Smart Homes: The Present and the Future

by Karen Hendry on December 5, 2016 in Internet of Things

Everyone wants a smart home, right? Well, perhaps most people do. But what exactly is a smart home? Well, think of being able to communicate with your home and every electronic device and appliance within it via your personal mobile device. Checking to make sure you turned off the oven or whether your kids are watching TV when they aren’t supposed to be can now be done even when you’re not home.

smart-home

Image source: Sam Churchill on Flickr

The smart home used to be a concept that was pure science fiction. Just think of The Jetsons. Then it was something only the very wealthy or technologically gifted could pull off. However, smart homes are now becoming a consumer trend that has caused a jump in the sales of home automation systems, which ABI Research says will reach $34 billion by 2020, an increase of 21% from 2015. The initial consumer drive was the purchase of smart home security systems, but smart plugs and air quality monitors are also seeing an increase in sales.

But what is it that makes a smart home smart? When it comes down to it, a smart home is a home in which the items and systems are computerized and can be connected to each other and to a network. In essence, these items and systems are “smart.” They are collectively known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Role of IoT

The IoT is the heart and soul of the smart home because it is precisely what makes a home smart. The IoT is simply the connection of any electronic device to a computer network, which can be a home network and/or the Internet. Essentially, any device in your home that uses electricity can be a smart device. This includes items and appliances you wouldn’t normally think of as electronic. Sure, your DVD player, DVR, stereo, and computer system are all electronics, but other items that were once just considered regular household appliances now fall under the category of electronics, and smart ones at that.

Consider your refrigerator. Samsung now has the Family Hub Refrigerator, which retails for a cool $5,000. This fridge has three interior cameras and takes a photo of the contents of the fridge every time the door is closed. The mobile app allows you to check the contents of the fridge anytime, from anywhere, which makes it easy to know what to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work. But the built-in touchscreen also provides a calendar that can keep the family on schedule, allow people to leave and access notes from anywhere, and allows family members to post photos. You can even play your favorite tunes when in the kitchen. Yes, your refrigerator can also be your new stereo!

What other household systems and appliances can be “smart”? Here are a few examples:

  • Security systems
  • Locking systems
  • Thermostat control
  • Cameras for baby, pets, and property
  • Lighting systems
  • Washing machines
  • Dryers
  • Coffee machines
  • Audio systems
  • TVs
  • Smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Stoves and ovens
  • Slow cookers

The list can go on and on. The key is that these devices can all sync with each other, as well as being accessed by the homeowner via the Internet. Naturally, that means that the home must have internet access and homeowners must have mobile devices.

Forbes reports that the UN’s ITU agency expects 69% of global homes will have Internet access and 75% of people will have a smartphone by 2020. In addition, there is a trend in manufacturing smart products. Samsung has announced that by 2017 90% of the products they manufacture will be able to connect to the Internet and they have committed $1.2 billion in research and development over the next four years. Other companies investing in IoT include:

  • IBM
  • PTC
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Cisco
  • Amazon
  • Intel
  • Siemens
  • GE
  • Honeywell/Tridium
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Schneider Electric
  • Whirlpool

Clearly, the smart home is the wave of the future, but what is it like to actually live in a smart home? Let’s find out.

Life in a Smart Home

Life is busy and people are always on the go. With work, family responsibilities, taking care of ourselves, and just trying to find a balance in life that doesn’t leave us exhausted, sometimes taking care of the little things around the house is difficult at best. Living in a smart home can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with managing a home on a busy schedule. Plus, it can actually save you money.

Let’s talk about the money-saving part of the equation, first. People spend a lot of money on heating and the use of electricity and these costs are increasing more and more. Being able to tailor your heat and electricity usage to your lifestyle will help you ensure that your heat and lights aren’t on when they don’t need to be. Smart thermostats and lighting systems allow you to set a schedule that adapts to your family’s schedule. Smart lighting systems allow you to install motion sensors in rooms to ensure the lights turn off after a room is unoccupied for a certain amount of time. Lights can be adjusted to a fraction of their full brightness and both heat and lighting can be controlled remotely.

