Wyze, the low-cost device maker, is joining the Zigbee Alliance to participate in the Project Connected Home over IP working group, which aims to create a standard for the smart home. According to Steve McIrvin, VP of product with Wyze, the company will most likely be certifying at least some of the Wyze devices through Project CHIP.
Wyze’s decision to participate in Project CHIP comes just as we’re (finally) being given details about the standard, including the devices it will work on and the fact that it ties certification to some basic (and at least one not-so-basic) security practices. To get the full breakdown, please read the explainer I published earlier this week. You can also watch this panel discussion from April 13, when all of the new information was first revealed.
Among the details revealed so far is that CHIP will use Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Thread as the communications layer for smart home devices, and Bluetooth Low Energy for device provisioning. Certification and public availability of the specification won’t happen until late 2021, about a year later than what The Zigbee Alliance, Samsung, Google, Amazon, and Apple originally announced back in December 2019.
CHIP will initially create data models for lighting, blinds, HVAC systems, TVs, access controls, access points, smart home controllers, bridges, and safety and security products. This list leaves out popular devices such as cameras, robotic vacuums, wearables, and large appliances. Support for cameras will determine how involved Wyze gets in the spec, according to McIrvin.
“As you know, the actual spec isn’t final yet, so we haven’t made any commitments yet around specific devices or device types,” he told me in an email. “Cameras, which are our biggest group of products, are not yet part of the CHIP device ecosystem, so the decision around those will weigh heavily into how deeply we get involved.”
McIrvin said Wyze is also waiting to see how the specification handles local control of devices, which is important for Wyze customers. CHIP does show local communications and control of devices using Thread and a controller, while also allowing communication back to the cloud if the manufacturer wants to connect its device to an app or another service.
Eve Systems, a maker of HomeKit-certified sensors and other devices, is enthusiastic about how CHIP enables local control and the chance to preserve users’ privacy. As Tim Both, a brand manager at Eve Systems, wrote to me in an email:
Our core reason for exclusively supporting HomeKit is the strong, privacy-honoring, internet-independent platform approach…Having data to be required by design to pass through multiple clouds before successfully executing a command was never an option for us. Project CHIP not only supports a fully local, secure and private smart home but it really takes it to the next level. And as other platform members beyond Apple are part of the initiative, that will surely lead to exciting new possibilities for consumers that aren’t currently rooted in the world of Apple devices. And through our involvement with Project CHIP, we’re of course actively working on bringing Eve to those consumers, as well.
Without the actual spec on hand, it’s unclear whether a device maker such as Eve Systems must use strong local controls to protect privacy or merely that a device maker such as Eve Systems can use privacy-preserving local control.
However, what is becoming clear is that manufacturers won’t have to give up their dedicated apps if they don’t want to. It’s also clear that when it comes to devices, a manufacturer won’t need to include an app if they just want to offer basic functionality. Apps must offer additional benefits, according to Both, or else there’s no reason for an app to exist. Unified approaches like HomeKit and soon, Project CHIP, show that “manufacturers really need to put in the work to earn their spot on the home screen, and we think rightfully so,” he wrote.
Mark Jenner, director of technology alliances at Allegion, the maker of Schlage locks, told me that his company will put additional features in the app as a way to get consumers to download it. But for basic functionality, not everyone will need to download an app. Jenner, however, did inspire a bit of uncertainty about backward compatibility.
Jenner told me he can see a way to update Schlage’s WiFi-capable locks for CHIP compatibility. For the Zigbee locks, however, he said the fact that any update would have to go through a smart home controller device would make it “logistically challenging.” Jenner does expect Allegion to begin selling CHIP-compatible products in 2022, although he didn’t want to provide a more definite timeline. Given the delays and current chip shortages, I don’t blame him.
In the meantime, I managed to learn a bit more about the security features required for CHIP certification. A smart home standard will require basic encryption between devices and the cloud, which I think is great overall; I also find its use of the blockchain to be forward-thinking. As I wrote earlier this week, the blockchain element isn’t related to a cryptocurrency. Instead, it’s a way to programmatically establish the provenance and security status of a device. To that end, the CHIP Compliance Ledger will contain information about each certified device including the device ID, manufacturers, the current software, security updates, etc.
That means a manufacturer or service provider can programmatically monitor the tens or even hundreds of connected devices in a home so the homeowner doesn’t have to. And as DigiCert’s VP of IoT, Mike Nelson, who sat on the security working group inside the CHIP working group, pointed out to me, it also allows for a scalable means of alerting manufacturers or device owners when a device has a recently discovered vulnerability.
So far, manufacturers are excited about the security features. As Both wrote, “Manufacturers can (and actually need to) implement this state-of-the-art and future-proof approach, and if they don’t choose to unnecessarily expose devices through proprietary mechanisms, have absolute peace of mind regarding their devices’ security. That’s great for manufacturers, and for consumers.”