Hive, part of British Gas Connected Homes, is planning on opening a gateway to its new IoT platform called Honeycomb, enabling developers and third party device makers to integrate with its smart energy appliances, its CTO told Techworld.

British Gas acquired Honeycomb after it bought rival connected home firm AlertMe, which had been supplying the platform to British Gas Connected Homes for earlier versions of its Hive thermostat and supporting app.

Hive's brand new Active Heating thermostat has been redesigned ©British Gas Connected Homes
Hive's brand new Active Heating thermostat has been redesigned ©British Gas Connected Homes

Seb Chakraborty, chief technology officer at British Gas Connected Homes,believes the British Gas brand and popularity of its spin-off startup’s thermostats will see more developers and partners working with its platform which give it adoption rates needed to dominate the IoT market.

He told Techworld: “I think that we have a great advantage as we are already in customer’s homes and the more we can demonstrate what we are capable of, the more people will be interested. The IoT is complicated and every platform provider is jumping on the bandwagon and opening it up - saying ‘developers come and play with us’.  But what we are really focused on is the experience.” 

Door, window and motion sensors connected to your phone and camera 

The company today announced a range of brand new smart home products that will hit shops in Autumn. These include a redesigned Hive Active Heating thermostat, a new range of app features allowing homeowners to switch on a ‘holiday’ mode and boost the temperature quickly if they have stayed up late, for example. It has also created smart plugs that allow users to control power from their phone – allowing them to switch off a hair straightener or hotpot remotely if needs be. 

Motion, window and door sensors alert users to any movements in the home while they are out, and active lights react to movement, illuminating your hallway as you get in after a late night.

Perhaps most useful of all, it has developed a smart button that can kill your power if you are too lazy to get out of bed and switch the lights off.

But what makes these products truly smart is Honeycomb, and in the background, British Gas Connected Home’s 150-strong tech team are creating the apps that stream the big data coming from the device sensors and turn it into useful insights for energy users.

Hosted in Amazon Web Services cloud to afford “scalability”, the core platform is built in Java, and interacts with the JBM and Linux hub. It works through RabbitMQ, a messaging protocol that functions similarly to middleware. All the rich sensor data is collected in Apache Cassandra, an open-source NoSQL database.  

Lean startup principles – how does the team work?

But high-end technology is not enough to create a great IoT foundation, Chakraborty added. Customers have directed every new feature and iteration to create a line of really useful gadgets. The firm speaks to Hive customers through its websites, interviews and even invites them into the office after hours, he revealed.

Based on this feedback, dedicated teams work out all the necessary requirements before designing, engineering and programming the apps to complement each feature in an agile manner.

Since opening its doors two years’ ago, the London based company is “getting much better at estimating how long new features take,” Chakraborty  said. The product and development team have “naturally gotten faster” at iterating too. A small feature change now takes just a couple of weeks and a considerable change just six weeks thanks to its lean startup principles championed by director Kassir Hussain and his team.

One platform to rule them all

Similarly to the likes of Ocado, British Gas Connected Homes’ bespoke technology platform stands it apart from competitors.

Chakraborty said: “Because we have a platform that is easy to build on now, we have been defining the radio layer to say ‘OK if you are a thermostat, what are the properties. This means in the future we could add another and it would just work - unless the actual product has some intrinsically difficult features.”

It has also built a “synthetic layer”, which combines several devices on Honeycomb to create a new service. Using its smart plug, door sensor and camera, Hive customers could watch a live stream of their home after being alerted to a door opening – all from their phone. These services could be available as soon as next year, and the firm have created “a number of synthetic devices.”

Kassir Hussain, director of British Gas Connected Homes, said: “We’ve created a family of connected home products that are easy to use, accessible for everyone, and genuinely make life easier. We’re the only UK provider to deliver the complete connected home end-to-end experience from ownership of the platform to product creation, installation and on-going support. We’re excited to be expanding our portfolio and making the connected home at last a reality for everyone.

“This is only the beginning. We’re already working to give our customers even more ways to customise how they control their homes with Hive  so they can create personalised ‘recipes’ to fit with their lifestyles. We’re starting by adding our own products to the Honeycomb platform, as we open it up we’ll work with a number of trusted brands and partners too. Expect further announcements on this over the coming months.”