The idea of the smart home has been around for generations. Science fiction films and cartoons have depicted the replacement of the traditional housekeeper role with machines since The Jetsons. The fear of what will happen if these machines turn on us has also inspired a number of films, and with good reason - being stabbed in the back by a flying whisk is a truly dishonourable death.
The connected home is now, more or less, a reality. We may not be seeing many true ‘Jetson’ homes in the numbers sci-fi directors anticipated, but with companies such as Nest Labs making innovations in the arena, high quality and affordable household IoT goods are slowly making it more commonplace.
Nest Labs, for example, has now developed a new range that takes it to the next level. They have recently launched the Nest Protect smoke alarm system and the Nest Cam home surveillance camera to go along with its thermostat - which was released in 2011.
These devices are driven by Big Data and analytics. Algorithms in the software are built into the devices to monitor and record how they are used, to build a profile which allows them to ‘set’ themselves. So, a smart thermostat works by periodically measuring room temperature and reporting this back to its backend service. Here, it is recorded alongside weather service data and information about the routine of family members - which is taken from a number of sources such as social media, online calendars and the thermostat's presence sensor - to determine the best temperature setting for any given moment. It then instructs the thermostat to adjust the furnace or AC settings as required.
Nest’s products are likely just the beginning. Wearable devices, entertainment systems, and car electronics are just a few of devices being showcased, all of which are accumulating data from all our day to day lives and sharing between each other to automate many of our activities. In a scene in UK stop-motion animation ‘Wallace and Gromit, he has an invention that wakes him him up and sets off a complex chain of machines that takes him from his bed to his dining room table, morning breakfast in front of him - all without having to lift a finger. This is not a million miles from what the Internet of Things and Big Data will enable, albeit with a solution that is a little less ungainly. This will help to drastically cut down our daily routines and should allow for high productivity in other areas of our daily lives. And it is not just in our personal lives that this will have a difference. Automated machines that turn off when we are not using them should also drastically cut down on energy usage, helping to save the planet too.
Waiting for the technology is not the only thing getting in the way of it really taking off, though. There are still those who do not fully trust putting their safety in the hands of machines, fearing malfunction, or a Terminator-style uprising in their kitchen. The amount of data that companies will be able to collect within the household also seems intrusive to many, which is possibly justified. A substantial number of businesses plan to use smart products to garner information about customers. According to a recent study by Cognizant and the Economist Intelligence Unit on the rise and impact of the smart product economy, 40% of businesses intend to use smart products to automate customer service operations. The study also found that 46% said smart products are already bringing them information about their customers that couldn’t get to, either because they were restricted by technology or cost.
Despite these obstacles, the number of IoT devices in households is almost certain to continue growing. Nest now carries Google’s ‘badge of approval’, having been acquired by the tech behemoth last year for $3.2 billion. Google sees its products as central to the inevitable drive towards ‘smart’ homes, and the amount of investment that they and other ares pumping into the sector should ensure its rapid implementation.