Smart homes and home automation technologies have been around for two or three decades. However, these technologies were a niche segment catering to the very affluent or extreme technophiles but with more and more devices launching into the market, the smart home market is growing. Bhavani Balakrishna finds out ….
Smart Homes, also known as automated homes, intelligent buildings or integrated home systems are not recent developments. Originally, smart home technology was used to control environmental systems such as lighting and heating, but recently the use of smart technology has developed so that almost any electrical component within the house can be included in the system. Moreover, smart home technology does not simply turn devices on and off, it can monitor the internal environment and the activities that are being undertaken whilst the house is occupied. The result of these modifications to the technology is that a smart home can now monitor the activities of the occupant of a home, independently operate devices in set predefined patterns or independently, as the user re-quires. Smart homes are now dedicated to simplify the life of its inhabitants, to make energy saving, to provide comfort and security solutions. Recent research reports state that the global smart homes and buildings market is expected to grow at a significant CAGR of 29.5% between 2013 and 2020.
Main Market Drivers
Increasing climate changes and the need for sustainability and reducing carbon emissions has created an urgent need for energy efficient systems and more demand for active and passive energy-saving solutions around the world.
Regulation is also playing an important role in encouraging smart energy management. Countries such as the US and Canada have largely deployed smart energy meters due to the support of and regulations introduced by their governments. The Eastern European countries were early adopters of smart energy meters under the guidance of their respective governments. Furthermore, governments in some Asian and Western European countries have initiated pilot test programs to install smart energy meters. India is estimated to install 130 million smart meters by 2021.
On the other hand, consumers are also now used to control many aspects of their lives from their personal screens, whether smartphones, tablets or PCs. It will therefore come naturally to consumers to extend their usage of these devices from media consumption to the control of their home. The increasing number of screens in the home following the arrival of smartphones and tablets, based on open systems make it easy for service providers to set up user interfaces to smart home applications in the homes.
Innovations in the ICT space have also led to more affordable smart home devices and systems, largely owing to security, software and electronics firms. Google recently acquired the aforementioned Nest Learning Thermostat for $3.2 billion, and has designs on the home security market. Apple is designing a software platform to control smart home devices, and is in talks with a group of retailers to incorporate it into their devices. Products range from systems consisting of a starter kit that can be controlled by a remote and access to an app-based ecosphere, to an ecosystem of integrated products. According to news reports, even Amazon has recently begun reaching out to developers to build relationships for its secret smart home projects. The company’s secret hard-ware division, Lab126, is reportedly working on new smart-home devices.
Features of Smart Homes
Smart homes enable users to connect, control and monitor all appliances and information in the home through simple and intuitive user interfaces. Applications can be identified around four main domains security, energy, comfort and healthcare.
Some of the most common, centrally-controlled, technologies in today’s smart home automation include automated door locks and security systems that can be controlled with a smartphone to other electronic device, temperature and ventilation controls, energy consumption monitoring devices, entertainment systems, smart lighting systems, smart appliances, vehicle detection systems and plant and pet monitoring systems. Other typical features of the smart home automation include room-to-room video and audio communication and notifications sent by the home to a user’s smartphone or other device in case of a particular occurrence such as break-ins.
Automation and centralized control have serious benefits for family caregivers. By integrating home healthcare equipment, such as monitoring and diagnostic tools, smart homes could simplify the care giving process for the hundreds of millions of adults worldwide who care for an elderly, ailing, or infirm parent or relative. By monitoring the vitals of its occupants, home health monitors can automatically alert hospitals and immediate relatives in case a resident is having a health emergency.
Security is a major focus of smart home systems. Advanced smart security systems can notify the resident remotely if there has been an intrusion, detect vehicles approaching home, automatically lock doors, provide room-by-room surveillance, and so much more.
One not so obvious benefit of Smart Home is its ability to make us be more Eco-friendly. For example, you can reduce food waste with Smart Home. Since the refrigerator can tell you what is in your fridge and how much have, you could avoid buying extra food when you are at the market; thus, less to waste. You can also check how much electricity your appliances are consuming on the Smart Home app, which enables you to see how you might be able to save electricity. Compare to the previous months or years to see how you’re doing, and how much you can save on energy costs.
Smart homes have the potential to be greener and cheaper. Water and energy-monitoring tools and programs to optimize energy consumption, could impel us to lower our water and energy usage, which could, in turn, lower our bills and reduce our carbon footprint. Google’s Nest developed a remote controlled thermostat that can lower heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent. The thermostat also “remembers” a resident’s temperature adjustments and automatically creates a schedule based on when that person is at home or away.
