Crisis and opportunity
The home automation and control systems market can be a frightening place. Housing starts, devastated by the recession, are experiencing a tepid recovery. Control equipments’ already limited profit margins are being further compromised by direct-to-consumer sales. Independent installers and systems integrators are wary of competition with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and others large players who are moving into home automation.
However, with every crisis there is opportunity. The increasing affordability of control hardware may cut profits, but it also encourages the spread of home automation beyond wealthy people and enthusiasts. While housing starts are sluggish, more middle-class, single-family dwellings are being retrofitted with automated controls. An aging population (the last US census estimates 100 million+ people over the age of 50) will demand the convenience of automated home systems as well as the security of built-in emergency and health services. Market research estimates that the global home automation and control systems market will grow from $16,888.27 million in 2011 to $35,627.83 million in 2016 (CAGR of 16.1%).
Orrin Charm, Automation Product Manager at Gefen, and co-founder of the Systems Integration Council of Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), has been active in home automation for over 30 years.
“The biggest single change that I have noticed recently is the move from hardwired solutions to wireless,” states Charm. “When we established the Systems Integration Council, we were still soldering directly from HVAC systems to the controls. The manufacturers wanted nothing to do with home automation. Now, almost every device is getting an IP address.”
Wireless networking is a challenge to some installers, who are more accustomed to running cables than they are to programming. Cost-conscious consumers do not want the additional expense of hiring programmers for the initial configuration, and resent the lack of freedom in making additional adjustments.
“Technology is not the problem,” explains Charm. “Technology can do anything we ask it to, if we know how to ask.”
What Charm asked of technology is for a simple-to-use control system. He got his answer when he initiated development of GAVA, Gefen’s new automation system.
“By using a web-based interface with product templates, we created an automation system that anybody can configure in 15 minutes,” he explains. “That’s true for homes, boardrooms, conference rooms, theaters…anywhere.”
GAVA’s interface is an extreme example of the growing trend of user-friendly controls. Automation professionals are concentrating on making software more manageable, so simple modifications, such as altering the schedule for light dimming, don’t require the skillset of an expert. End users do not want to search multiple menus for the exact right command, and with the new convenient interfaces, they don’t have to.
They also don’t have to boot up their computers to control their home systems. CEDIA estimates that nine in 10 homeowners who have automated technology use mobile devices for their control interfaces. Smart phones have taught an entire generation the value of a unified interface. Nobody wants to run from keypad to keypad or juggle multiple remotes.
GAVA, designed for human needs, is optimized to work with smart phones and tablets. Since it integrates many devices, GAVA eliminates the need to switch smart phone “apps” in order to control several different devices at once
“Designed for human needs” is what ties together user-friendly controls, the use of smart phones, and to a certain extent wireless networking. While people are constantly learning new technology, new technology must also be configured to human behavior. If people want their smart phones to receive text messages from their dryers telling them that their towels are ready to be folded, suppliers of home automation must give them that capability. The home automation professional who sells technology that adapts to people, and does not insist that people adapt to technology, will not only survive, but prosper.
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