Having trusted systems for IoT, smart homes and smart cities is absolutely going to be vital.

Imagination Technologies is a company with a vision. That vision is to create fantastic products for innovators, for those that are looking to change the world. As such, we are always thinking ahead to see how we can best deliver that future – a future that’s bright, bold and empowering. At the core of this vision are our employees. They are key in bringing this future to fruition and have an interesting take on the world.

We therefore present the first in a series of interviews with some of our key thinkers, where we’ll find out what they see coming down the road.

To start us off, we chat to Simon Forrest, Director of Segment Marketing, Consumer Electronics.

 

Simon ForrestLet’s start by looking at some trends where Imagination’s technologies play a role. Which do you think will be the most transformational for society?

In my current role, I’m focused on connected home technologies, and as part of that there is a lot of talk about smart home. Well nothing is truly ‘smart’ today… not even your smartphone. It’s got clever technology inside but it’s not doing anything ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ for you autonomously; it only responds to commands. Contrast this with the smart home, which has to develop into something that starts to do things autonomously and in a way that the consumer can understand.

“There is a lot of talk about smart home. Nothing is truly ‘smart’ today… not even your smartphone.”

I think that the development of the smart home has to happen in such a way that consumers see the improvements it makes to their lives – maybe their electricity bill is lowered through subtly dimming the lights, or it helps with their forgetfulness as the home turns itself off when they leave, but I’m not sure it’s totally transformative yet. Not until we do things that are really smart.

When you say ‘smart’ are you talking about AI? What do you mean by ‘smart’?

I think a ‘smart’ system will need to take a heuristic approach, bringing together data from different and, most likely, previously unconnected verticals. So for example, your heating will need to know if it’s sunny outside and automatically adjust itself accordingly. It might also use weather forecasting data to know when it will be warm so will be able to give you a better prediction of your heating bill. It might also want access to your location and your itinerary so it will know to turn itself on if you’re on your way home, but also know if your plane has been delayed so it waits before turning itself back on. These are just theoretical examples but the point is that this will give the appearance of smartness through the aggregation of data from a variety of different verticals. It will require using either crowd-sourced or open-sourced data, or require companies in different spaces to communicate, potentially creating new business models. It’s about connecting the dots in ways that haven’t been done before.

Things like that are starting to happen. And maybe artificial intelligence on top of that is the next stage as this will give the home the opportunity to do things that are truly intelligent, rather than, ‘if that, then this’. I think AI probably does have an interesting part to play but I’m not entirely sure what that’s going to be. And of course none of the smartness can really happen without interaction through smart analytics, be it via devices with a touch screen or without, such as voice controlled – this data analysis has to happen.

So how will the smart home transform society?

Successful applications will be those that do something useful while not being perceived as ‘creepy’ to the consumer.  If the smart home develops to a point where the consumer cannot understand the decisions it makes, then it becomes unnerving and those applications will most likely fail. Ultimately a lot will also come down to people being worried about privacy and the security of their own data.  Millennials seem to give everything away – they don’t care about signing up to every possible app and giving their information away. And I don’t know why that is. Perhaps, they can’t see the possibility of governments and companies controlling what they can and can’t do. We’re already seeing that some countries are locking down what set-top boxes can access. I think this is something we should all be concerned about.  But equally there will come a time where you absolutely have to click that approval box stating “take all my data” in order to participate in society.

When it comes to security, it’s only going to take one major hack and everyone will understand the importance of the data they create and share. Hacks on companies like Sony have shown the public at large that our data is actually accessible to criminals. So if the IoT or smart home gets hacked it’ll potentially put us back by years as consumers weigh up the benefits of the smart home versus the potential risks of data becoming compromised. Never underestimate the ability of the public to be spooked and not bother to buy anything ‘smart’.  This needs to be a major consideration as we design these connected products.

