Ayla launches platform to accelerate the Internet of Things

Ayla launches platform to accelerate the Internet of Things

Image courtesy of Ayla Networks

Despite all the hype around the Internet of Things (IoT), it still remains a concept more than a reality. This coming revolution, which will connect billions of physical devices to the Internet, promises to fundamentally change how we interact with everyday electronics, appliances and industrial machines. But for now, only a handful of devices in our homes and offices are Internet-ready.

One bottleneck is the usual chicken-and-egg issue with innovation. Design the platform and users will come, or so goes the theory. But for the company that takes the risk of designing the first platform, what's the best way to go about it, and how much buy-in is required?

These are heady questions when trying to win over hundreds -- if not thousands -- of original equipment manufacturers (OEM). A new startup called Ayla Networks thinks it may have the answer.

Until now, any OEM interested in making an IoT device had to design new hardware and software from scratch. The most successful products, such as the iPhone and Kindle, were designed by tech giants capable of integrating online and offline experiences and even reshaping consumer behavior.

But what about hot water heater or lawn sprinkler manufacturers? These are but a few products that could be used more efficiently through cloud-connected monitoring. For manufacturers of these products, however, redesigning for connectivity can be a formidable, even unrealistic business challenge.

Enter Ayla Networks

Ayla Networks is a Silicon Valley-based startup that has designed a platform of hardware and software tools to make it easier and cheaper for OEMs to make Internet-ready devices.

In a statement released last week, Ayla says:

[It] has developed an end-to-end platform that allows manufacturers and service providers to turn home controls, HVAC, appliances, lighting and other everyday products into intelligent devices that can collect information, be managed remotely, or perform tasks automatically on behalf of consumers and businesses.

Image courtesy of Ayla Networks.

Ayla recently raised $5.4 million in Series A funding. Today it announced the launch of a new platform it claims will make it easier for manufacturers to make products for the Internet of Things.

The company also just signed a big first client: the Chinese web portal Sina. Sina will be using Ayla technology to connect users in Shanghai to data from local weather stations throughout the city.

What does that have to do with efficiency? Well, nothing in this case. But Ayala's CEO David Friedman says the company's technology can help make energy- and water-consuming appliances more efficient by connecting them with the cloud.

The Ayla platform consists of three distinct components:

• Wi-Fi-enabled modules: Consumer appliances all contain modules, which communicate instructions to the appliance via a user interface. Ayla has designed software that can be embedded in Wi-Fi radios and modules, allowing for control and connectivity of appliances via smartphone.

• Apps: Allows for integrated control of all devices with Ayla-designed software and modules from one app, rather then burdening the user with a separate app for each appliance.

• Cloud Service: Enables consumers and manufacturers to manage devices through a proprietary cloud designed specifically to interact with Ayla apps and Ayla-enabled modules.                

How the platform will be built

Appliances, even simple ones, are complicated to design and manufacture. To reduce the expense and time for OEMs, Ayla has partnered with Broadcom and others to get Ayla-enabled modules to appliance makers, who in turn will pay Ayla a modest upfront fee for lifetime connectivity of each device.

Broadcom will sell the modules to appliance makers, who in turn will pay Ayla a modest upfront fee for lifetime connectivity of each device. Once a customer buys an appliance, it easily will be "seen" by Ayla's app and added to the list of controllable appliances. Ayla's cloud will store user information and usage data, and allow manufactures to push software updates to appliances.

Friedman says he expects 50 percent to 70 percent of the existing IoT market, which depends on subscription fees, to simply "disappear" as a result of this lifetime connection fee model.

Friedman says the platform will work with any module-enabled device, allowing for a user experience as seamless as the iPhone with iTunes, or the Kindle with the Amazon bookstore (incidentally, Ayla founder Adrian Caceres helped develop the Kindle).

"We are at the beginning of a major evolutionary step for the Internet," said Friedman. "We have built a platform that eliminates the hurdles involved in building great connected devices and bringing them to market."

If this sounds like a bit of hype, I'll admit to having some doubts myself. For starters, with all the different types of consumer appliances out there, I wonder if one platform really can create a "seamless" experience, especially when the appliances in question were never designed to be connected to begin with.

Experience seems to tell us that seamless experiences are achieved by designing from the ground up, not cobbled together existing parts. That's why the iPhone, Kindle and Nest thermostat are such a joy to use, and have been so popular.

On the other hand, Ayla is coming at the problem from a different angle. Friedman believes the platform will unleash innovation by freeing manufacturers from the burdens of worrying about coding for the cloud, or designing networking, security or connectivity protocols.

This, in turn, will allow manufactures to get creative in designing energy- and water-saving products. Over time, it could allow new products to be designed that truly take advantage of all the communication and data gathering potential of the Internet of Things.

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Ayla's specialization in software design and a partnership with Broadcom. An incorrect reference to Nest charging a monthly service fee has been removed.]