Zigbee inside the Mars Perseverance Mission and your smart home

Have you ever been following the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars in February? It was enjoyable to observe because the robotic landed on the floor of Mars, able to discover. And it has been much more mesmerizing to observe as movies — with sound — and footage have made their approach again to Earth. A part of the know-how that makes the communication between the rover and NASA potential is Zigbee. 

My ZDNet Jason Squared co-host, Jason Cipriani, and I just lately had the chance to interview Tobin Richardson, the CEO, and president of the Zigbee Alliance, about this mission, in addition to the way forward for the Zigbee wi-fi normal. 

Jason Cipriani: Tobin, thanks for becoming a member of us at the moment. In case you do not thoughts, inform our readers and listeners just a little bit about your self. 

Tobin Richardson: Tobin Richardson, CEO of the Zigbee Alliance. I have been with the group for the higher a part of a decade and first joined Zigbee Alliance to assist it get into sensible meters across the planet. After which, because it turned a extra mature know-how, I stayed on as a CEO to assist the group develop into lots of totally different market segments, which is why you are seeing us in sensible houses, sensible buildings, industrial automation, and its use on the Perseverance Mars mission.

Jason Perlow: We’ve sometimes mentioned Zigbee and different wi-fi knowledge communications applied sciences used within the house automation business and different verticals equivalent to wi-fi sensors and industrial management methods. For our listeners who might not be conversant in it, are you able to inform us a bit in regards to the Zigbee normal and the standard use instances? 

Tobin Richardson: It began nearly twenty years in the past, and I had some expertise with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth early on after they have been extra on the proprietary aspect. These two have wonderful use instances, however the use instances that drove Zigbee early on have been round Private Space Networking (PANs) or industrial wi-fi sensor controls and networking. This was primarily based on an IEEE 802.15.four normal, specifying tips on how to implement that normal with what we name the Zigbee Stack. And early on, that was actually about lighting methods, industrial controls, and wi-fi sensor management networks. And that was the primary space the place it entered the marketplace.

Jason Perlow: As we speak, the Zigbee protocol has a most transmission charge of 250kbps. That is considerably slower than different low-power knowledge communications protocols like Bluetooth Low Power which caps out at about 2Mbps. I perceive that there are vital variations between the 2 in how they carry out and what conditions you would possibly select one over the opposite, and what distances they’re efficient at. Do you see them as complementary applied sciences? 

Characteristic Set



Frequency Operation


2.4Ghz and 900MHz

RF Channels






Cell Nodes



Bandwidth/Transmission Charge




10 Meters

> 100M utilizing 2.4Ghz, 1km with Sub-Gigahertz

IEEE Commonplace



Tobin Richardson: So, as a corporation, we now have lots of totally different applied sciences and functions. The variety of applied sciences we now have and the way we relate to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use instances is rising. Zigbee can have as much as hundreds of nodes and is a for much longer vary. There are different use instances the place there are one or two gadgets, and it is OK to make use of the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth normal for these. For Zigbee, we have seen it develop for lighting functions, particularly in case you are on the San Diego Conference Middle. At one level, I believe nearly all of the lighting there was achieved with ZigBee; you have bought a whole bunch and a whole bunch of gadgets off a single community controller. So it is good for actually massive, numerous networks, and the vary remains to be fairly spectacular. 

On Zigbee, you are going to get 50 meters utilizing a Sensible Residence software. On Bluetooth, you may expertise drop-off in your headphones or speaker after 5 or ten meters, relying in your particular use case. Bluetooth is performing some good work. And lots of these requirements will evolve. And we might like to see what Bluetooth and what Wi-Fi is doing in lots of complementary areas and the place Zigbee continues to evolve. The unique Zigbee stack is on revision 23. So we continue to grow, exploring how that appears, how the know-how capabilities, and it is bought a very good candy spot round numerous networks that make the most of mesh.

Jason Perlow: What’s the historical past of the protocol, and the place are we at at the moment with its function set, with three.zero?

Tobin Richardson: It has been an enchanting form of evolution. And truthfully, one of many issues which have stored me personally concerned is how the usual is evolving. So when you assume again to the place it began, Wi-Fi, at that time, was actually in regards to the community — so a typical use case is a laptop computer or a desktop and an entry level, the place you have bought a restricted variety of gadgets. You are simply actually throwing packets over a community and having access to an online server, and for issues like that, it is unbelievable. Zigbee got here in with form of the identical method; we’re simply going to attach all these gadgets, we will work out how the networking works. After which we’ll simply let folks work out what they’ll do with that, with one node related to a controller or one other node related to 25 totally different nodes, allow them to route appropriately. In order that’s form of the origin story, as you’ve gotten these actually light-weight communications. 

You talked about the brand new 250Kbps transmission. If you’re trying on the packet sizes and issues like that, you are not going to be serving net pages over that. But in addition, you would possibly construct a lightweight bulb; I’d make a lightweight bulb, and another person a lightweight swap. And if we’re all doing that, in proprietary methods, all our on-off instructions are totally different. And as you and your viewers in all probability know, you possibly can argue about on and off and what that appears like; you’d assume it is binary. Nevertheless, it isn’t fairly a lot by way of the way you flip that into one thing that is carried out. Once more, that is a part of that evolution, the place we began, it was about tips on how to apply the IEEE 802.15.four normal and selecting how greatest to do the networking, and entering into the appliance. 

So for Zigbee Alliance members, there have been many lighting firms and lots of constructing automation firms who successfully have been doing issues just a little bit in another way. Nevertheless, they stated, let’s construct an ordinary, let’s agree on what that appears like, let’s agree on what on and off seems like, let’s agree on what sorts of currents we will use, as nicely. So this become a brand new space of labor for the Alliance, nevertheless it was nonetheless tied collectively in a single stack. And so you have bought the Zigbee skilled networking part, we began constructing this software layer on prime. And that is actually what’s led us to the place we’re at the moment, within the Zigbee stack. 

We nonetheless have a versatile mindset. However we might have lots of functions in medication — cool. Let’s go off and do this. We would have some actually good vitality functions, so let’s outline that software layer in vitality. Tremendous. How about house automation? Nice, let’s go to that. 

However in house automation and vitality, each have thermostats. So are we going to outline thermostats in another way? And these separate software profiles, okay, we’re defeating the aim. So we introduced that again collectively — and that is what Zigbee three.zero is at the moment, which is a very good pure evolution, proper? So at the moment, 18 years later, beginning with the light-weight private period and industrial, you now have a full-stack Zigbee three.zero normal that defines all this. And that is in our revision 22. We’re engaged on our revision 23 proper now, the place we’ll begin entering into usability throughout numerous hubs. And it is all a part of that form of Zigbee evolution, to standardize as a lot as potential with that alignment of the nodes. So the controllers all work collectively seamlessly, with a constant language for these gadgets which can be connected as nicely. 

Jason Cipriani: What function is Zigbee enjoying with the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity drone on Mars?

Tobin Richardson: I had the great fortune of being a part of a retreat placed on by Amazon 5 years in the past, the place I met the mission lead for the Mars Rover and discovering out about wonderful work that they are doing, which we did not even find out about early again then. And I do not know if Zigbee was a part of it. However that is about communication between the rover and the helicopter. The helicopter flies autonomously when it is up in flight, however it might probably transmit knowledge again in regards to the location or different details about battery and issues like that when it lands. So it is the mission telemetry that may get again to it. You have bought a Zigbee 900 megahertz radio on the rover and one other one on the helicopter itself that may talk that approach.

Jason Cipriani: Why is Zigbee appropriate for knowledge communication between the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity drone? What kind of knowledge is being transmitted? 

Tobin Richardson: Zigbee is the best way to go. And, and I’ll defer kindly to them and allow them to clarify that, however from my perspective, I believe we’re making lots of sense for them because the low energy part to this with the low knowledge charge. Taking a look at actually excessive environments, like Mars, it is good to have a really light-weight purpose-built normal. So it was constructed up from that perspective, the place it is important to get the fundamental info throughout and makes it potential for prolonged battery utilization for these sorts of functions on Mars. I have not seen an influence system up there but — I do not assume Matt Damon’s put in a single but, so far as I do know. I consider that that low-power part makes it a very engaging resolution for that software in addition to the sub-gigahertz frequency vary for longer distance communications.


