April 30, 2017

New to the Neighborhood: IoT-Powered Smart Homes

Once, a house was a place to display the electronic trappings of success with gadgets ranging from the latest stereo system to the high-definition television with the most breathtakingly panoramic picture. Now the home itself is the ultimate electronic device, with appliances, thermostats, lighting and home computers all connected to the Internet of Things; able to be accessed by a homeowner anywhere and at any time.


The modern home monitors itself, warns of intrusions and dangers, and contacts owners and emergency services whenever action is required. This state-of-the-art dwelling optimizes energy consumption, promotes environmental sustainability and reduces the amount of time residents spend on routine housekeeping tasks.


The idea of making homes more self-aware probably originated with the need to secure unattended residences. From that need, the logic of IoT enabled homes has transformed the residential living experience in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago. Not surprisingly, even greater advances are on the horizon.


The Future of Smart Homes

Home has always been where the heart is. Increasingly, it's also where a maturing electronic mind is, with powerful technologies, devices, sensors, the Internet, communications, big data, analytics and other innovative approaches seamlessly integrated together. As predicted by Gartner, IoT connected homes are growing in scope, sophistication and number.


Adding electronic intelligence to the home is no longer an avocation for the tech-savvy. Instead, it is becoming a practical upgrade for homeowners interested in securing their families and property by boosting the efficiency of utility use and maximizing the incredible cost-saving tools made possible by new technologies.


Currently the average North American smart home owner invests approximately $300 in such upgrades; however, industry observers estimate that figure will certainly grow as new products arrive on the market. This will result in a cultural tipping point as homeowners increasingly compete with their neighbors by adding value and prestige to their dwellings with smart-technology installations.


The effect of these trends will be the emergence of home automation as the most visible face of IoT technology. According to Marketsandmarkets.com, the smart home market is expected to grow from more than $46 billion in 2015 to over $121 billion in 2022. This represents an annual pace of growth of more than 14 percent. The U.S. is on the cutting edge of this trend with Statista.com estimating that more than $10 billion in smart home revenue was generated in 2016 and projecting that more than 80 million residences will use smart-home technology by 2021. Business Insider believes that shipments of connected-home devices will grow at a compound annual rate of 67 percent over the next five years, exceeding the growth rate for tablets and even smartphones.


The smart homes of the future have so much more in store for us than what is already being offered. They will be able to distinguish between family members by identifying them with biometric data such as fingerprints, body temperature, and even heartbeats and will allow homes to personalize the home based on the needs of individuals. Maybe a wearable device or a facial recognition camera that allows homes to perform specific tasks based on preferences, such as adjusting the light or temperature of a room. Smart homes will be able to play music, automatically turn on electronic devices, and even access digital content through customized information received from a wearable device. They will also be able to automatically adjust indoor temperature and air moisture levels according to external factors such as outdoor temperature and sunlight through the use of sensors.


In the near future, there will be no need for manual controls in the home as everything will be automatically controlled — whether it's receiving information from personal data or external factors. Think of a future smart home that includes a security camera with facial recognition that differentiates friends from strangers and automatically alerts police of suspicious activity.

The Smart Home Ecosystem and Major Players

Apple, Google and other tech giants have invested heavily in the smart home market and are following long-term strategies. In 2014 Google acquired Nest Labs, which already had a significant customer base and products tailored to home automation. The launch of Google Home produced a powerful competitor to the already established Amazon Echo.


Apple offers HomeKit, which allows developers to integrate home automation devices with iOS. Apple has also introduced its own Home App for controlling the devices in a smart home, eliminating the need for third-party tools to integrate with HomeKit compatible smart home products.


The strategy is simple and clear for the larger players: design comprehensive service value chains to offer complete home automation solutions through IoT-enabled ecosystems. This makes possible a complete consolidation of infrastructure consisting of niche home automation devices and services like data management with analytics and insights interfaced through mobile devices for control and utilization.


Smart Home Ecosystem Components


Many home automation ecosystems revolve around a voice-controlled hub. The hub manages smart home devices and provides users with relevant real-time information such as traffic and weather. Amazon Echo, powered by voice interaction through Alexa, made its debut in 2015, and was the first step toward a home automation hub. It demonstrated what was possible and piqued the interest of Apple and Google in this emerging market.


