One of the biggest challenges we had faced when developing the Ubi was how to allow users to configure their WiFi networks and their Ubis online. The Ubi didn’t have a screen and we went through dozens of scenarios… plugging in the Ubi via USB to a laptop / PC; saving SSID and password to a USB stick and plugging into the USB port on the Ubi; using a sound-based service like Chirp.io; having users speak the WiFi setup, and on and on…
In the end, we converged on where so many other headless WiFi devices had also converged — creating a WiFi access point and having a PC/laptop connect directly to the device’s WiFi network. Then, get from the device the networks it sees and have the user enter the required password via browser.
With the Ubi, we also had to pass along tokens from the Ubi Portal to the device to ensure that the device could be granted access to the user’s settings and account data. We further refined the process with our Android app, UbiCC, that essentially boiled the process down to three steps and automatically connected to the Ubi (all you had to do was enter the password for the network you wanted to connected to and that was it).
Today, there are many tools available to help get headless devices online. Platform makers like particle.io have setup modes for their modules — as do many other WiFi chip makers. Also, some companies, like Amazon, have started to pre-register devices on their portals. When you order an Echo, all you have to do is setup WiFi and it’s already associated with your account.
However, there is still progress to go. One of the ideas we had had was to pre-configure WiFi before the Ubi was shipped. That way, as soon as you unbox, you can plug in the device and voila! It’s connected. We saw it the same way you could customize your Nexus phone’s skins before shipping.
Looking further into the future, it’s possible that WiFi config might be completely unnecessary. Should LTE Advanced (5G) modem chips take off, then more devices will have their own direct connection online and won’t be reliant on our home networks.