Anatomy of the Ingenuity Mars Semi-Autonomous Drone


Jason Perlow: From my understanding of how the Ingenuity drone works, it is semi-autonomous; it isn’t a completely clever factor. It is extra like a journey that you’d see in an amusement park working down the observe — an invisible telerobotically scripted, pre-programmed route that makes use of telemetry that will probably be despatched between the rover to the helicopter. As I perceive, that observe might be adjusted on the fly as wanted, however on Mars, there isn’t any World Positioning System, so any positioning and navigation are being achieved with cameras and sensors. A whole lot of telemetry signaling happens between the drone and the rover after which again to JPL via the 4 Mars satellites. Zigbee at 900Mhz has a most efficient distance of about 3000 toes, in order that’s throughout the mission profile of what the helicopter is doing. You are not going to wish to do a 3000 foot Wi-Fi transmission or perhaps a Bluetooth connection. I can barely get Bluetooth to work 15 toes away from my desk, not to mention 3000 toes.

Tobin Richardson: These applied sciences have nice use instances, proper? And no, by no means, not good Bluetooth or Wi-Fi use instances. This isn’t the appropriate software for that. There are lots of challenges within the working surroundings too. We have been speaking about this on the group as this turned public what different real-world instances there are the place this is likely to be helpful. I am not going to say there are Mars-like environments on Earth, however there are locations the place it is tough, and also you want excessive reliability — distant areas that do not have entry to lots of the ability capabilities in only a typical constructing. In locations like pipelines and different distant areas, the place you wish to get good telemetry and wish one thing that you would be able to depend on, there are lots of good use instances there. And sure, Mars, that is a kind of use instances.

We’re fascinated by what’s taking place over this implementation. I believe there are lots of areas actually in energy usages, such because the transmit energy and the transmission charges, and getting a greater understanding of how that operates, in unfavourable 40-50 levels Celsius environments, we’re actually very interested by how that works and by way of what we would study from that, in addition to packet supply failure. Zigbee is basically good for that by way of retries and issues like that. However these are just a few of the areas that we predict could be actually fascinating to study from. In fact, it is a demonstration mission, the best way that NASA JPL has described it, they’ve set the expectation that that is the primary time they’re making an attempt, in order that they’ve already realized loads by way of the info. We definitely hope that they will get good separation, get the missions and the flights to do they’re anticipating to, and get some good studying from them. 

Jason Perlow: Is Zigbee concerned with any of those emergency area employee apps, like textual content machine capabilities — like probably placing a Zigbee chipset inside a smartphone? So, for instance, If a 4G or 5G community infrastructure have been to go down in an emergency scenario, would it not be potential to do mesh community texting and possibly some rudimentary burst voice capabilities between handhelds?

Tobin Richardson: , you need to be capable of do this, however I am not conversant in these instantly. I do know there are organizations like FirstNet that need to serve first responders as nicely. It is taking place with fireplace departments; these are the stuff you’re speaking about, proper? There are areas by which the know-how is being utilized in new methods, equivalent to in these area environments, equivalent to the place you are dropping sensors to trace the place the hearth line is in a wildfire. Definitely, from a human perspective, monitoring folks in misery is instrumental in positioning emergency indicators. So definitely, these are areas that Zigbee can be utilized. And, and as we evolve as a corporation, there are different applied sciences we now have in our home, with this frequent language for gadgets that we predict can be utilized throughout know-how. So not only a Zigbee community, not only a narrowband IoT, or 5G, however you are able to do a mixture of these collectively and successfully have one frequent language form of going throughout these totally different mediums.

Jason Perlow: Quite a bit has been mentioned about Amazon’s new mesh community, Sidewalk, to be used in its Echo sensible speaker gadgets, which is carried out over its built-in Zigbee transceiver modules. Zigbee has been designed to be safe in order that it might function over non-public networks and never intervene with or cross-traffic with different close by Zigbee networks. Amazon has altered the use case by having all of their Echos, no matter who owns them, talk over Sidewalk to share firmware patches and such. What’s Zigbee’s place on this? Do you’re feeling there’s a good use case state of affairs for public mesh networking with Zigbee exterior of Amazon’s Sidewalk?