On the structural side, the construction community is making an effort to combine environmentally kind materials and a modern, energy-conscious design with sophisticated technologies such as home control systems. MIT Media Lab’s Kent Larson and his team are experimenting with future home technology that primarily involved adaptable spaces. Dining tables lowered from the roof, beds that slide out from wardrobes, smart walls that can be moved, all enabling people in smaller homes to make more use of the room that is available. HVAC systems effectively minimize the energy consumption of one’s home’s lights and heating and cooling equipment by intuitively responding to the current state and usage patterns of the residents.
The Honda Smart Home
Honda Smart Home implements Honda’s home energy management system, or HEMS, aproprietary hardware and software system that monitors, controls and optimizes electrical generation and consumption throughout the home’s micro-grid. Honda Smart Home brings together innovative technology and the latest green building concepts:
Solar photovoltaics A 9.5kW solar photovoltaic, or PV, system mounted on the roof will generate more energy than the home and Fit EV consume on an annual basis, due in large part to the efficient de-sign of the home. All of the energy for space heating, space cooling, ventilation, lighting, hot water, appliances and consumer loads, in addition to the transportation energy for the Honda Fit EV, is supplied by the solar panels on the home.
Geothermal radiant heating and cooling In homes and cars, heating and air conditioning systems consume significant amounts of energy. In the ground beneath the Honda Smart Home’s backyard, eight 20-foot-deep boreholes allow a geothermal heat pump to harness the ground’s relatively stable thermal sink to heat and cool the home’s floors and ceiling throughout the year. Researchers from UC Davis will evaluate the performance of the system to determine its adaptability to mainstream use.
Construction Materials – Since concrete accounts for approximately 5 percent of global, man-made CO2 emissions, pozzolan was infused into the Honda Smart Home’s concrete to replace half of the cement typically needed. Post-tensioning, which uses steel cables to compress the concrete slab, was used to reduce the amount of concrete and steel needed.
Advanced lighting – The LED lighting used throughout the home is not only five times more energy efficient than conventional lighting, it is also designed to support the health and wellness of the home’s occupants. Honda worked with researchers from UC Davis’ California Lighting Technology Center to explore new circadian color control logic. Mimicking the natural shifts in daylight that occur from morning to night, the circadian-friendly lighting design allows occupants to select lighting scenes that complement occupants’ circadian rhythms and support night time vision. The amber hallway night lights, for example, provide enough light to navigate through the home in darkness without depleting a photo pigment in the human eye called rhodops in that helps people see in low-light conditions. This allows occupants to move about safely and return to sleep quickly and easily. Exposure to bright, blue-rich light during the day helps put body and mind in an alert and energetic state, but at night, blue light can disrupt circadian sleep cycles. Therefore, Honda Smart Home minimizes the use of blue light at night.
Passive design – Honda Smart Home is designed to be extremely energy efficient by taking into account local weather conditions, sun direction and the home’s outer shell. Known as “passive design,” these techniques reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling while maintaining comfortable living conditions. Honda Smart Home’s south-facing windows are optimized for heating and cooling, while the north-facing windows are positioned to maximize natural light and ventilation. This will keep the home naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Double stud walls, cool roofing material and a fully insulated concrete slab all contribute to the home’s energy efficiency.
Sustainable materials and waste management Sustainable materials were used throughout the construction process. Rather than cover the concrete foundation with wood, diamond pads were used to create a smooth, polished finish. For the roof, metal was selected, which is more recyclable than asphalt. All lumber used in the construction process was sustainably harvested from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, while advanced framing techniques were used to reduce the amount of material needed. Finally, 96 percent of the construction waste associated with the project, including drywall, brick, plastics and lumber, was recycled.
Through a combination of advanced technology integration, energy efficiency measures and sustainable design techniques, Honda Smart Home surpasses that goal by producing enough energy to power the home and an electric vehicle on a daily basis Honda Smart Home is expected to generate a surplus of 2.6 megawatt-hours of electricity over the course of a year, while a comparable home will consume approximately 13.3 megawatt-hours. This results in a net offset of nearly 13,100 pounds ofCO2 per year, even when taking into account. Honda Smart Home is three times more water efficient than a typical U.S. household. In a typical home, the toilet alone can use 27 percent of household water consumption. Dual-flush toilets with Water Sense certification, along with low-flow faucets in the sinks and showers and a high efficiency washing machine and dish washer all contribute to water savings. A technique called xeriscaping was used in the garden, where 30 percent of a typical home’s water is consumed. Plants that thrive naturally in arid climates were selected, while filtered gray water recycled from the home is the only source of water other than rain.
The Samsung Smart Home
Samsung Electronics announced the official global launch of its Samsung Smart Home service at opening of the IFA 2014 in Berlin. The key attributes of the future Home: A Show Me, Know Me, and Tell Me home that adapts to you.