Now consider walking up to your front door with your arms loaded with groceries or children (or anything else you might need to carry). You need to find your keys and unlock the door, unless you have a smart lock. As long as your mobile device is within a certain distance from the lock, the app will automatically unlock the door for you and you can just head straight in, no fumbling required. And the app also automatically locks your door for you when you walk away from the door. Other things you can enjoy when living in a fully functional smart home include:

  • Top-notch security
  • The ability to stream content to multiple entertainment devices
  • Receive alerts when there is excessive water buildup where it doesn’t belong, indicating a possible leak
  • Have the various appliances and systems in your home communicate with each other
  • Have eyes on your children when you’re not home
  • Close your garage door when you have forgotten to and have gone away

In short, a smart home takes care of all the little things that can slow us down, make us worry, and cost us more money.

And perhaps the best thing is that individual smart systems don’t actually cost that much to install. Here are a few examples:

Smart appliances can cost a little more, but still within a reasonable price range. We already talked about the Samsung Smart Refrigerator, but other examples include the Whirlpool Smart Cabrio Washer and Dryer, each for $1,399 and the Mr.Coffee Smart Optimal Brew for $49.99.

But there is advice out there from those who have lived in a smart home and know what to expect. For instance, it is best for people who are new to the smart home experience to start simple. Here are some tips:

  • Start with one solution, and if it works, then build on it.
  • Ensure all motion sensors are on a timer.
  • Automate switches to turn off when needed based on your tendencies and habits.
  • It is best to have all wiring done by a professional.

A fully immersed experience living in a smart home can have your coffee made and the heat turned on before you even wake up. You can turn on music, the filter for the swimming pool, open the garage door, and check what time your kids got home the previous evening. On your way home from work you can touch one button on your mobile device to jumpstart a number of things in your home. Your heat will turn up, the fireplace will come on, the drapes will close, the oven or crockpot will come on, and a bath will be drawn for you.

Yes, having a smart home can bring all this and more and for less money than you might think. But where is the smart home headed? Is this really the home of the future? Will everyone be living in a smart home soon?

The Future of the Smart Home Trend

Can you imagine a smart home that can recognize you by your heartbeat or one that can read your emotions? The sky is truly the limit when it comes to smart home technology. In all honesty, smart home technology has been around since the 1980s, but back then it was certainly less sophisticated. Only now that we have Internet and mobile technology is smart home technology at the stage where it can be accessed by the average person, one who has neither piles of wealth nor the technological knowhow to build their own systems. Some of the things you can expect in a smart home of the future include:

  • Smart toilets (yes, they can even provide a urinalysis)
  • Smart bathrooms
  • Centralized entertainment
  • Power tracking (lets you know when you have gone over your monthly energy budget)
  • Smart robots that can vacuum, tidy up, and serve drinks

It isn’t just a few tech-savvy folks who think that the smart home is the wave of the future. Intel Corporation commissioned a survey in which 68% of Americans said they believed that in 10 years’ time smart homes will be as common as smartphones are now. In addition, consumers expect the following:

  • 83% expect smart devices to be packaged with their services, such as cable and Internet
  • 86% expect to be able to access and control their smart home from one portal
  • Over half of respondents said they would blame manufacturers if there was a malfunction in their smart device
  • 82% said they believed integrated security is critical for a smart home

The question is whether the industry is ready to deliver what is expected of it. There are a number of things that the smart home industry will need to do to ensure they can keep up with the demand for smart home technology, including ensuring they put adequate infrastructure into place now, simplify connectivity, and come up with a consensus on industry standards.

In terms of this last point, Samsung put out a call-to-action last year at the 2015 International CES for the various vendors and industry groups to come together and create a set of standards in the industry. This is envisioned to be something similar to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which was created when the Internet became mainstream.

Aside from a set of standards, the technology is really already there to make the smart home of the future a reality within the next five to ten years. What is lacking is convincing the consumer of the value of the smart home. While all of these companies are striving to make every possible part of a home smart, they won’t really be able to move ahead unless they can convince the consumer that having a smart home is of value to them. This value includes minimizing the need to manage the smart home systems. After all, why trade one set of headaches in for another. For this reason, artificial intelligence and machine learning will need to be at the heart of the smart home of the future.

Ultimately, we are at the beginning of the smart home revolution. How people live, work, and play is changing at such a phenomenal rate that technology will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the future of humanity. How industry stakeholders approach the future of the smart home will have an effect on how quickly this technology is adopted by the average person, but it is clear that the majority of people expect it to happen. The future is now and it is brighter than ever, unless you ask your smart home to dim the lights, of course.

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