Nest is going open source. The Alphabet-Google smart home company has just confirmed that it is rolling out ‘OpenThread’, an open source reference code implementation of the Thread networking protocol created in 2014.
Last Wednesday, Nest published the source code for its implementation of the new OpenThread protocol on Github under a three-clause BSD license, allowing anyone to reuse, modify or redistribute it in source or binary form. The move will simplify the work of manufacturers hoping to add Thread functionality to smart home devices.
Nest, part of Google’s parent, Alphabet, uses Thread as part of its Weave system for connecting smart devices around the home. It was one of the founders of Thread Group, alongside Samsung Electronics, Arm Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor (now NXP Semiconductors) and others.
Then on Thursday the Thread Group announced another contribution from Nest, a new president. Grant Erickson, principal software engineer at Nest, takes over as president from Chris Boross, another Nest alumnus, who left in February. Boross led the organization for its first 18 months, and has moved to another mesh networking company, Eero.
OpenThread follows last year’s announcement of Weave, an IPv6 platform designed to create the SDKs and APIs necessary to create mesh networks with Thread. Weave is designed to create a network of devices that run on different wireless protocols including Thread and Wi-Fi. Nest has promised that Weave will support other wireless protocols like Bluetooth. Any other protocols built on IEEE 802.15.4 will be able to be “upgraded” to Thread, according to Nest.
With the release of OpenThread, Nest aims to make the technology used in its products more broadly available and to accelerate the development of the connected home. As more silicon providers adopt Thread, manufacturers will have the option of using a proven networking technology rather than creating their own, and consumers will have a growing selection of secure and reliable connected products to choose from.
“Thread makes it possible for devices to simply, securely, and reliably connect to each other and to the cloud”, said Greg Hu, Head of Nest Platform and Works with Nest. “And because Thread is an IPv6 networking protocol built on open standards, millions of existing 802.15.4 wireless devices on the market can be easily updated to run Thread. OpenThread will significantly accelerate the deployment of Thread in these devices, establishing Thread as one of the key networking technology standards for connected products in the home”.
Since opening membership in October 2014, the Thread Group has grown to more than 230 members with over 30 products submitted and awaiting Thread certification. In addition to Nest products, a number of devices, including the OnHub, a router from Google, are shipping with Thread-ready radios.
It’s important to note that OpenThread is solely a creation of Nest. Some of the other companies in the group have their own implementations of how to interpret Thread. Developers, silicon providers, and manufacturers will be able to ship products with OpenThread, but Nest cautioned that product certifications are only available to those that are part of the Thread Group.
“Nest products set the bar for how connected devices should work so it’s exciting that Nest is releasing OpenThread to the open-source community", said Jeffery Torrance, vice president, business development, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “As a company with a longstanding history of actively supporting and contributing to open technologies, OpenThread allows us to work with other like-minded corporations and individuals to deliver a best-in-class implementation of Thread that can be widely used for the advancement of a connected and secure home”.
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Thread claimed on its site that its protocols are "edging towards widespread adoption", but a look at the list of certified devices advises us to “Check Back Soon”. Contextually, Thread is a way of carrying traffic from the likes of Z-Wave and ZigBee, offering direct device-to-device communication with a meshed structure, although it claims to be working with them to reduce, rather than extend, fragmentation.
Interestingly many of the household name companies who are members of the Thread Group are also part of other standard bearers too, suggesting that this is an industry still very much hedging its bets. That said, Thread is not meant to be "just another protocol" but a delivery system that could mean the end of fragmentation. Nest said it will be demoing OpenThread at Google I/O in Mountain View this week, May 18-20th.