Connected Home

The 'Connected Home': The Future of Living?

Imagine the scenario of your fridge notifying you that you need to buy more eggs or are running low on milk and automatically adding them to your online shopping list. Or your washing machine suggesting times to arrange for a repairman to visit having identified a problem and checked your diary. Or saying goodnight to your lamp which then tells any other lights left on to switch off, saving you getting up. These are all examples of a growing trend towards home automation, or what has been termed the ‘connected home’.

The connected home, where household appliances and accessories are connected to the Internet, has been a strong theme of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Google’s recent $3.2bn acquisition of NEST Labs has also caught the headlines. NEST are makers of smart thermostats that learn your heating habits, and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms which speak with a human voice before sounding the alert and can be silenced with a wave.

These devices form part of the Internet of Things (IoT) – a network of traditionally unconnected objects (or even animals) that become internet enabled, and with it gain the ability to communicate and even be controlled. Connected devices offer new opportunities, which has created a movement to connect more things. There were around 200 million devices connected to the Internet in the year 2000. It is estimated there will be 50 billion by 2020. As a sub category of the IoT, the connected home market is predicted to be worth 29bn by 2018.

Why connect the home?

The idea behind the connected home and making everyday objects smart, is to realise benefits such as saving time, cost, energy and even lives, by generating data and achieving convenience through automation. The UK, through companies such as British Gas and Siemens, is already experiencing a roll-out of smart meters for utilities, which will send readings direct to the supplier, saving the cost of sending someone to read the meters. In time, consumers will be able to receive pricing information, monitor their consumption and control appliances.

How is the home connected?

The basic premise is a sensor will monitor and detect activity (e.g. temperature), which would then be communicated through a gateway (e.g. Wi-Fi) and in some cases, there may be the ability to alter the result via some type of microcontroller (e.g. adjust the thermostat). This information would all feed into a cloud service where analytics can be performed and presented to the user through a dashboard such as an app on a smartphone which also serves as a remote control.

Why is it happening now (or not happening now)?

The suggestion of the intelligent home has been around for a long time, so why is the idea now growing in prominence? A number of reasons; the cost of sensors and chips is reducing, wireless technologies are making it easier to bring everything online, the adoption of the cloud and the ubiquity of smartphones and apps which can serve as remote controls and user interfaces, all mean there is a greater purpose to instrument and intelligent household goods. The migration to IPv6, creating a larger address space, required for each connected device has also been helpful to the industry.

However, there are still issues to be addressed. The current approach to the IoT market has seen a proliferation of independent systems which don’t talk to each other, and a lack of standardised protocols for solution delivery (competing designs may feature ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc.). Efforts to tackle these issues are underway but wide scale industry collaboration hasn’t been overly forthcoming so it may be some time yet before there is widespread adoption. Security and privacy are also concerns often at the forefront of consumer’s minds.

What might feature in the homes of the future?

In addition to the aforementioned smart thermostats and smoke and gas alarms, here are a few further examples that may one day be automated or monitored and controlled from your smartphone:

  • Doors that open as you arrive and lock as you leave and alert when someone unexpected enters
  • A coffee machine that knows when you wake up and starts brewing your morning drink
  • A pet food bowl that automatically refills at feeding time and monitors eating habits
  • Plant pots that notify you they require watering
  • Garage doors that open and close as your car comes and goes
  • Ovens that can be told to automatically start cooking and be time adjustable in case you are running late
  • Lights that switch on when you get home in the evening or to make it appear someone is in when you are out
  • Cameras accessible remotely for security systems and the monitoring of a baby, an elderly person or pet

More devices, more opportunities

The emergence of connected devices has opened up great opportunities to entrepreneurs. As a result, a whole new generation of startups are engaging to deliver solutions. Camdata is well positioned to help, with a range of expertise across sensing, communications and microcontrollers, all critical junctures of IoT hardware. In addition to just technical assistance, our directors are experienced business angels able to provide mentoring and advice to early stage ventures and taking solutions to market. For more information on the support we can provide, why not contact us to discuss.

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