Mozilla WebThings takes IOT open source

By Marilyn de Villiers
Johannesburg, 25 Apr 2019

Mozilla, developer of the open source Web browser Firefox, has spent the past two years trying to make the Internet of things (IOT) as open as the Internet itself.

Last week, it announced the launch of Mozilla WebThings, the graduation of its experimental Project Things to what it hopes will become the standard for IOT interoperability.

Project Things first saw light two years ago as an open implementation of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) Web of things standard for monitoring and controlling connected devices.

According to W3C CEO Dr Jeff Jaffe, the Web of Things Working Group was set up in an effort to counter the fragmentation of IOT, reduce the costs of development and lessen the risks to investors and users, as well as encourage growth in the market for IOT devices and services.

In a blog post announcing the release of WebThings 0.8, Mozilla software engineer Ben Francis notes Mozilla's mission is to "ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.

"The Mozilla IOT team's mission is to create a Web of things which embodies those values and help drive IOT standards for security, privacy and interoperability."

The IOT environment is presently challenging for developers, users and vendors because there are multiple competing standards and approaches to connect and manage all the devices that have to be interconnected to realise the power of IOT.

Interoperability issues and closed systems not only make it harder to integrate devices, but also to secure them. Security remains one of the greatest concerns surrounding the widespread adoption of IOT.

According to Francis, Mozilla WebThings 0.8 is an open platform for monitoring and controlling devices over the Web. It consists of two parts: WebThings Gateway, a software distribution for smart home gateways that is focused on privacy, security and interoperability; and WebThings Framework, a collection of reusable software components to help developers build their own Web things.

Secure smart homes

He points out that home safety and security are among the most widely anticipated benefits of smart home systems. WebThings Gateway 0.8 provides new alarms capability for devices like burglar alarms, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. This allows home users to check whether an alarm is active and configure rules to notify them if an alarm is triggered while they are away from home.

In addition, WebThings Gateway allows users to privately log data (like temperature) from their smart home devices and visualise the information with interactive graphs. Logging is enabled through the settings menu and logs can be retained for hours, days or weeks.

Looking ahead, Francis announced Mozilla is working on a new WebThings Gateway aimed at consumer wireless routes that will be able to act as a WiFi access point itself, rather than connect to an existing wireless network as a client.