The other issue is trust. If you go on holiday you might give the keys to your next door neighbour (someone you trust) to feed the cat. But what if you don’t trust your neighbour? Well there’s technology to help, but it doesn’t always operate as planned.  We heard of a company that offered an automated pet feeder. Sounds great!  But one day the cloud part of it failed, so pets were at risk of starving and had to be fed manually. So the story isn’t ideal, but that’s the sort of thing that can happen. There’s got to be more security and more reliability.

This sheds a lot of light on what we are doing at Imagination in terms of making sure that our customers’ platforms are trusted. We all need to work together to ensure there is failover; a secondary path into the smart home so that there is at least a backup when things go wrong. I think there is a lot of opportunity for us to share those stories, and make sure that people are aware of this. In the meantime, networks will inevitably provide increased bandwidth to support the growing stream of data, and steady connectivity will become ubiquitous.

How does Imagination’s technology fit in?

Imagination definitely has a unique vision around security. We identified early on that every device in the smart home eco-system is a potential attack point. As more and more of these devices appear in the field, the greater the attack vector. As the attack surface area becomes larger, the opportunities for criminals and hackers become larger and equally the opportunity for things to go wrong becomes larger as well.  So having trusted systems for IoT, smart homes and smart cities is absolutely going to be vital.

“Having trusted systems for IoT, smart homes and smart cities is absolutely going to be vital.”

I think that augmented and virtual reality have got a long way to go but Imagination’s graphics technology fits very well in this emerging arena. Blending the real world and the digital world together will be a trend in the 2020-35 timeframe and PowerVR ray tracing has got some great features for mixing reality and the virtual. The technology we have now is already seeding that. With AR today you’ll see there’s very obviously computer-generated graphics over the top of the real world, but if you want to blend the two together you’ll need to switch to use ray tracing. You have to consider a much higher performance graphics core and that’s where Imagination slots in.

PowerVR Wizard Ray Tracing - Production quality rendering

PowerVR graphics technology is already being used in AR and VR products, and this is only accelerating.

Another example would be televisions. We already know that millennials don’t watch TV; they watch content on a smartphone or tablet. Going forward we’ll be able to project relevant content directly on the wall and have several applications displayed around it, such as the weather forecast or travel bulletin.  Alternatively, the ability to directly interact with the programme – things like live voting – that can happen on the wall alongside the content in real time. And if you want to watch a movie you’ll just dial the immersion levels up, by increasing it to full size and you’ve got the front row at the cinema – that’s the vision.

That of course brings the opportunity for other things, for example being able to create a virtual window onto the world.  So if I fancy looking over Paris today, I’ll dial that up and display a virtual window over the Eiffel tower. You could actually go to these places without ever having to leave the room.

With virtual environments you’ll be able to interact with people as it will look and feel like they’re in the room with you. So no longer are you putting yourself in a headset but the virtual world will be in the room with you. It will be a different way of looking at things. There are lots of opportunities here and it’s in our hands to develop this and push it.


Want to find out more about Smart Homes?

Simon is also talking in our upcoming webinar on Smart Architectures for Smart Home Gateways: New challenges, new thinking

Join this webinar to:

  • Learn how current smart home topologies present a challenge to operators, and may ultimately become unsustainable
  • Understand what hardware virtualization is, why it’s relevant to embedded applications, and how this significantly enhances the architecture of home gateways
  • Experience a live demonstration of MIPS hardware virtualization in the context of a smart home gateway

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Comments

  • Richard Woollaston

    I think this (smart homes) is a very immature market. It’s all very well having connected devices but the motivation behind the companies selling those connected devices will be to collect data at least, and probably also exercise some level of control. Many people would not feel comfortable with this – it certainly crosses a line we might call privacy, or at least private property. And of course once control is enabled the very behaviour of the devices and services in your home become vulnerable to external attack. I can’t see the compelling consumer motivation for this technology at the moment. It is more feasible as a technology to control shared buildings, replacing some of the more primitive control methods over heating for example.

    • David Harold

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Richard.