Photograph of blog author Adrian Scaife

Adrian Scaife, UK Product Marketing Manager, Tunstall Healthcare, blogs about why we still need standards in a digital world. 

I was inspired to write this blog after reading two very different articles over the weekend but it emerged they had a common theme.

The first article was about the car industry’s first fatality involving an autonomous driving feature called auto pilot.

The fatal crash of a Tesla electric car using an autopilot feature still in beta testing — and never reviewed by regulators — highlighted what some say is a gaping pothole on the road to self-driving vehicles: the lack of federal rules

Reading the article further it turns out that autopilot may imply more than it delivers. User manuals suggest drivers should always keep hold of the steering wheel and it is the driver’s responsibility “to stay alert, drive safely and be in control of the vehicle at all times.”

As the quote suggests, some rules or standards may have value in mitigating some of the practical risks of innovation. My mind immediately compared the rigor of new drug trials again where lives are potentially at risk.

Standards give both users and buyers a degree of certainty, consistency, quality and set expectations of how things should perform. We all benefit from them every day- our mobile phones connect to the network, our DVD’s fit in different manufacturers DVD players, they aim to ensure things like smart utility meters don’t interfere with our TV’s, mobile phones or indeed social alarms, etc.

Competing standards can be good for innovation but may slow customer uptake – do you recall the VHS versus Betamax video standards? For today’s Connected Home purchasers there are a multitude of radio standards – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave to consider, let alone proprietary standards from manufacturers like Apple.

Of course standards also reflect differing risk. ETSI radio receiver standards usefully describe three risk based categories

CatagoryRisk assessment of receiver performanceExample
1Highly reliable SRD* communication media; e.g. serving
human life inherent systems (may result in a physical risk
to a person)
Social Alarms
2Medium reliable SRD communication media e.g. causing
Inconvenience to persons, which cannot simply be
overcome by other means
3Standard reliable SRD communication media
e.g. Inconvenience to persons, which can simply be
overcome by other means (e.g. manual)
Car Key fob for central locking

*SRD Short range device

Social Alarm Standards reflect best practice and allow suppliers to innovate beyond the core. These standards include alarm transmission and reference category 1 devices in the table above. Of course standards are not static and evolve to meet changes, including technology. For example, a new standard for digital alarm signaling is under discussion.  In the dash to deliver new innovative solutions using the opportunities presented by digital and IP technology we ignore the threshold of best practice and the experience used to generate it at our peril.

And the second article?

I was thinking about replacing my old smoke detectors and thought I would consider some connected detectors. I started off with the Nest website one of the biggest brands in the connected home market.  I was being impressed until I read the paragraph below from the description of the self-test function.

Note: Wi-Fi connectivity can vary over the course of the day because of wireless interference, service interruptions and other factors. To avoid sending you repetitive notifications when your Internet connection is spotty, Nest Protect will show you it’s offline if it hasn’t been able to connect to the Internet in the last 48 hours.

All of a sudden I was reminded again about the vital nature of social alarm services and the fact that Wi-Fi is just not robust enough to handle life critical alarm data.

Wi-Fi (while not appropriate for alarm transmission), is excellent in providing preventative, predictive, proactive and enabling solutions which can enhance digital and social inclusion. Come and visit #marysviphome to learn more.

My final thoughts?

The old proverb “All that glitters is not gold”