The Internet of Things (IoT) has added a new level of intelligence to the factory room floor and the enterprise, to retail and smart store innovations, and to the auto industry and a new era of smart, connected, and even self-driving cars. The smart-home industry is emerging rapidly, and IoT-enabled, intelligent homes are no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and famous and their Jetsons-like luxury homes.
Builders such as Lennar, Meritage, Shea, and Toll Brothers have moved aggressively into the smart-home market, and by 2020, it is estimated that home automation will be a $1.7 trillion market. Builders and developers will have built nearly 700,000 new units by the end of 2017, 25% of those smart-enabled. 61% of homeowners are more likely to buy a smart home than a regular home, according to Coldwell Banker Real Estate.
As IoT-enabled smart homes enter the mainstream, there remains some confusion as to precisely what it means. 'Smart homes are not cold and robotic,' said Tim Bakke, Director of Publishing at The Plan Collection. 'A smart home can be as stylish and appealing as you want – the technology itself remains in the background. A smart home is a connected home, which promotes greater energy efficiency and environmental responsibility while adding a new level of convenience by connecting everything from HVAC controls to entertainment systems and even kitchen appliances.'
The technology itself is not particularly challenging. Tiny sensors – which are becoming progressively less expensive and more sophisticated – are embedded into smart devices and connected to an app, a smartphone, or a home control system. It's what happens behind the scenes when you say to your Google Home Assistant, 'Hey Google, dim the lights and put on some romantic music.'
Management, standards, and the inevitable confusion
The smart-home status quo is quickly moving beyond simply being a few simple connected devices in one location to an entire ecosystem of connected devices throughout the home, car, workplace, and even on our own bodies. Heart rate going up? Your connected home may be able to tell – and put on some relaxing music for you. On your way home from work? Your car can communicate with your house, determine the inside temperature, and adjust it to your liking so the temperature is perfect when you walk in the door. At the same time, the system could determine when you are five minutes away and turn on the coffee pot (or in a perfect world, be able to mix you a dry martini and have it waiting for you by the door).
As the number of devices that need to be connected grows, the number of potential vulnerabilities and setup complexities increases – and there is still no single standard to unify all of them. Some companies like Axi.us are filling this gap with smart-home management to simplify the process. 'Smart homes aren't complete after installation,' said Colin Barceloux, founder and CEO of Axi.us. 'Connected IoT devices are intended to make life easier, but they can be riddled with vulnerabilities and inadequate security and need to be monitored and supported. Most homeowners don't have the skills or understanding to manage the complexity of their home technology ecosystems.' Axi.us has been developing pilot programs with builders and property managers in major U.S. cities to provide smart-home management services to more than 500 units in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and San Francisco.
A smart ecosystem
The future of IoT and smart technology is not in smart homes, smart cars, smart wearables, or smart anything else. It is in a smart ecosystem that connects all of these things transparently to create an environment that seamlessly blends everything in the user's life, removing artificial barriers between home, office, automobile, and anything else with a sensor.
'The smart home does not end at the front door,' said Bakke. 'A truly intelligent device will not have artificial barriers and limitations, and with the acceptance of broader standards and more ubiquitous sensor technology, the smart home will become just one part of a broader continuum of a smart life.'