We have so many connected devices in our lives, they can be difficult to organize, even if most are linked through your smartphone. Some don't even work with each other. We get it — building your own smart home can be complicated.
Mozilla, the group behind the Firefox browser, seems to understand our pain, and has launched Things Gateway, an IoT hub from its Project Things program. All you need is a Raspberry Pi, a miniature, stripped down computer about the size of a credit card, and you can command smart gear using just your voice and a browser-based interface.
Look, this isn't as easy as buying an Amazon Echo, plugging the speaker in and hoping Alexa finds your devices. There's some tinkering involved, and a little bit of DIY spirit required. Luckily, Mozilla has a great How-To on its site. In the end, though, we think you'll have a better understanding of how your connected devices speak to each other — and also feel like you have a better handle over them as well.
The goal is to combine all your controls in one place, so instead of having a separate application for everything, you can turn off your slow cooker while turning up the thermostat to warm up the room for you. Mozilla's Things Gateway lets you run products with your voice, has a way to create "if this, then that" rules to make products work together, and also includes a floor-plan so you can actually map out where smart devices are in your space.
At first, Mozilla's new program will support devices that connect using Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Additionally, it's an open system, meaning that there isn't specific partnerships that Mozilla has to pay for — your products will always be supported.
However, as we mentioned, building your own Things Gateway might be a bit hard. If you don't have a single board Raspberry Pi computer, you can also use your laptop or any other developer board — but the latest Raspberry Pi model has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with access to GPIO ports. So if you're comfortable trying to build your own device, it might be worth splurging for a new Raspberry Pi.
The second step is to purchase dongles in order to use the gateway with other wireless protocols. Then, you'll need to download the Raspberry Pi OS image from Mozilla onto a Flash SD card — a card with at least four GB is recommended. Bear in mind that this software is still being tested and may have some kinks. Again, this isn't off-the-shelf solution.
While Things Gateway is innovative, it's very similar to smart hubs that have existed in the past. Still, we're excited to see what other smart home solutions Mozilla can offer down the road.
Clearly the goal of Project Things is to build a decentralized concept of IoT with safety, privacy, cooperation, and security in mind — but this concept seems to be for people with extensive tech knowledge. As more people are adopting and buying smart devices for their home, it would be nice to see Mozilla launch a program that's as simple to install and use as its Firefox browser.
Until that happens, if you go down the Project Things route, be aware that not all of your smart devices are going to work easily with your new controller. Mozilla is keeping a hardware list of what is currently supported and will connect, and big names are there from Philips Hue bulbs to the TP-Link smart plug. Mozilla is encouraging people to add to the wiki as more products work — so if you find something links up, feel free to add that on too.