Various analyst groups and industry prognosticators have been tossing out some very big numbers. According to these fortune tellers, within the next few years there will be hundreds of millions, tens of billions, even trillions of smart homes connected by the Internet of Things (IoT). However, if you take a careful look at what is really happening—if you actually count up the number of homes that are truly “smart,” i.e., having intelligent systems installed that make our lives smarter, easier, and safer, you will see that the number is pretty small. Why is this?
Because today and tomorrow’s smart homes are not very smart. In fact, most of them are still downright dumb.
This is because people are confusing “connected” with “smart.” Just because a house, its devices, and its systems are connected to each other and to the Internet, enabling homeowners to monitor and even control what is happening in the home from a smartphone, does not make the house smart. To be smart, a house must have some intelligence of its own. It needs to be able to gather information from its network of sensors, review and analyze that data, and then take some kind of action—all without a person in the loop to make the decisions for it. “Sentrollers” need to do something without waiting for us to tell them what to do.
Let’s compare our cars to our homes. Yes, a car is smaller and, in most cases, less expensive than a house. Usually cars also have much quicker technology cycles than homes. If you look at the big picture, a house’s technology really hasn’t changed that much in the last hundred years, whereas automobiles have gone through numerous evolutions. Aside from having four tires and a steering wheel, today’s cars would be totally unrecognizable to a driver from a century ago.
How are cars so much smarter than homes? One of the most obvious examples is automatic door locking. You can press one button on a keyfob to lock and unlock all the doors. Even smarter, when you drive away, all the doors lock automatically as a standard security measure. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the doors in your home worked this way?
What happens when you take your car to the garage for maintenance? The technicians can hook up a device to your car’s central computer and, within minutes, discover the status of many of the vehicle’s systems and subsystems. In addition, if the automaker has developed better software and tuning for your vehicle, it can download that information to the car. It would be great if our home’s air conditioning, heating, appliances, and other components could be upgraded in a similar fashion. Recently, Tesla announced a software upgrade that will activate various sensors in its latest electric cars that will enable the car to operate without a driver, making the cars smarter and autonomous.
With the advent of the autonomous car, the era of the truly smart car is coming and will be here before smart homes become commonplace. The autonomous car uses a network of built-in sensors with local onboard intelligence that allows it to recognize the traffic around it, and is also connected to cloud intelligence for navigation and traffic control. This combination of local and cloud network intelligence enables the car to safely move from one location to another at a normal speed, with an optimized travel itinerary, all without a driver ever touching the wheel.
Why can’t our homes be this smart? It’s not as if they need to worry about high-speed collisions or traffic jams. EH
Cees Links is the CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, an award-winning fabless semiconductor/system company and a leader in the IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee market, with a rich offering of semiconductor products and software technologies for smart home data communications and the Internet of Things.