Andrea Merloni has an answer. “Through value-adding innovation,” he told a group of journalists gathered in Milan to view his HomeLab’s latest invention.

HomeLab is a consortium of companies (including the Indesit group; electrical giant Bticino; the Italian energy company Enel; the bathroom firm Teuco; and Elica, the hoods manufacturer). In the last two years, HomeLab was able to develop a protocol that allows all appliances (from the dishwasher to the boiler to the solar panel) to communicate, with the purpose of enhancing the quality of the experience and, above all, to maximise the use of energy.

“Google has just purchased Nest, a producer of intelligent thermostats,” said Merloni (President of HomeLab but also of the holding company that controls domestic appliance giant Indesit). “It’s important to offer an alternative to the Google monopoly.” Hence, the openness of the new protocol that any company will be able to apply to its products with no costs.

“Our purpose is to make domotics a plus for consumers. We do not want to force people to buy just our brands. If the protocol is shared, home communication will soon bring lower energy and gas bills. A great plus for both people and the environment.”

The new protocol is called OpenWebNet and it is actually already being used in the MyHome BTicino systems. “The first compatible appliance will hit the market after September 2014,” said Merloni.

In order to make the protocol attractive to other companies and cheap to implement, it will not require a wi-fi router but will use connectivity solutions such as Zigbee or Powerline and it will not require any official certifications, considered expensive and often useless by Merloni. He assumes that should there be any issues with the connectivity, consumers will punish the companies by jotting out bad PR on the social networks.

Many commentators were a little taken aback by the openly stated desire to fight back against a giant like Google with a non-certified system that was co-developed with an electric giant (how many of its competitors will go for it?) as well as by the existence of yet other open protocols, such as KNX.
Only time will tell if the HomeLab approach will be the winning one.

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