Tobin Richardson: That is an fascinating query; I believe we’re nonetheless form of in a wait-and-see on Sidewalk and see the place Amazon goes. Amazon may be very lively within the Zigbee Alliance. The truth is, they’re on our board of administrators; we now have some terrific engineers and principal architects that take part each within the Zigbee aspect and Challenge CHIP (Related Residence over IP) and within the MACfi stuff that we do throughout the Zigbee Alliance. Having just a little little bit of latency, I believe by way of the general public networks, the best way Amazon is doing it, that is an enchanting method. There are some areas that we wish to have a look at just a little extra in coping with privateness and safety. And as you stated, by way of how safe that is, how the combined networks function collectively. And that is an space that we wish to examine just a little bit extra, for instance for now, however proper now, just a little little bit of wait and see on Sidewalk.

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Jason Cipriani: Narrowing down extra on Zigbee, how does the comparatively new IoT Thread protocol examine? I say new, solely in that customers can lastly begin utilizing it with Apple’s HomePod mini and a few equipment. 

Tobin Richardson: By way of low energy mesh networking, we actually form of are sitting in the identical space. The Zigbee community shouldn’t be native IP, essentially.  In fact, you possibly can simply map to it, and you may tackle a single machine on a MAC tackle and issues like that. So it isn’t with out addressing, however the notion of IP has been one which we have been monitoring carefully over the 20-year historical past of the group. And Thread got here round proper in regards to the time as a corporation we have been creating an analogous low energy IP stack with lots of the identical performance. Once we realized about that, with our sister group, we stated, will we create a competing one, or will we accomplice with them, as a result of we knew that that language goes to function not simply on Zigbee networks, but in addition on different IP networks. So we determined at that time that we’d accomplice with Thread Group. And we have contributed fairly a bit to their improvement as nicely, even on the McAfee aspect of Thread. And so we’re successfully a very good sister group with Thread Group. As they get to industrial rollout, we can have an software layer on that and Challenge CHIP. The variations at the moment between Zigbee and Thread at the moment are primarily across the IP addressability, in all probability essentially the most identified distinction between the 2. However we see lots of synergies there with the organizations. As we speak, if you wish to construct a shortly usable product and in nearly each ecosystem on the planet, Zigbee is a superb alternative for you. As you have a look at this evolutionary piece, we form of see this competence by way of IP with Thread as a unbelievable resolution. And, and we predict the appropriate language and the appropriate normal on prime of that will probably be Challenge CHIP on prime of Thread. And that can have loads in frequent with what we do on the ZigBee aspect and the event aspect will probably be loads simpler there as nicely. 

Jason Perlow: Is there a Zigbee four.zero within the planning levels but? What enhancements can we count on to see from Zigbee sooner or later? Have we improved knowledge charges?

Tobin Richardson: Zigbee three.zero is form of how we’re describing the whole stack. We did that after we introduced the totally different profiles collectively. And so we’re persevering with on that path. Proper now, we’re engaged on our revision 23. One of many largest functionalities in R23 is targeted on what we name “All Hubs.” And that is successfully making an attempt to get all of the hub operators to successfully deal with gadgets with the identical route becoming a member of processes and different items. So there’s lots of good improved performance for shoppers. Hopefully, shoppers will simply get pleasure from it in a cleaner, crisp expertise getting gadgets into the community, no matter which hub or gadgets they use. Additionally, we will be including some help for sub-gigahertz in R23. So we’ll begin making the most of different channels and frequencies. And we have had some demand for that in several markets and market segments, whether or not it is house automation and sensible vitality, as utility firms wish to attempt to attain bigger locations. Sub-gigahertz and a pair of.four gigahertz have totally different behaviors concerning how they act with interference and boundaries, and sub-gigahertz in massive thick concrete buildings is a pleasant resolution. Within the UK, we have really already achieved that. So we’ll carry that over into our R23. So I do not assume we will be calling it something totally different, however there will probably be extra performance within the subsequent launch, which needs to be a very good enchancment for shopper experiences on sensible houses. 

Jason Perlow: Thanks, Tobin. Trying ahead to every part that Zigbee is doing on Earth and different planets.