This article features comments I posted on a James Holloway article about Smart Homes of Tomorrow, where automation is based on sensors and learned intelligence that encompasses any device providing automatic control of home functions. Systems most likely to be automated are: lights, thermostats & home appliances; television, video & music systems; security alarms & monitoring systems; and home health care monitors, alarms & communication devices.
My perspectives aren’t too far from what Mr. Holloway wrote about. They came from introducing IBM to the Smart Home market in 1994, helping it launch IBM Home Director, and retiring in 1999 to start CAZITech, a Digital Home consulting firm.
The “Smart Home” concept has been around for some 40 years, but it never was able to cross the chasm from an industry niche of professional installation in high-end custom homes to mass market consumers. One reason is that any new device or change of behavior required a technician to come out and reprogram the house rules again.
As Holloway describes, a truly Smart home is one that’s aware of its surroundings from various sensors for light, temperature, sound, smells (smoke or CO2), motion, etc. A Smart home learns occupant behavior and preferences and adapts automatically or upon command (by voice, button or gesture interface). And a Smart home communicates in ways occupants prefer, on a device they have at the time. But there are many problems with even that vision. A big one is that automation costs and effort aren’t justified in many cases.
When I moved to Austin, I built a 3,200 sq.ft. two-story home as a living laboratory to study the technologies and my technophobe wife as typical of consumer reactions. The local paper did a 2-page feature article on my home, which at the time was automated with X-10 ActiveHome, the precursor to IBM Home Director. Several (rules-based) subsystems were integrated and automated, including security, HVAC, lighting, fish pump, etc.
Later, after retiring and growing empty-nested, we downsized to a much smaller one-story home, and even though I installed the structured wiring, I never implemented much automation. At bedtime I can now just glance around and see if the doors are locked and lights on. I no longer need that one button to put the house to sleep, set back the thermostat, arm the security, and turn off the lights. It just isn’t justified in the smaller home.
The new NEST thermostat comes close to learning consumer behavior, but it doesn’t know if I’m cold because I just finished eating ice cream or if I’m hot because I just finished vacuuming. Without sensing that through some sort of skin patch to measure surface temperature, no thermostat would ever get it right. I adjust mine manually several times a day since it’s just steps away. Like many consumers would say, “I don’t need no automation.”
Besides the fact that automated homes have too many devices and sensors and networks from too many different manufacturers with different network protocols business objectives, there’s no clean way to show consumers the value proposition of an integrated Smart Home. Retailers like BestBuy learned to combine big television screens, electronics, and surround-sound speakers so users could “experience” the benefits of a home theater, but that’s nearly impossible to do with Smart Home technology, especially when artificial intelligence learning is applied. Although I know how to get around that problem, I’ll stop now rather than make this comment longer. ‘Hope this perspective helps.
To learn more about home automation and my own home, read Smarter Homes for Home Health Care.