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Android's Next Step May Hit Too Close to Home

Android's Next Step May Hit Too Close to Home

Android@Home takes Google's mobile operating system to the home front. Built into home appliances and running off small household networks, the technology could allow users to program, automate and take new levels of control of various devices used around the house. However, as is the case with many technologies Google develops, questions have arisen concerning privacy.

By Richard Adhikari
05/13/11 5:00 AM PT

This week's Google I/O conference ushered in an array of new and future developments from the Web search leader, touching on everything from new ideas for laptop computers to Google's own online music storage system.

Google's Android mobile OS received several moments in the spotlight as well. One new Android development to make its debut was Android@Home, which will let Android device users connect with, communicate with and control their home appliances.

A related technology Visit the VMware Tech Center is Project Tungsten, an Android device for Google's fledgling streaming music service that will give consumers more control over music playback within their Android@Home networks.

The idea of linking up home appliances to the Internet was one of the capabilities the IEEE harped on when it first announced IPv6, the next generation of Internet Protocol technology back in the 1990s.

Hooking up appliances to the Internet will require some sort of radio network and sensors, making up what's called a "wireless mesh." At least one such standard, known as ZigBee, already exists.

Whether Google will use Zigbee or develop its own standard is not clear; the Internet giant did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Also unclear are the implications a Droidified home could have for privacy and home security.

All Your Appliances Are Belong to Us

"This is yet another attempt to automate the home inexpensively," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider. "We've been attempting this since the early '80s, initially with x-10 and more recently with technologies like Insteon and ZigBee."

The idea is to make Android the core intelligence behind the smart home and then create an ecosystem that would make this possible, Enderle said.

Android devices would allow owners to control home appliances in the Android@Home network.

So where does Project Tungsten fit in? It's the intelligent hub that will let the home control itself, Enderle said. "Project Tungsten is the automated agent in the system that both improves ease of installation and automates the result," he explained.

Possible Technologies for Smart Home Networks

An application framework for Web-linked smart homes has been proposed by scientists at the University of Cyprus and the Institute for Pervasive Computing ETH Zurich's MIT SENSEable City Lab.

Called "HomeWeb," this is a framework where all interactions with embedded devices are conducted through standard HTTP requests. It supports concurrent access by multiple people and lets consumers, who may not have any programming experience, develop ubiquitous applications, the scientists said.

The scientists said that the combination of IPv6, the penetration of the Internet in embedded computing, and the advent of smart household appliances with built-in microcontrollers and wireless transceivers make the smart home possible.

In other words, it would be a fairly straightforward task to implement a home automation network in homes equipped with modern appliances.

A REST-based approach can be used to build an infrastructure for domestic networks, the scientists suggested.

REST, or Representational State Transfer, is a style of software architecture for distributed hypermedia systems such as the World Wide Web. In fact, the Web is the largest implementation of a system conforming to the REST architecture, which consists of clients and servers.

Other technologies required are IPv6 and 6LoWPAN technologies, which are inexpensive, easy to install, flexible and reliable, the scientists said.

The 6LoWPAN protocol consists of IPv6 over 802.15.4.

Google's Probable Direction

In order to work, the network will have to be bi-directional and have considerable range, Enderle suggested.

While the networks used are typically proprietary so they can be secured, and use the home's electrical wiring, Google may simply opt for WiFi, Enderle suggested.

For full capability, switches and devices in the home will need to have sensors embedded, Enderle stated.

Possible Home Automation Nightmares

However, home automation has a downside.

For example, Google might decide to share information it gleans from Android@Home with businesses.

"Given Google's privacy problems, I'm more than a little concerned about what they will share with regard to occupancy and what would be a massive amount of very personal information, particularly when they integrate security cameras, which are a natural progression in home automation."

In other words, information about when the house is empty that's been gleaned by the Android@Home network might be sold to businesses -- and could then end up in the hands of criminals.

"If merchants can access this data, criminals will be able to as well," Randy Abrams, director, technical education at ESET, told LinuxInsider. "I expect fully Droidified homes will experience significantly higher burglary rates. Also, cyber-stalking will almost certainly be easier to perform in a Droidified home," Abrams added.

What's the likelihood of Google selling that information?

"Android's an advertising platform for Google, so Android@Home probably will lead to innovative ways for Google and other companies to learn as much as possible about you," Abrams suggested.

"When your Android-controlled home lighting system turns off the lights between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. it will send the information back to merchants, so they can send you ads -- it's a good guess that you're leaving around dinner time so you'll probably be going to a restaurant, for example," he said.


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