The Smart Home topic is catching on. More and more manufacturers are developing intelligent solutions offering greater comfort and security within our own four walls. That means that more and more devices are having to harmonize and communicate using the same language. Both organizations and consumers are affected by the increasing complexity. From controlling the temperature with an app to automated camera recordings to intelligent locking systems – at the end of the day, the applications in the Smart Home environment have to work smoothly.
Perfect interaction is decisive
The days when manufacturing processes for products lasted weeks or even months are gone. Today, in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), device manufacturers are continually working on new products which can be updated or equipped with new features at any time, even after delivery on the market, with software updates from the internet. Providers of ecosystems and platforms for Smart Homes are also constantly integrating new devices, developing new services for the end customer or binding new partners with new business processes. Only the interaction between apps or control panels, gateways and cloud-based services makes the intelligent services that the customer experiences possible. These services are subject to a constant process of change. Besides updating the existing portfolio, new devices, protocols and services are being integrated and developed. The complexity of the systems is increasing. Moreover, it becoming ever harder to make statements about the quality of intelligent services and to identify all problems and faults before the software is installed by the customer.
Quality assurance is imperative
Furthermore, ecosystems for Smart Homes are of course also a starting point for establishing data-driven business models. This is behind the new platform economy that is currently emerging with respect to the Smart Home topic. The integration of new business processes based on data exchange and analysis is also reliant on the correct interaction of the ecosystem – possibly even more so than the user himself.
Manufacturers of devices and developers of Smart Home platforms are already employing an array of quality assurance measures. Despite this, in many cases there is still a wide gap to be bridged to achieve perfect, intelligent (from a customer perspective) Smart Home services. Why is that?
- Interoperability as a foundation for the services is often only considered in the interaction between the devices and the gateway.
- Interoperability tests on multi-brand and multi-device integrations are highly complex and time-consuming.
- Incorporation of true IoT devices and Smart Home devices in place of simulators requires a lot of manual effort, if use is not automated.
- Automation or a change in ambient conditions to test the logic of the sensors and actuators does not happen.
- Complete end-to-end environments are either not available or are not always available in the required configuration. However, intelligent Smart Home services often emerge through the interaction of other components and systems in the backend and the cloud.
- The influence and effect of the real infrastructure and of the productive system environment are not taken into account in integrative test environments.
- Tests often only cover scenarios which are already known, searching for expected defects. But many faults in productive environments are unexpected.
Only if all systems and components involved – from the devices with their sensors and actuators to the software and firmware to the gateways and devices, apps and websites, backend systems and transmission protocols – are considered and examined together will quality be assured. To this end, a corresponding automation architecture is needed which is able to automatically simulate user actions. This includes:
- Activating functions by pressing buttons,
- Setting values with controllers,
- Examining values by reading off device displays,
- Recognizing that smart plugs are connected to the power supply.
To activate device functions for Smart Home services, environment parameters also have to be automatically editable, for example:
- Switching lights for daytime and nighttime scenarios,
- Switching the power supply,
- Reducing voltage,
- Generating smoke to test smoke detectors in an alarm situation,
- Generating movement pulses,
- Opening or closing sensors such as door/window contacts.
Furthermore, it is important for the automated Smart Home environment to be able to flexibly expand with new devices, user interfaces or systems. In other words: the automated processes must be configurable. Examples here include the integration of functions for recognizing videos or for reading displays. The system should also recognize whether a temperature is correctly set at the thermostat, the camera is successfully transmitting a video stream or whether the system has switched from nighttime view to daytime view because the ambient conditions have changed. Access to systems in the backend or if possible in the cloud must also be possible to play through certain usage scenarios. Detailed reports then record whether the intelligent Smart Home service works. In addition, all information about the state of the environment is also automatically recorded. Besides a functional examination, non-functional correlations can thus also be made visible.
Different competences required
The structure of such an automation platform is thus an IoT project in its own right – and it needs skills and methods from different domains. Besides software and development competence, classic mechanical engineering know-how is needed for drafting, designing and producing compact machines that "operate" devices. Rapid prototyping as a procedure helps us to act with the necessary speed and depth of detail. Control of the device machines is a matter for electrical engineering. In order to finally collate all information and to make a statement about service quality, big data technologies and analytics are employed. All these competences are available from the experts at TÜV Rheinland. Even today, we can act as a test service provider, contributing to quality and security for the Smart Home services of tomorrow – starting with certification of protocol implementation to security for the overall product development chain and through to the service itself (value grid).
Volker Adamske is Lead Consultant in the Digital Solutions & Services department at TÜV Rheinland Consulting. He works in particular with the challenges of the digital transformation. He is overall project manager for projects in the field of "Automated Service Quality", is responsible for the overall architecture of the solution and designs and implements the analytics layer himself on the basis of Elasticsearch.
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