Wouldn’t it be nice to simply roll out of bed, hit a button on your smartphone and have your choice of espresso, macchiato or cappuccino waiting for you, freshly brewed, in the kitchen? Or to have your fridge let you know that you need more milk or eggs before you run out? Or to have your home thermostat adjust itself to the time of day and your preferences so that the house is nice and cold when you return from work on a hot day without imploding your electric bill?
All these and more are now possible—and more will be in the future—all thanks to smart home technology.
According to ABI Research, the home automation industry is projected to grow to more than $14 billion in worldwide revenues by 2018, which would be an 11.5 percent increase over 2012.
Part of this growth will be a fall in the costs of sensors and parts for these devices, which will drive down their prices to the point where they will be more accessible to the average consumer. Also, as more consumers adopt these products, these devices should inherently grow in popularity as long as they provide real value to the home of the future. As a result, more technology and home appliance companies will produce these smart devices to meet the growing demand.
So what will a smart home of the future look like? How will these devices connect to consumers’ everyday lives? And what will be the risks and implications associated with them?
Think the earlier coffee example is years into the future? Guess again—Scanomat, a company that develops smart machines for commercial kitchens, bars and hotels, has already developed Top Brewer, a latte machine with an app. But you need to be ready to fork over about $11,000 to enjoy its high-tech benefits.
Want to throw great house and dinner parties? One of your high-tech party gadgets might be a wine refrigerator with two temperature zones, one for red and one for white. One of these with 14 different colors of lighting from True Residential sells for $3,700. Or it might be a refrigerated chamber with room for two kegs with a double-spigot tap on top (True Residential’s sells for $3,800). The next step for these gadgets will be a smart connection to an iPhone app that controls internal temperature.
How about smart home security that keeps you and your family safe? Some smart home security systems, such as Canary, are controlled by your smartphone with an app that provides real-time information regarding activity in or around your home. If something is out of the ordinary, Canary sends an alert to your smartphone so you can handle it from there. Smart home security also replaces traditional locks and deadbolts with smart lock systems that you can control from your smartphone.
The Nest thermostat—now a Google product—is a smart home thermostat that records your home’s energy activity for a week and then adjusts your home’s temperature accordingly to help you save money on your electric bill. For example, the A/C will turn off when you typically leave your house, and it will adjust back to whatever temperature you normally switch it to when you get back home. This device could save you up to 20 percent on your monthly bill.
LG has created a smart oven that accesses your home’s Wi-Fi to make cooking easier. Instead of having to wait around the kitchen, you could be sitting poolside, taking a luxurious bath or working in the garden while still keeping an eye on your oven time using your smartphone and the connected app. You can even download preprogrammed recipes.
And these are just a few of the many, many smart home devices both on the market and on the way.
In addition to control via a smartphone, with all of these devices and more comes the next level of home automation and smart home technology—voice control. Thanks to services such as Apple’s Siri, voice-controlled home automation will become easier and more streamlined than ever. You’ll be able to tell your TV to turn on and what show to put on, tell your crockpot to turn down the temperature or tell your lights to turn off, on or dim. And that’s just the beginning.
While automated home products and even smart home technology have been around for many years now, only just recently have companies begun exploring how to get all of these disparate devices—created by a wide range of companies—to actually communicate with each other and function together.
The answer? Zigbee.
Zigbee is similar to Wi-Fi and is actually considered a low-power version of it. The technology is an open standard that uses similar radio technology and operates in the same 2.4-GHz band available globally, and, like Wi-Fi, it can be transmitted through furniture, walls and floors over the area of a good-sized home.
The main difference is that while Wi-Fi has been crafted to transmit information at high data rates, such as for downloading large files and streaming media, ZigBee is optimized instead for transmitting smaller amounts of information, such as those from individual smart home devices. It therefore requires less power to operate and is also fairly easy to set up, with little more than activating a battery inside the smart home device and letting the device pair up on its own.
Another development contributing to the spreading of smart home technology use is devices and apps that act as a hub for all different smart home technologies so users don’t need a separate app to control each piece of smart tech in the house.
The Revolv Hub ($299) is a universal smart home hub and app that speaks 10 different wireless languages, including Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Insteon, and more, and allows users to control and automate all smart home and connected devices in one handy application. The devices are programmed not just to communicate with the Revolv umbrella app but also to talk to each other, offering up a whole new level of smart home technological abilities. Users will be able to create full customizable experiences around their lifestyles and find various ways of saving energy and money and feeling safer, whether they’re in their home or monitoring it on the go.
This ability will dictate the future changes in the look, feel and experience of in-home living. But with so many rewards seemingly available, are there risks involved as well?
As great as this all might sound, smart home technology does pose its own unique risks. Perhaps the biggest fear of all is this technology’s ability to be hacked and controlled for nefarious purposes outside of the homeowner’s wants or knowledge.
Another fear of smart phone devices is the amount of data they carry at any one time. Being hooked up to Wi-Fi means that at any time, the device or servers it wirelessly connects to can have access to a homeowner’s personal information. It may not seem like a big deal for a company to know your home temperature preferences, but what that information could be used for is targeting ads at you based on your actions and those preferences. To many, this is an invasion of privacy, so it is still another risk that homeowners who pursue smart home technology need to keep in mind.
These risks aside, smart home technology is becoming more commonly found in homes throughout the world, and those numbers are only predicted to grow over the next decade. Ultimate home connectivity via smart devices and app-enabled smartphones are the next step in home automation and attempting to simplify the lives of consumers.
But being constantly connected and in control of various aspects of the home will likely change the way that consumers think about and feel in their homes forever. Will you jump on the smart home technology bandwagon? Or maybe the better question is, will your home eventually be smarter than you?