Sensor device developers and manufacturers are looking with a great deal of interest at the potential of the smart-home space. Despite numerous predictions of multi-billion dollar markets, the actual market penetration and pick up by consumers is lagging. Why is this? Are the smart-home technology developers getting it wrong?
The problem is that these companies are marketing and selling things – yes, smart things – but consumers don’t want things, smart or otherwise. They want smart systems and solutions. Smart devices may be good for the techie at heart, the do-it-yourselfers, and early adopters, but most consumers don’t want that.
Consumers don’t want to be bothered having to research the various competitive technologies. There are currently so many different industry organizations, communication standards, and big companies battling to dominate the smart-home space that it becomes unclear whether the device they buy and install today will be supported in the future. If they buy a smart thermostat now, will it talk to the smart TV they buy next year?
The developers who are trying to create these next-generation smart-home systems are often just as confused. Which wireless medium should they adopt? Or should they postpone this decision and pay more by selecting radios that support multiple technologies? It’s a conundrum for these developers. Rather than a bunch of connected things, consumers prefer a central smart-home service, like a Smart Home Butler.
The Smart Home Butler is a service, or more precisely, a collection of services in the home, provided and maintained by the MSOs and service providers who already have the connection to the customer, with billing and business relationships already in place. The system includes a wide range of connected sensor types, connectivity to a hub or gateway, actuators, and cloud intelligence that gathers and analyzes this input, and then learns how the family lives and how the home is used.
These services can range from the basic connected home, with automated capabilities like home monitoring, turning HVAC on and off, shutting off appliances, etc., to a new generation of sensors designed to monitor the lifestyle of the people who actually live there. By combining these sensors with cloud intelligence, we can build a truly smart home, one that recognizes who’s in the home, can learn how the family lives, and if there’s a problem, either solve it or send an alert.
For example, if the home’s Smart Butler notices that the weather has suddenly become cold and rainy, it can automatically close the windows, turn on the heater, and turn off the outdoor sprinkler system. If there’s a leak in the hot water heater, it can recognize the leak, turn off the water, and offer to contact a plumber.
Cees Links is the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, a Netherlands-based fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee silicon solutions for the smart home and the Internet of Things. Links helped develop the first wireless LANs, and pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot base-stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. And, he was instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking.