I want a smart home. Technology is my life are I love the potential for gadgets.
I want to pull up to my home with the lights on, so it looks inviting.
I want my favourite songs to be blasting from the speakers when I open the door. I’d also like for the house to be up to temperature as I enter.
To save me checking for post, I want to know if there is any post in my letterbox.
I want the oven to turn on ready for me to put my dinner in and for the kettle to be boiled ready for that cup of tea.
When the boiler needs a service I want an engineer scheduled for a time that is convenient to me. But I don’t want to have to arrange the appointment myself, I want it automatically arranged.
There is a whole list of ‘I want’s’ that I could reel off. Many of these are definitely possible today, a few not so, but most are very close to being feasible. In fact of those mentioned above, I believe all bar arranging the boiler engineer are. Great right?!
I am very excited by this and anyone who has seen demonstrations or played with the existing technology should be excited too. You can do so many cool things. In just a few years time, I really can’t imagine how powerful homes and their supporting systems could be.
The concept of a smart home is one many of us like and probably wish for. Frustratingly to achieve it right now is not practical for the vast majority.
Right now, I consider some big problems that stop the smart home becoming truly smart. I categorise these under 3 key headings:
- Technology (Availability & Cost)
- Infrastructure (Integrated services)
- Humans (Behaviour adaptation)
So what do I mean exactly? Well I could go into great depth about these but below are my overriding thoughts on the subject and what needs to be considered to move forward.
Smart Home Technology
As technology develops and becomes more mainstream costs come down. It’s a fact of life based on supply and demand.
Moore’s Law might be slowing down but it’s still an important factor in technology pricing. What could be an expensive sensor today will probably be pocket money prices in 5 year’s time. This makes more affordable for everyone, especially those that maybe aren’t after the absolute pinnacle of consumer technology.
Today, a smart light bulb is amongst one of the most purchased smart home products. On the whole they are easy to install and get working and offer various features.
Smart bulbs can also cost around £50 per bulb and may need a controller. Compared that to a standard modern LED bulb at around £3-10. A justification for a 10-fold increase in cost is often not possible.
Aside from the cost the ease of use needs to radically improve. It needs to be virtually plug and play. Many products are (Philips Hue and Apple Home Kit Certified components etc) , but many are not; because they need configuration.
Personally, I like gadgets and am prepared to do a bit of tweaking. Still once I have finished, I want to be assured of ongoing functionality with minimal further tinkering. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
To get there we need you, the lovers of all things tech who like to tweak, problem solve and come up with creative solutions. In fact I am sure many of you are already there with various lights in the house flashing as one things happen and alerts going for various actions within your homes.
If you invest in Fibaro the mind boggles at just what is possible today. It is not cheap, but much cheaper than it once was. For those that have a bit of coding competence you could have all your blinds automatically close, dim the lights, put the kettle on and play relaxing tunes just as the sun goes down.
Manufacturers need you to tell them what is required, what works well and what does not.
For mainstream adoption to occur, self-confessed technophobes must be able to install the simplest of smart home gadgets. To be fair, I don’t think we are too far away from this being reality.
This can really hamper the ability to expand and develop the smart home. It can also be difficult for even fairly technically-minded people to even understand why things can’t talk to each other.
There may well be ways around this through services like IFTTT and Zapier. These are not always reliable solutions however and can often be considered a ‘fudge’ to achieve something that is not officially possible.
Do I have a master plan or solution? No. But I do think major brands need to suck up some pride and work closer together to achieve a common goal. By working together they could all achieve something more powerful, potentially profiting more than by working independently.
Commercially this does not always make sense and inevitably some companies may be guarded. I understand this. Yet without more combined research, investment and development, progression is going to be slower.
To be fair, many of the bigger brands are waking up to this and creating partnerships. Consumer-level certification for interoperability is certainly more obvious than just a couple of years. Apple’s HomeKit branding is helpful, although I can see why some companies may not want to be part of it. So positive steps are happening, we just need more of them.
