Future of Automation: How can Smart Home change the way we live
Everyone has an idea of a Smart home. It may come from a sci-fi movie, the office could be in a smart building, but a common theme is that of an automated domestic environment that removes domestic drudgery and can be controlled locally or remotely.
The Smart home is pretty much here already, with a host of intelligent devices, even light bulbs, available to buy. Companies exist who will advise you on the IoT Devices you need for your particular needs and help you install and configure the installation. A lot of what you see is a smaller version of an industrial application, particularly air-conditioning, ventilation and heating.
The Smart Home is already big business, with a market value in the US estimated to be just short of $13 Billion in 2020. However, as we will see later, it is bedevilled by a lack of standards and predatory competition between suppliers.
There is even a name for it – “domotics”, taken from the Latin for house (domus) and robotics.
What can you expect from a Smart Home, what are the plusses and minuses, and how will IoT Devices change your life?
Will it be electronic butlers and maids taking over day-to-day domestic activities, or something less exotic?
The first step is to decide how much you want to spend, and what your focus will be. Is your Smart Home going to be based around domestic security, or do you want to be able to start supper, and switch on the central heating, lights and home entertainment system from your car while driving home? The more bells and whistles, the more it will cost.
The basics are all very similar. There will be a network connecting all the devices you want to be part of your Smart home. If you want control over the Internet, then they must be IoT Devices. The network can be WiFi or cable based, or in some implementations run over the power circuitry in the home. However you do it, it all comes back to a central hub that pulls it altogether. There is then a user interface, accessed by a desktop or mobile device app, a wall-mounted control panel or even by voice that allows you to manage your Smart Environment.
Parts of the system can be automated. Heating and lights switch off when there is no-one in the room, pet feeders can be programmed to deliver food at predefined intervals. For security, lights will switch on and off in different rooms to make it look like there is someone home. It may only be an Urban Legend, but there are reports of an IoT connected fridge that will automatically place an order with the local store for replacement items, say milk, when it runs out.
Remember you will need backup power.
On the plus side, therefore, a Smart Home can increase your personal security, ease your domestic workload and allow you to concentrate on the things you want to do rather than washing dishes.
On the downside, you are back to square one when it fails, and it will. You could be prevented from using appliances, you could be locked out of the house, and if you have an IoT fridge, have far too much milk delivered to your door each day. Another issue is that of compatibility. There are few set standards for interconnectivity, and it is likely that if you go for one supplier, that you will be stuck with them for all your major requirements. Take care when trying to mix equipment from different folk.
Another issue is longevity. This is a predatory environment where suppliers regularly beat each other up. A good example is Google. The company supplying the Revolv Hub home automation system was acquired by Google in 2014. Google then integrated the Revolv Hub system with their Nest system. In 2016 they closed the Revolv Hub servers, effectively making the Revolv hardware useless.
However, all is not lost. Open Source systems are now coming onto the market that will ease the integration issue.
The Smart Home is a reality and a viable one at that. However, as with all major financial investments, it pays (literally) to decide clearly what you want, how much you are willing to spend and to research the market before you plunge in.