No longer just gizmos and gadgets for the wealthy, devices for the smart home are fast becoming the purview of the every man. Estimates project that within the next 10 years the average household will consist of 100 connected devices, networking everything from lights and motion sensors to thermostats and smoke detectors.
With every passing day it seems more and more otherwise-mundane household items are being outfitted with connectivity. From refrigerators and washing machines to toasters and light bulbs, appliances of all kinds are being networked and marketed as elements of the impending smart home.
While the smart home architectures of tomorrow will indeed be comprised of numerous networked devices, however, simply Internet-enabling a door lock or light switch doesn't make it inherently "smart." The key to the smart home is harnessing data based on behavior and usage patterns, and using that intelligence to autonomously improve the residents' quality of life. But when comparing today's smart homes with those of the future that operate independently and behind the scenes, Paul O'Donovan, Principal Research Analyst of the Semiconductor Group at Gartner (www.gartner.com) says it's "similar to where the mobile phone was in the 1990s to where it is now – functional, but by no means smart."
"Basically, there is little or no computing or learning going on in the systems available today," O'Donovan says. "There is some limited decision making, such as turning off heating or lights when the home owner leaves the building, but otherwise there is little 'processing' of the data locally or in the cloud."
"The smart home is still in its infancy," says Ryan Maley, Director of Strategic Marketing at the ZigBee Alliance (www.zigbee.org). "There are many products available and these are well deployed extending comfort and efficiency for home owners. However, these products tend to be single-purpose applications such as lighting, security, or energy efficiency. These installations probably reflect where the homeowner has interest or where there is some easily understood value. However, the smart home should be much more.
"As more devices are connected, consumers will see more value than simply extending control of their home to mobile devices," Maley continues. "The smart home should be optimizing efficiency and making decisions for us automatically rather than simply allowing us turn things on and off via a mobile device instead of a light switch. As more everyday objects are connected and become smart, many new interesting applications may arise, such as balancing the needs of lighting and energy management by opening window coverings instead of turning on a light when we enter a room."
To enable analytics for new smart home applications and services such as energy management, embedded software development companies like DSR (www.dsr-company.com) design architectures that amass sensor data from connected devices (Figure 1). In addition, new technologies and techniques are emerging that will add value and make home automation more transparent to the end user, says Genie Peshkova, Vice President of Operations at DSR.
Figure 1: Companies like DSR integrate embedded devices with smart home analytics architectures such as this to enable new applications and services for the smart home.
"Consumers expect the smart home to be truly smart – don't ask me about things that you can determine, learn my behavior and adapt," Peshkova says. "Don't unnecessarily disturb me, but do let me know when something is wrong or out of the ordinary. The idea is for the smart home to fit perfectly into the consumer's lifestyle, adapt to his or her likes or dislikes, simplify life, add convenience, and provide much needed security and peace of mind.