Product availability needs to improve too.
Here at Clove we sell many of the leading smart home products and will continue to do so. There is potential though for major providers like energy suppliers to sell these products too. House builders could also install items as standard in new homes, furthering growth and increasing adoption rates.. British Gas are a good example of this with their Hive system. This is their own system though. They have developed it and it can be installed by them with a new boiler or at other times. Another example of the manufacturer lockout mentioned above.
In part I am talking about the ease to add modules, change and develop your smart home but then what the smart home can do.
You may well have a schedule for your heating. The smart home may already be clever enough to know that you are not really present when the schedule is set to run, so adjusts it accordingly. But what if, it could then intelligently pick the cheapest energy rate for you based on your usage habits. One day it could be charging you the rate from Company A and tomorrow Company B, because company B is now cheaper. What do you have to do? Absolutely nothing.
You want a doctors appointment, you tell your smart home to book one for you. It books it based on your schedule. Great, but the doctors surgery needs to have a system whereby this can happen and data can pass from one service to another.
For me, the tech and the software exist to a point already, but to get really smart this integration with major and minor services and suppliers needs to happen.
Amazon are setting the bar with Alexa and the integrations there, but that is one company using the data they have on you to link with select services. We need your home to have the data on you and do the rest.
Of the 3 categories I think this is the biggest hurdle.
As humans we can rapidly learn, we can also be slow at learning. Many of the ways in which we do and interact with the world are ingrained into who we are through being taught at a young age. For some the process of changing is easier than others, but there are some habits that at this time I see hard to break.
Smart lighting has been one of the biggest growth areas in the smart home to date. They bring many benefits, but if you need your phone to control them the whole time then this is not always practical. The phone may not be to hand, your hands may be full and the whole process can simply take a lot longer than hitting the traditional light switch.
For many years light switches have been used and there is a reason that they were developed and have stayed. That is not to say in the future these will not go away with the intelligent learning habits, motion sensors and voice activation, but to get out of the habit of just turning on a light switch is one that would not come easy for many.
I really only see human behaviour and interaction with the smart home changing as generations grow up with it. So in 20 years time the way a child learns to turn on the light or check for mail will be very different. Most will likely be done via voice. There will need to be a crossover period.
The smart home needs to be silent
But there is one more sticking point for me and I hope this comes as all of the above evolves over the coming years and that is ‘the smart home needs to be silent’.
What I mean by this is that we seem to get bombarded by notifications; be that email, texts, social media alerts and more. Adding a smart home ecosystem to this mix could see you spending further time dismissing unwanted notifications.
Turning notifications off completely would also remove a major reason for these systems in the first place. So there needs to be a new level of intelligence to how these systems work and alert us.
The smart home needs to be silent and just work. Many things in life just work but with the introduction of so many new modules the smart home needs to intelligently decipher how to handle and manage different users requirements, what to do in certain circumstances etc.
If your wife, husband or kids have different preferences on how the home should work and interact, how can this be handled.
For example, CCTV is great. An alert that someone is on your property is fine in principle but do you want an alert all the time? What if it is just the postman or the gardener. So for me this is where the systems need to be intelligent and silent. They need to just work in a way we desire and only alert at such times when really need it.
So if the system could detect faces, know your gardener was due then you would receive no alert. If it is the courier delivering a package then again no alert, but if it is a shady character in your drive in the middle of the night, then sound the alarm bells. All of this is possible but it takes the technology, the configuration and the integration to do this.
Whilst smart home products have for a few years been available as consumer items, many products are still for the ‘geeks’ and those who like to ‘tinker’. 10 years or so ago the smartphone was a gadget, now its a device most of us carry without a second thought. In 10 years the smart home will be something we have without a second thought.
For now, if you want a smart home you probably just need to have a touch more patience and willingness to try things and please do, because without you mine and others dream of the future effortless smart home wont be a reality.