We have all already heard of the so-called “Smart Homes” and the many advantages they have to offer. Smart refrigerators, which take care of the shopping, Virtual Butlers, or smartphone apps or Siri-like systems, which manage multiple devices: There seem to be endless possibilities in the area of Smart Homes. As a result many different players have recently entered the market to develop their own solutions. But what exactly are Smart Homes? What are the major risks and challenges the industry has to face? And what does the future of Smart Homes look like?
What are Smart Homes and What can They Do?
Smart Homes are defined as living environments in which devices have the capability to interact with the occupant and also between each other. They can predict and respond to the inhabitants’ needs and have the goal to improve quality of life. The term ‘smart’ also implies that Smart Homes have the capability “to react ‘intelligently’ by anticipating, predicting and taking decisions with signs of autonomy”.
There are currently many forms of Smart Home developments, which make some sort of classification necessary. Aldrich offers the following categorization of Smart Homes:
1. Homes containing intelligent objects: Single, standalone appliances and objects, such as surround sound systems or smart heating systems, function in an intelligent, but yet independent, manner.
2. Homes containing intelligent, communicating objects: Appliances and objects function independently but also exchange information between each other to increase functionality.
3. Connected homes: Internal and external networks, which allow interactive and remote control of systems, as well as access to services and information, both from within and beyond the home are installed.
4. Learning homes: Patterns of activity in the homes are being measured and recorded in order to anticipate inhabitants’ needs and to control the technology accordingly. Based on the acquired data, these homes for instance have light systems which are automatically turned on when the occupant gets out of bed.
5. Attentive homes: Activity and location of the different people and objects within the homes are constantly registered. This information is then used to control technology in anticipation of the occupants’ needs. Functions include for instance, automatically closing roof windows in case of rain or ovens which are automatically turned off if occupants leave the home.
These 5 categories of Smart Homes can also be seen as stages: The more connected the Smart Home is, the more ‘smart’ it actually becomes. In addition, the ‘smarter’ the home, the more advantages it has to offer and more effects of simple human errors can be prevented.
The Risks and Challenges of Smart Homes
Despite the many advantages of Smart Homes, “to date only a small number of expensive “smart homes” have been built and sold on the commercial market”. This slow implementation of this rather incremental innovation, which attempts to improve the existing housing situation and standard of living has several reasons. Here are four of the most important reasons:
Security and privacy issues have not yet been fully solved. Who has not yet at least heard of a movie, where someone from the outside hacks the Smart House, consequently has insight into all the data of the occupants, gains control of all the devices and thus terrifies the people living inside? These scenes are not only science fiction, as Smart Homes do not yet provide secure privacy standards and the risk of being hacked is still very high.
Too much focus on ‘technology push’. Suppliers so far have adopted a too narrow ‘technology push’ approach and have not paid enough attention to the actual needs of the consumers.
Compatibility of devices is very low. As different players have mainly focused on their own developments, devices are most often not compatible at all.
The initial investment is very high. This does not only make convincing possible users more difficult, but also restricts the market to the middle and upper income class.
The Future of Smart Homes
Currently, most research has been on the earlier stages of Smart Homes, where different players develop independent appliances. This means that Smart Homes can still be much smarter in the future. Thus, despite all the challenges the industry has to face, the market of Smart Homes still has the potential to become “a major growth area over the next decade”. Of course, there are many key barriers and risks. But once these challenges are overcome, it is very likely that one day even the dream of entire “Smart Cities” will become reality.