Google wants to make its own lightweight OS for the Internet of things called Brillo

May 21, 2015, 5:37 PM UTC
U.K. Office For Google Inc
A Google Inc member of staff walks through the company headquarters in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. The German government will create a legal framework for consumer data protection in the Internet this year, reacting to a debate about the introduction of Google Inc.'s Street View service.
Photograph by Simon Dawson — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Google is making its own version of an operating system for the Internet of things called Brillo, and it’s doing so completely outside of its Nest smart home devices division that currently makes the Nest thermostat and smoke detector and Dropcam connected security cameras. The Information reported the news on Thursday, but sources who have spoken with Google (GOOG) about the project have also confirmed a Google internet of things software project to Fortune. They also confirmed that while it will work with Nest, it is not part of the Nest division.

The plan is to launch the code at Google’s I/O event next week. These operating systems are designed to be very small and take up very little memory so they can run on chips that might act as the brains of a smart lock or even a connected sensor. The world of these real-time operating systems as they are called is very fragmented, with most of the ones in use today being dictated by the chip. Most chipmakers provide an RTOS, as they’re known, that works with the chip.

However, the chance to own more of the overall technology “stack” that developers will use to build their connected devices for the smart home will give Google, or any company that can make their RTOS the top choice, an advantage. The closer to the hardware you can place your software, the deeper control you can exert on features like access to memory and security. And security is going to be a big element in the Internet of things. That’s a lesson Google has likely learned from Apple.

Google is not the only one that sees a fragmented market and is jumping on the opportunity. The Information mentions the launch of Samsung’s Artik chips for the internet of things as a competitor to Google’s Brillo, but those chips actually run the Nucleus OS from Mentor Graphics, which would be the more accurate comparison. So far, Samsung has surprisingly not pushed Tizen, its operating system for the Internet of things, despite its talk of making it the de facto OS for its smart televisions. Thus, it appears that Samsung isn’t quite ready to compete with Google at the software layer when it can start at the hardware and chip level.

ARM, the chip designer, is also trying to rally the world of tiny operating systems around its ARM embed OS, which so far isn’t actually out yet for developers to play with. There are other operating systems for the Internet of things such as Contiki and many proprietary systems from chip firms.

Google’s efforts here make total sense. With the Internet of things you have a lot of developers from the mobile and web world trying to build awesome devices running into operating systems that were designed to sit between controllers and software for tire pressure sensors and microwaves. It’s like if today’s teens tried to communicate on a rotary dial phone.

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