Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?
When it comes to hand-held technology, smartphones are still able to make calls and text, but these wireless communication devices also do a great deal more. They are mobile personal computers, personal digital assistants, video and music players, cameras and recorders, and convenient, pocket-sized machines able to connect us instantaneously to the internet, email accounts, and a world of information.
When it comes to our homes, ‘smart’ makes sense. Smart home automation is no longer a catchphrase referring to something as simple as a home security system. Smart home automation is poised to be the next big thing, and, according to industry experts, companies who fail to recognize this will be left in the dust.
While some consumers are still hesitant to embrace home automation technology, it is experiencing its rapid growth. “The home automation system market is expected to be valued at USD 79.57 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 11.3 per cent between 2017 and 2022,” according to recent research from MarketandResearch.com, a leader in providing comprehensive online market intelligence and services. These are significant numbers indeed.
Factors behind the increase in this multi-billion-dollar industry include less expensive products and the push for greater energy efficiency, especially when it comes to lowering electrical costs associated with lighting and power-hungry heating, and air conditioning. Another factor is IoT, better known as the ‘internet of things,’ which refers to how devices, such as smartphones, are connected to software, sensors, and networks to collect and exchange data.
Domotics has expanded to include an array of products and services we use in our residences on a daily basis. These units were standalone as in the past; for example, if you forgot to turn off the living room light at night, you would have had to trudge all the way downstairs to flick off the switch. Smart home technologies allow residents to turn off the light from a laptop, Android or iPhone. Wall units next to the bed, such as those made by lighting control companies Lutron Electronics or Control4, can also do this. Recent estimates state that we will spend about $4.3 billion on smart lighting solutions by 2020, and the market for controlling how we illuminate our houses shows no signs of slowing down.
An array of other home products we take for granted can be controlled through a smartphone or tablet. If you have a guest staying over and want to change the access code on your battery-powered digital lock as soon as they leave for the airport? Done. If you are concerned that your pet will be too warm in the house while you are away at work? It is not a problem, just turn up the air conditioning remotely from work.
Historically, time- and labour-saving devices in the home go all the way back over a century to sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, the electric kettle, washing machines, the electric refrigerator, and similar appliances. The notion of connecting some of these household items first came about in the mid-1970s with the development of X10, a remote control protocol from Scotland’s Pico Electronics which saw appliances and other devices linked to one another.
While expensive and futuristic forty years ago, technology has increased and prices have gone down considerably, making smart home solutions an acceptable, even affordable purchase, much like buying new window and doors.
Much more than thermostats, lighting, and remote-controlled locks. Home automation today encompasses such systems as safety (locks, alarms, motion detectors, cameras, health and emergency monitors for elderly and disabled persons), environmental controls (thermostats to control heating and cooling), and metering devices (timed use of lighting to conserve electricity). One area some may not consider, but that is rising in popularity, is home entertainment, as more of us move away from standard network television towards smart televisions and viewing programs on-demand.
Years ago, in the early sixties, cartoon shows like The Jetsons featured a futuristic world of weird and wonderful inventions, including Rosie, the outdated but beloved household robot and surrogate parent to the Jetson children. Back then, the idea of actually having machines dutifully serve us in our daily lives was the stuff of science fiction; today, we regularly program coffeemakers and bread machines to greet us in the morning with a piping-hot fresh cup of java and loaf of warm bread. Robotic vacuums, like the rechargeable Roomba, clean our floors while we are at work, and wireless cameras message our smartphones to let us know who is at the door, even if we are not there to answer. As commonplace as these devices have become, many more are in the wings, poised to make our day-to-day lives more secure, convenient, safer, and enjoyable.
The concept of smart home technology has its detractors, with critics attacking everything from installation complexity and configuration to price. Forbes magazine called do-it-yourself installation “the smart home industry’s big lie.” However, there is no denying the popularity of home automation.
Companies like Best Buy’s Geek Squad are on hand to provide customers with anytime support so installation and servicing need not be an issue. Across North America, electricians routinely install new wiring, along with fibre optic cables, home alarms, and security cameras. Depending on the device, compact wireless solutions running from long-lasting batteries are becoming more commonplace.
In The Netherlands, basic smart home infrastructure, such as optical fibre broadband, is being built into new homes to promote IoT networks. The Swedish city of Skellefteå became the first in the world to present a shared digital services platform that allows different service providers to access data and offer broadband services developed under the Smart Homes project of RISE ICT, which is focused on sustainable digitalization.
Smart home technology will increasingly affect many more areas of our everyday lives in a positive way and why not? The ability to control security systems and lights at the push of a button saves us time and worry. Even our pets stand to benefit from devices like the Petcube Play, which allows us to check on our dogs and cats remotely via smartphones, monitor their activity, and even use two-way radio and a built-in laser toy to talk and play with them, decreasing separation anxiety.
As more homeowners beautify the outside of their properties, devices like the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller – already into its second generation – integrate with smartphones to sense when our lawns need watering, while the Robomow RS622 eliminates one of mankind’s most-despised household chores, namely spending our weekends mowing the lawn.
At $1,699 U.S., the Robomow does not come cheap, but it certainly is effective, since two 4,500 rpm blades not only cut the grass but mulch it, making clean-up and raking unnecessary. While the unit might sound expensive, the robotic lawnmower, much like other smart home products, is designed not only to make our lives easier but create free time which we can use to put down our smartphones and tablets and reconnect with humanity.