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Mozilla tests the waters for Firefox OS IoT apps, including a Samantha-style virtual assistant


Back in December, Mozilla called it a day with its failed Firefox OS for mobile business, and said it would pivot the technology into a new Internet of Things strategy. Amid a good dose of skepticism that a platform (and organization) that failed in one area can succeed in another that is arguably even more complex, Mozilla has laid out the first projects in its IoT shortlist. Get ready for an intelligent “personal user agent”, a smart home initiative, a crowdsourced network based on sensors and a voice interface for IoT devices.

Mozilla also says it is now looking for community members to help develop and test in each of the areas:

Project Link is described by Mozilla as “our personal user agent that understands your preferences for how you want to interact with the world of devices in your home, and automate your connected world for you.”

Originally this project was called FoxLink, and it looks like the idea here is for Link to learn from your preferences to be able to control connected devices without you getting involved, although it’s also controlled by you. The kind of intelligence Mozilla seems to be going for here reminds me more than a little of the personal assistant Samantha as envisioned in the film Her. Mozilla says that this project is still at a very early stage.

The aim of Project Sensor Web, meanwhile, is to create a network of sensors that can supply crowdsourced data that would be accessible by everyone, rather than proprietary. I’d argue that this is the open web riposte to services like IBM’s Watson, which is bringing together a mountain of public and private data but under a proprietary umbrella. Given IBM’s acquisition of the Weather Company, it’s maybe more than a coincidence that the first pilot project for Sensor Web will be a crowdsourced PM2.5 air pollution sensor network. Here’s how Mozilla visualizes Sensor Web will work:


Project Smart Home is Mozilla’s “middle ground” answer to Apple Homekit and DIY solutions like Raspberry Pi. Essentially it’s a platform that Mozilla proposes to offer to hardware and software makers to run their connected home devices. For what it’s worth, it seems to have a potentially more commercial mandate than the Sensor Web project, if a little hesitation, too:

“People want affordable, easy-to-use smart home technology, but some of life’s everyday problems can’t be solved using “in a box” systems. People could solve these problems through DIY solutions like Raspberry Pi, but these solutions are far too complicated for most people,” Mozilla writes. “There is a clear market gap… but we don’t know if consumers really want or need something to fill this gap.”

Mozilla says the next phases of Project Smart Home will be to research more about what’s missing in today’s smart home, including the limitations of existing solutions.

The fourth and final project is called Vaani, and if Link is the intelligence of Samantha, Vaani wants to be its voice. Essentially this is an Echo-list voice interface that developers can add to their apps or to a piece of hardware so that users can interact more naturally. The first efforts here, Mozilla says, will be around interactions at home. “What’s the temperature in my house?” or “Please turn off the lights upstairs”, with each linking respectively to a smart thermostat or lighting system, seem to be the kinds of commands/queries that would get included.

Again, I know that there are a lot of skeptics out there about the potential for Firefox OS given its track record so far. Many also believe that Mozilla should be focussing more developers for its clearly strongest area, which is its web browser. I agree that it definitely should, but am also happy to see the group trying to see what mileage may be left in Firefox OS before giving it up for good.

IoT is still nascent and taking an open web approach to developing it, in contrast to a lot of proprietary work going on elsewhere, is not a bad thing.

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