What is a Smart Home?

A smart home is a residence that uses internet-connected devices to enable the remote monitoring and management of appliances and systems, such as lighting and heating.

Smart home technology, also known as home automation, provides homeowners security, comfort, convenience and energy efficiency by allowing them to control smart devices, often by a smart home app on their smartphone or other networked device. A part of the internet of things (IoT), smart home systems and devices often operate together, sharing consumer usage data among themselves and automating actions based on the homeowners’ preferences.

Examples of smart home technologies
Nearly every aspect of life where technology has entered the domestic space (lightbulbs, dishwashers and so on) has seen the introduction of a smart home alternative:

  • Smart TVs connect to the internet to access content through applications, such as on-demand video and music. Some smart TVs also include voice or gesture recognition.
  • In addition to being able to be controlled remotely and customized, smart lighting systems, such as Hue from Philips Lighting Holding B.V., can detect when occupants are in the room and adjust lighting as needed. Smart lightbulbs can also regulate themselves based on daylight availability.
  • Smart thermostats, such as Nest from Nest Labs Inc., come with integrated Wi-Fi, allowing users to schedule, monitor and remotely control home temperatures. These devices also learn homeowners’ behaviors and automatically modify settings to provide residents with maximum comfort and efficiency. Smart thermostats can also report energy use and remind users to change filters, among other things.
  • Using smart locks and garage-door openers, users can grant or deny access to visitors. Smart locks can also detect when residents are near and unlock the doors for them.
  • With smart security cameras, residents can monitor their homes when they are away or on vacation. Smart motion sensors are also able to identify the difference between residents, visitors, pets and burglars, and can notify authorities if suspicious behavior is detected.
  • Pet care can be automated with connected feeders. Houseplants and lawns can be watered by way of connected timers.
  • Kitchen appliances of all sorts are available, including smart coffee makers that can brew you a fresh cup as soon as your alarm goes off; smart refrigerators that keep track of expiration dates, make shopping lists or even create recipes based on ingredients currently on hand; slower cookers and toasters; and, in the laundry room, washing machines and dryers.
  • Household system monitors may, for example, sense an electric surge and turn off appliances or sense water failures or freezing pipes and turn off the water so there isn’t a flood in your attic.

Smart home pros and cons
One of the most touted benefits of home automation is providing peace of mind to homeowners, allowing them to monitor their homes remotely, countering dangers such as a forgotten coffee maker left on or a front door left unlocked. Unsurprisingly, smart homes can accommodate user preferences. For example, as soon as you arrive home, your garage door will open, the lights will go on, the fireplace will roar and your favorite tunes will start playing on your smart speakers.

Home automation also helps consumers improve efficiency. Instead of leaving the air conditioning on all day, a smart home system can learn your behaviors and make sure the house is cooled down by the time you arrive home from work. The same goes for appliances. And with a smart irrigation system, your lawn will only be watered when needed and with the exact amount of water necessary. With home automation, energy, water and other resources are used more efficiently, which helps save both natural resources and money for the consumer.
However, home automation systems have struggled to become mainstream, in part due to their technical nature. A drawback of smart homes is their perceived complexity; some people have difficulty with technology or will give up on it with the first annoyance. Smart home manufacturers and alliances are working on reducing complexity and improving the user experience to make it enjoyable and beneficial for users of all types and technical levels.

Another major issue is smart home security. A 2016 NTT Data Corp. report found that 80% of U.S. consumers are concerned about the security of their smart home data. If hackers are able to infiltrate a smart device, they could potentially turn off the lights and alarms and unlock the doors, leaving a home defenseless to a break-in. In addition to security, many smart home opponents worry about data privacy. The NTT Data report found 73% of consumers are concerned about the privacy of the data shared by their smart home devices. While smart home device and platform manufacturers may collect consumer data to better tailor their products or offer new and improved services to customers, trust and transparency are critical to manufacturers building trust with the users of their smart products.

How smart homes work/smart home implementation
A smart home is not disparate smart devices and appliances, but ones that work together to create a remotely controllable network. All devices are controlled by a master home automation controller, often called a smart home hub. The smart home hub is a hardware device that acts as the central point of the smart home system and is able to sense, process data and communicate wirelessly. It combines all of the disparate apps into a single smart home app that can be controlled remotely by homeowners. Examples of smart home hubs include Amazon Echo, Google Home, Insteon Hub Pro, Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub, among others.

In simple smart home scenarios, events can be timed or triggered. Timed events are based on a clock, for example, lowering the blinds at 6:00 p.m., while triggered events depend on actions in the automated system; for example, when the owner’s smartphone approaches the door, the smart lock unlocks and the smart lights go on. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly popular in smart home systems, allowing home automation applications to adapt to their environments. For example, voice-activated systems, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, contain virtual assistants that learn and personalize the smart home to the residents’ preferences and patterns.

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