EB: To kick things off, what exactly is a smart home?
TR: The concept of a smart home is certainly not new, and has developed since the 50s, when GE displayed the home of the future. Originally smart home products focussed on either timesaving around household chores or relaxation and entertainment, but post-internet the concept of a smart home has become more about connectivity and enhanced interconnection rather than individual gadgets or services.
This connectivity is where the ‘smart’ comes in, where previously dumb objects are not only linked, but also enhanced by that connection. A toaster might communicate with a smoke alarm to stop a false alert, or a smartphone might open a door and set a heating temperature just by being present.
Gartner forecasts that 20.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide by 2020, with the consumer segment as the largest user of connected things. Indeed, we can already see today, increasing numbers of internet-connected devices around the home are networked together, theoretically sharing data in order to make our lives easier and more efficient.
EB: What essential hardware/software must a home have to be considered ‘smart’?
TR: A smart home device can be almost any product that is connected, from a wireless speaker to a toaster. There are also router-like gateways that control a variety of devices, from lighting, heating to cameras and entertainment devices.
Consumers can add ‘smart’ functionality, by networking otherwise relatively dumb devices together through services such as IFThatThenThis (IFTTT). This service – available online or via an app – allows consumers to choose pre-existing ‘recipes’ or create their own associations between their products and online services. For example, an input from one device like a smart weather station flagging up an approaching weather front – can trigger another device to respond – the smart thermostat increases the home’s temperature. In addition, IFTTT can be used to link one device – like your phone or thermostat – to Amazon Alexa, enabling voice control.
Recently, AI-type technologies that seek to ‘learn’ your patterns of behaviour and thus predict them will become more popular and diverse.
EB: What benefits do smart home systems afford homeowners?
TR: Today, the main benefits are based on remote access to home devices, focused on safety and security, peace of mind, money saving and lifestyle automation. Reducing energy usage while the home is empty or part occupied is a widespread need, as is being able to monitor movement in and around the home while away, and home automation makes life easier and more convenient.
More blended services are being introduced across Europe that will bring significant benefits for householders, sometimes in extremely pragmatic ways, like lowered insurance premiums because of the presence of a recognised alarm system, possibly incorporating smart smoke detectors; or smart devices e. g. household appliances ‘self-diagnosing’ a range of faults, alerting the householder and manufacturer or maintenance teams before a bigger problem causes damage.
EB: What is currently helping and hindering smart home adoption?
TR: The smart home industry has plenty of work to do in unifying competing and sometimes confusing standards into open, reliable and consumer-relevant platforms.
While the individual devices that make up the connected home are arguably very popular, and many retailers are experiencing solid consumer hardware sales as a result, the rush to market has created significant fragmentation, resulting in consumer confusion and a lack of trust in smart home technologies.
Open standards and open smart home platforms offer a powerful solution to this issue, and provide consumers enhanced interoperability and a broad range of compatible devices to boot. The result is that stakeholders across industries such as device manufacturers, telecommunications, utilities, insurance and retail are actively partnering and working together to help drive the industry forward.
EB: What would be your top tips for homeowners looking to make their home ‘smart’?
TR: Probably the easiest way to start is by choosing a smart home starter kit, which may include a smoke alarm and camera or door window contact to cover home safety and security, and add other devices gradually. Always check carefully which platforms a product will work with, and it’s worth bearing in mind that choosing an open platform that will allow you the widest range of product and service interoperability, both in the immediate and future senses. Build your smart home by picking other products that will connect to the same ecosystem – such as smart plugs and smart lighting.
Perhaps most importantly, focus on achieving or improving your home to suit your requirements – whether that is being able to secure your home, monitor loved ones from far away or making your heating more efficient.