The Powerful Ecosystems

Google

Google Home, which was first announced at Google I/O in May 2016, controls compatible home automation products with the help of Google Assistant as a central hub. Google associates with the likes of SmartThings, Philips Hue, and IFTTT for smart home device control in addition to the much-acclaimed product line from Nest Labs, which it acquired in 2014.


At the core of the Google home automation systems is Brillo, the Android-based embedded OS residing in devices intended to be interconnected. Brillo also offers unified rules and protocols for developers who are interested in building their own systems. Android-powered smartphones are a vital part of this ecosystem, and Weave is the cross-platform service for safe and secure connection of devices to networks.

Apple

Apple unveiled HomeKit during the World Wide Developers Conference in 2014, signalling its move into the market for home automation platforms and services. HomeKit offers developers the means to integrate home automation products with iOS. Siri is the virtual assistant that helps users control the Apple home automation ecosystem, which can include the iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple Watch and TV, using the essential Apple Home App. When these systems are integrated, Apple homes can run on autopilot, requiring less involvement by the homeowner. Of course, Apple too associates with reputable home automation product lines.

The Home Automation Product Gurus

August, one of the home security pioneers, offers a combination of smart locks and doorbell cameras with remote access to doors, all accessed via smartphones. As a home automation startup in 2013, August raised $8 million from Maveron to completely change the concept of smart locks..


Nest, which was acquired by Google and originally founded by former Apple engineers, connects with almost every device imaginable around the home. It makes life safer and smarter with sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled security systems, thermostats and smoke detectors, as well as smart washing machines, dish washers, heaters, coolers, vacuum cleaners, entry points, outdoor lights, pool controls and more.


The goals of these systems are to secure the premises, optimize energy consumption and monitor hazards such as carbon monoxide and home fires.


Ecobee focuses on home comfort by regulating the temperature in a home and keeping electricity bills under control. It integrates with both Apple and Google offerings. Ring emphasizes security devices and offers a motion alert feature that sends safety alerts to a homeowner's smartphone.


Life Inside A Smart Home


Although much of the focus on smart home technology is on safety and security, task automation and preventive maintenance are also compelling aspects of these systems for homeowners. A wide range of benefits are illustrated in the use cases below:

Security and Surveillance

This use provides greater peace of mind by protecting vulnerable homes
with alarms that can alert homeowners and may be linked to police stations.

Locks and entries

Surveillance

Fire Safety and Smoke Detectors

With connected homes, an owner can simply add fire safety devices to a network allowing them to be monitored remotely as well as triggering automated alerts during emergencies.


Energy Savings on Lights and Home Appliances

Energy use optimization not only saves on the costs around the home, it also leads to a changed mindset towards a sustainable environment. Smart homes keep tabs on usage statistics and occupant behavior to convert data points into cost savings.


Smart Refrigerators and Storage

Smart storage capabilities enable automatic inventory management around the home and optimize temperature controls within the storage unit.


Water Usage and Quality Control

The demand for home water treatment systems is on the rise and is expected to cross the $2 billion mark by 2019, making this an important aspect to include in home automation systems.


Improved Quality of Life for the Elderly and Differently Abled

Home automation enables controlling tasks with simple voice commands, lending a much-needed helping hand to people with special requirements.


Health monitors inclusion into the array of devices around the home

Our Take

IoT-enabled smart homes are a growing presence in neighborhoods across the country. It is a trend that has tremendous room for growth, as new devices, communication portals and infrastructure make the technology increasingly accessible and compelling. There are a handful of challenges that have the potential to slow this market trajectory; however, such as consumer skepticism about the reliability and practicality of smart-home systems. In addition, home gateway systems will need to eliminate platform and device dependency for home users to allow greater numbers of owners to explore available systems and devices.


One obstacle that promises to be less of a factor in the near future is the lack of sustainable business models. This is due to the fact that device-based models are giving way to service-based models, enhancing profitability for vendors and encouraging a wider array of home automation solutions and market players.


It seems inevitable that the smart home, already a neighborhood prodigy, will only get smarter.


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Are you living in a smart home? Even if you haven't invested in a comprehensive home system, the answer may be yes. If some of your devices or appliances are IoT-connected, they may already be integrated in ways that are helping to improve efficiencies and manage key home tasks. We would greatly appreciate hearing about the ways you have benefited from these technologies, or plan to in the future.