Until quite recently, separate control panels specific to each independent appliance or system were necessary to regulate homes. Today’s smartphones can offer an all-in-one platform to control home systems like lighting, sound, security, and temperature with one device. As evidenced by the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the control system focus has shifted to include appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, and oven ranges, too. The more they are integrated, the more “smart” the home or building is considered to be. But, for this smart home integration to happen, inter-operable home and building systems are essential.
What is a “Smart Home/ Building?”
A “smart home or building” is defined by the Smart Homes and Building Association as having the following criteria:
- How the building is constructed –Does it conserve energy? Is it designed for people? How does it react to people in the home or building?
- The systems that are built into it;
- How it communicates with the rest of the world and networks within the building;
- The equipment in the building— for example, the kitchen appliances and the central heating systems;
- The way it manages its energy to save money, CO2, and for sustainability.;
- The devices that help the systems optimize energy – from thermostats to smart home control;
- Systems that keep the building cool – air conditioning, ventilation, or blinds;
- Systems that utilize and store renewable energy, such as solar panels or batteries;
- The entertainment systems, from simple radios to integrated WiFi connected systems;
- The computers and smart devices in the house or building which interact with it; ,
- Systems and devices that help look after people in the home and keep them healthy; and,
- Systems and devices that keep the home and people in it secure.
Obstacles toward Understanding Smart Home Systems
Right now, one major step is lacking in the smartphone apps/ smart home industry connection, according to Richard Tso at Wired. The average consumer hasn’t yet seen how connected lifestyle experiences have value, because that value has not yet been clearly defined.
“Most people are scared or don’t understand smart homes because it’s been presented to them as: ‘Here’s a hub and a bunch of sensors, why don’t you try to turn on your lights,'” said NextMarket Insights analyst Michael Wolf. “Once consumers realize there are these technologies that are just so much better than the old technology, they’ll probably adopt them.”
The value in smart home systems is quickly being recognized by corporations and early adopters alike, due to the increasing demand for specific smart home technologies in everyday residences. Once consumers become aware that safety, convenience, and cost-savings accompany an app that controls an entire home system, they, too, will be joining the movement toward smart homes.
New Technologies Are Making Smart Homes Possible
Before you know it, you’ll be able to automatically adjust your home’s lighting, room temperature, and music —among a myriad list of other items — based on personalized preferences and pre-configured profiles. To do so, you might wear a device on your wrist which will authenticate your identity by pairing itself to you. Several companies are already pouring millions of dollars into this developing technology that integrates the digital and physical worlds and one wearable device.
“We have to move from (offering) something that would be cool to something that once you have it, it becomes vital to your life,” said Kristen Bowring, an executive with the Lowe’s home improvement chain.
Industry advancements in wearable technologies are reducing the number of screens that connect our daily lives to our homes, automobiles, and each other. These advancements are happening quickly, and it seems to be starting with wearable devices. In fact, the Consumer Technology Association forecasts that sales of wearable devices will be quadruple the sales of smart home devices in 2016, reaching 38 million and 9 million units sold, respectively.
The Amazon Echo is trying to dispel the consumer perception that devices which connect different parts of your life don’t have value. In fact, the Amazon Echo, which will allow holiday shoppers to make purchases with their voice, may be just the device to do so. The exhaustive list of voice-activated Amazon Echo capabilities includes its ability to:
- play music with a room-filling immersive 360º omni-directional audio;
- answer questions;
- read audiobooks, the news, traffic and weather reports, sports scores and schedules;
- control lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible smart home devices; and,
- connect with other sharing and consumer technologies.
A recent report from Bloomberg Technology indicates that Apple, Inc., while late to the smart home systems party, is attempting to develop an Echo-like smart-home device based on the Siri voice assistant. The project, which began in R&D more than two years ago, is now in prototype testing. Similar to the Amazon Echo, the Apple device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains with voice activation. Should this Apple innovation become available to the public, it would be Apple’s first piece of new hardware since the 2014 Apple Watch in 2014. Echo’s unexpected success means that it is already being integrated into various smart home systems, while the Apple device’s release date is unknown.
Panasonic’s Prototypical Home of the Future
Panasonic’s Tokyo future home contains many of recent sustainable technologies and several innovations; you’ll likely see these duplicated by other companies in the near future. What is the Future Home like?
- Natural ventilation reduces the need for air conditioning;
- Wall are insulated with a thin, results-producing material that cuts heating and cooling costs;
- Forget incandescent lights and fluorescents, as LED lights use much less energy due to sensors;
- Batteries of lithium ion cells store extra electricity for a future time when it’s needed;
- A television in the living room isn’t just a television: it is the central control for lights, power, heating, and appliances;
- Panasonic’s research and development team enhanced the kitchen experience through a freestyle induction hob, in which heating coils are activated around a magnetic field and cooks move pots and pans from one spot to another;
- The hob also powers devices and appliances and cordless appliances like a food processor;
- A camera above the hood allows cooks to photograph their culinary creations and post directly to social media;
- The Panasonic’s 3-in-1 oven camera interfaces with a tablet and allows a cook to monitor items from a distance;
- Another screen reveals the refrigerator’s contents, can recognize foods by their shapes and color, and suggests potential menus; and,
- The screen can also track the family health statistics to offer information on weight and body fat percentage. This version of the personal nutritionist works through integrating with wearable devices.
Want to visit Panasonic’s smart city? Opened near Tokyo in 2014, it has sizable goals to reduce CO2 emissions by 70%. Also, the city’s water usage is down from previous levels by 30 percent. It hopes to meet 30 percent renewable energy goals as well. The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town draws on solar power and other sustainable technologies.
Tesla’s Smart House
Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla and probably soon-to-be partner in SolarCity, now offers the Tesla Smart House system. It is described as having the capacity to:
- cut the spending of electric energy by 50%;
- automatically manage lights, air-con and all other appliances;
- turn on and off items depending on the time of day, temperature, motion sensors, doors and windows detectors, and electricity rates.
- be independent from appliances; and,
- be used without any safety hazards caused by user mistakes.
Gadgets for the Tesla Smart House include a fingerprint scanner and pin lock, video surveillance, night vision camera, motion sensors, SMS alarms, and fire and flood sensors, “all available via your phone.” Tesla explains that its Smart House “is a modern system that adapts to your needs, expectancies and lifestyle.”
Consumer-Driven Technology Innovations
Seeking to be in tune with users, smart home R&D staffs have focused on the concept of control. They attempt to introduce users to an enhanced sense of control over their lives by framing the problem as one of a user end-game. Since individuals and families want more control of their lives, smart homes can, ultimately, help with that yearning, especially as more and more apps and devices demonstrate the benefit of integrated systems.