSeen Alliance on Tuesday.

Over the last several years, interest in connecting normally offline devices like toasters, door locks, and cars to the Internet in order to augment their functionality—a trend known as the Internet of Things—has grown sharply. Data from ABI Research estimates that there are already more than 10 billion wirelessly connected devices in use, and by 2020 there will be more than 30 billion.

Yet this ever-growing field of devices operates on many different protocols, or rules used for transmitting data. It is difficult for, say, a connected light switch made by one manufacturer to interact with a connected door lock made by another unless they’re using the same protocol. Microsoft’s Lab of Things connected-device controller software (see “Microsoft Has an Operating System for Your House”) and OpenRemote’s open-source Internet of Things platform (see “Free Software Ties the Internet of Things Together”) are among several attempts to fix this. But none of these efforts has yet gained significant ground.   

The AllSeen Alliance hopes to change that by working with well-known names in the consumer electronics industry. The Linux Foundation said these members will contribute software and engineering resources that will go toward building open-source software that lets gadget makers, service providers, and software developers build Internet of Things products and services that can easily work together.

“The challenge and the opportunities presented by the Internet of ‘Everything’ by definition requires collaboration and open-source software among everyone,” said Mike Woster, chief operating officer of the Linux Foundation.

The industry group is basing its software on AllJoyn, the open-source Internet of Things software created by smartphone chip maker Qualcomm. AllJoyn runs on top of numerous computing platforms, including Linux, Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, and Microsoft’s Windows.

At least one member already has big plans for the software. In a statement, Guodong Xue, the director of the standard and patent department for appliance maker Haier, said his company plans to use software based on AllJoyn across its appliance line. This follows an announcement last week by LG that it intends to add AllJoyn to smart TVs it releases next year.

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