The ‘Smart home,’ ‘home automation’ or ‘Domotics’ are all comparable notions that have been conjured up in the minds of many. Ultimately, how will technology ease our mundane, and routine lives? I was speaking with a former colleague about how, during the 1980s, smart home technology aimed to alleviate the tediousness of our daily lives when I recalled a few anecdotes of the then would-be technology. I was taken aback when my colleague was able to recall a similar notion as far back as the 1960s which, to be honest, surprised me – no, not his age, simply that the smart home idea isn’t entirely new. Yet today it’s touted as something new and, alas, is still very much finding its way!
Is it Still Science Fiction?
In researching this feature, I came across a product called the “iKettle” and couldn’t help but gasp at the horror of using your iPhone or other compatible device to turn on the kettle from bed! Seriously, have our lives become so lackadaisical that we now need to remotely switch our kettle on from bed? Surely, there was a point at which you had to fill the kettle up with water? With this in mind, I have now created a new product range called the “iWonder” – the range includes, “-Why?” and “-What next?” or pretty much anything you wish to suffix, allowing you to grapple with some bewildering product ideas. It still remains all a little science fiction-esque for me but, as I dug a little deeper for this piece, I discovered some startling data and, indeed, some very useful gadgets.
Let me say, first and foremost, we are often informed that between 65 to 80% of statistics are made up, although how can you be sure that I didn’t just create those stats? Never mind! I did read that the smart home industry is expected to grow and double in the UK across eight million homes by 2019, and is expected to be worth around £65billion, that is, worldwide by 2018. In the US, Google acquired smart system manufacturer Nest, whilst Apple offered us HomeKit allowing developers to connect to its iOS. Samsung, on the other hand, not wanting to be left out, acquired SmartThings.
Creating Sensible Applications
The British government mandated that energy suppliers (notoriously known as the ‘Big Six’) across the UK install ‘smart meters’ into both residential and business premises by 2020. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was responsible for architecting a part of a Multi-dwelling Unit (MDU) solution for a well-known German company. So perhaps, this is the onset of a smart home dream: We will be able to monitor our energy consumption and optimise the best times to do the laundry or turn on our dishwasher, in turn, taking advantage of economical energy rates and reducing our bills, along with our energy footprint. The solution also allows energy suppliers to capture data to provide a more up-to-date ‘billing’ system for consumers. Yet, I’m sure we have read stories about the talking refrigerator and other anecdotes that seem a little nonsensical, so how do we start creating sensible applications? Yes, smart metering may be a solid start, but what about those applications that add value to our routine and holistically assist us on a daily basis?
What seems to be an emerging factor with both consumers and business owners alike is ‘security’. Home and business security is an increasingly dominant need within the smart home sphere. Sensors that mimic our presence within our homes, such as lights that turn on and off, and sounds that mimic our footsteps and activity are predicted to be leading applications for the smart home dream.
In the 1980s we had plugin timers that attempted to mimic our typical behaviour at home. Nowadays, with our ‘alleged’ advanced technology we can now, not only turn the lights on and off, we can turn on the TV, play music, and perhaps turn on the dishwasher! Old iPhone s can now be converted into cameras where yes, there’s an ‘App’ for that, you can monitor your pets and so on at home (I was so tempted to say children, but I can hear the screams and outrage!) Anyway, most importantly, at work or away on holiday perhaps, the ‘App’ can email or text to inform you of any ‘unusual activity’ or movement in your home. It can also provide you with an opportunity to monitor what the ‘scallywag’ is doing in your home whilst alerting the police to the situation.
Despite the rhetoric of the ‘60s and the ‘80s, we are still finding our way with ‘smart home’ technology and our understanding of how it will ultimately aid us in our everyday lives. But that’s the ‘wondrousness’ of technology isn’t it? Let’s not rush in and let’s not be so over-eager to push it out that we forget why we wanted it in the first place. Baby steps… C’est tout.
Until Next Time …
The summer is approaching and it’s getting warm – love it! I’m curious to know why the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has released a new profile specification that’s all geared around the blasted Internet of Things (IoT)? I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but the whole notion of the IoT has peaked in its hyperbole and it’s about time that someone well and truly burst its bubble – the IoT won’t cure cancer or anything else for that matter. The most we can hope for is that it may eventually simplify a host of scenarios yet to be conjectured by an industry always eager to launch the next big thing. So, next month, I’m open to where the industry might lead me.
So, this is where a ‘wanting’ (not in a 50 Shades of Grey kind of way I hasten to add) Dr G, signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.