First, it will be a Show Me home that makes complex data visible and useful, so that you can make better choices. For example, it will show you when to take your medicine, alert you to air pollution, or give you choices for saving energy. Second, it will be a Know Me home that learns your needs and recognizes your lifestyle patterns. It’s a home that knows when your day starts. For example, it will turn on the lights and the coffee pot just in time. Third, it will be a Tell Me home that pro actively adjusts to your needs, and provides suggestions without being asked. Imagine a home that tells you there are leftover ingredients, and suggests a recipe to use them up. Ultimately, it will be a Care Me home.
Samsung has partnered with industry leaders, such as the Open Interconnect Consortium, to create interconnected solutions and industry standards. The company has also acquired the technology and talent of Smart Things, a leading open platform for the next-generation smart home experience.
The Smart Home still suffers from barriers to mass-market adoption. A recent study by Microsoft researchers determined that the top four barriers to wider adoption of smart homes are the issues associated with linking disparate systems, poor manageability, high cost of ownership, and difficulty of integrating security systems.
Linking disparate systems
The smart home market is fragmented, at present. Many competing manufacturers are developing disparate smart home systems and technologies and while it is easy to integrate devices made by the same vendor, in many cases, consumers are required to buy replacement devices. Integrating devices from disparate vendors often results in limited functionality and unreliable service.
Costs and Perception of Being Expensive
Generally, home automation is promoted only in new buildings or luxury housing conveying the impression to consumers that these solutions are expensive. Fully integrated custom systems can be expensive if one includes the cost of requiring a consultant to install them and structural changes to the home. However, there is little mainstream awareness of what is currently available. Some consumers may not be aware that smart home technologies can be purchased for as little as $150.
Also, consumers have difficulty under-standing what benefits the smart home can deliver and are not sufficiently impressed by its promises. For example, the potential of achieving a modest 5%-10% savings in the gas and electricity bill does not usually seem sufficient to justify investment in a home energy management system.
Another serious concern is the potential for criminals to hack into a smart home system. This has serious implications as smart home systems generally integrate home security systems in addition to others.
Smart Homes in India
The Indian real estate is increasingly looking at home automation as a differentiation factor in the high-end luxury segment where buyer budgets have the room for automation. The concept of home automation has been adopted by several developers including Lodha, Mantri, Total Environment and Sobha.
Mantri’s collaborating with Cisco to develop new information and communication technologies (ICT)-enabled real estate models to create smart urban homes where not just the apartment, but the entire project could be connected through a wireless network Using Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities platform, Mantri aims to build smart sustainable communities where residents of Smart Homes will have access to features such as wireless door locks and video door stations for security, smart interiors with customized settings for lights, blinds, AC and a touch screen panel on the wall with IP control lights. Residents can benefit from easy access to entertainment via Audio- Video Integration and safer living through gas detection sensors. Such initiatives have already been rolled out in projects like Mantri Espana and Mantri DSK Pinnacle.
Sobha Developers have marketed its Sobha Habitech project in Bangalore as a smart home project. All apartments in this gated residential community will be equipped with a patented smart home automation technology. These smart homes can sense the resident’s mood and customize the lighting, fans and AC to the home user likes. It will show at the touch pad or smart phone who is at the door and will also alarm the resident in case of any gas leakage in the kitchen. The bathrooms will be lit up sensing one’s arrival and the boom barrier at the apartment’s entrance will open automatically sensing the presence of the car. Also, elderly folks just need to press a soft panic button in the house, in case of any emergency, to reach the resident or others for help. Video surveillance at all the common areas at Habitech will facilitate residents to monitor movement of their children from home.
It is expected that most developers will use some sort of automation features irrespective of the price in the near future. The growth of home automation is being fuelled by high-speed broadband connections, developments in home networking and advancements in 3G communications technologies. Apart from big names like Schneider, Honeywell and Cisco, several local startups are making a mark in the home automation market such as Silvan and PluggX.
The Indian home automation market is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% according to industry estimates. Smart home products are becoming an affordable luxury to the average Indian, while the increasing awareness of energy efficiency and smart living has been growing over the last few years. While India still has a long way to go, it is surely a market with huge potential given the propensity of the evolving smartphone wielding population that continues to view technology adoption as a way to enrich and simplify lives.
Smart homes and home automation technologies have been around for two or three decades. However, these technologies were a niche segment catering to the very affluent or extreme technophiles but with more and more devices launching into the market, the smart home market is growing in affordability, functionality, sales, and expectations, thus pushing industry into the next generation as our homes become the hub for smarter living. One can see the industry reaching new heights in the next few years due to a perfect confluence of key market, regulatory, strategic and technology trends.
Image courtesy: Garbett Homes