Building your proactive home with Molex

An interview with Bart van Ettinger, Vice President Connected Devices, Molex


The connected home is not a nice to have in today’s world, it’s a must have. From security and surveillance, home automation and smart appliances to home streaming entertainment and energy options, the home of tomorrow is happening—and it’s happening now.

What patterns do you see in the international adoption of smart-home technologies?

The adoption of connected-home technologies varies widely throughout the world; both in market penetration and in the ways they are applied. The US and Canada combined represent the largest market so far and it is growing at more than 30 per cent per year. The majority of applications are in security. Homeowners have been buying digital video surveillance systems and sensors to detect fires or water leaks. The Europeans, by contrast, see connected-home products as important for reducing energy costs. They are installing sensors and systems that make smarter use of home heating and lighting. Healthcare applications are also becoming popular among a gradually ageing population.

In Asia energy consumption is also a concern. But the market is also being driven by a large, innovative telecom industry, which influences the types of system homeowners install. But as technology improves we will see another pattern emerging: one that will move us on from single-purpose systems that leverage connectivity and cloud intelligence to create homes that truly fit our needs.

What changes do you envisage coming to the smart home?

What people call the smart home today is simply an evolution of the concept of ”home”. Although the concept of the smart home has been in the public mind for a number of years, we’re at the start of a technological revolution built on the devices and systems that support today’s connected home. Over the past few decades, technology has transformed the home into a hub of functionality: a centre for entertainment, work, fitness, relaxation, security and more.

At Molex we believe looking at home technology in an evolutionary context provides not just a valuable perspective but one that is essential to understanding the key trends that are driving the development of solutions able to further transform the home. The better we are able to see how things have changed in recent years the better we are able to see where we are going. Some view the idea of the connected home as the future. We see it differently. For Molex, the connected home is simply the current phase in an ongoing evolution of home technology. We are now at a point where the widespread adoption of key technologies enables the next phase in the evolution.

The connected home now hosts a widening variety of sensors that can detect movement, temperature, cameras, occupancy and much more. By 2022 five billion sensors will be installed in smart homes globally. That’s according to market research firm ABI Research. But this is not the only component of the growth of the smart home. At Molex, we see the smart home as just one aspect of the fully integrated Internet of Things (IoT). Other sensors outside the homes themselves, such as publicly accessible instruments that provide data on the weather, will also be vital. Each of these devices can collect real-time data and transmit it into the cloud. The value is unlocked when the various pieces of data are combined and analysed. The types of insights and trends the software can find are key to driving the next phase of evolution.

"By 2022 five billion sensors will be installed in smart homes globally. That’s according to market research firm ABI Research. But this is not the only component of the growth of the smart home. At Molex, we see the smart home as just one aspect of the fully integrated Internet of Things (IoT)." Bart van Ettinger, Vice President Connected Devices, Molex

How does the combination of home sensors and cloud computing change the smart-home landscape?

These technologies will transform our homes from being reactive to our needs to being proactively engaged. Many functions within our home will happen without any interaction needed from its occupants.

Today, smart-home devices need the conscious control of their users. We have to press a button, make a deliberate gesture or use an app to change settings. Voice-activated technology in smart speaker devices provide another form of interaction but they still need to hear commands that are constructed for them. That will change as devices and cloud services use their understanding of the occupants’ needs to be more responsive.

The seeds for the next step in the evolution have already taken root. Smart-home devices now leverage artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing and visual recognition technologies. Through these technologies, the home itself is acquiring the ability to sense at multiple levels of understanding. The home is becoming able to “watch,” “listen,” “smell” and “feel”.

Thanks to the combination of local sensors and cloud computing, the home will become a proactive partner in its occupants’ daily existence. It will predict what it is that they need or desire based on what the sensors detect. They will not have to reach for the light; the room will understand that the light should be on as soon as someone enters. Sometimes, the action will take place before the user thinks of what they want to do.

For example, the proactive home will monitor traffic conditions and, observing the calendar of one of the occupants – let’s call her Jane – determine that it would be better to wake her a few minutes earlier. This earlier wakeup call can compensate for the delay in travel. Instead of simply activating a loud alarm clock, the software will take input from her smart mattress, which tracks her sleep pattern through her movements at night. So the proactive home understands a gentle wakeup cycle is the best approach.

When Jane gets up, the shower will already be at her preferred temperature and her favourite coffee will already be brewing. The home will recognise different people living in it and adjust each system to their preferences.

Examples like this show how a proactive home can collaborate in a complicated analysis of data drawn from the cloud and local sensors and make a series of intelligent decisions that save time, reduce energy and cut stress.
 

  Enabled Home  Connected Home Proactive Home 
Enabling 
Technology:
 
Digitisation, miniaturisation Ubiquitous sensors and inter-
connects, cloud-based services
AI/machine learning, natural
language and visual recognition
Supplier
Value Creation:
Enhanced discrete product
functionality 

Increased density of 
interaction via connections 

Data mining and learning
algorithm
Dweller 
Benefits: 
Safety, comfort, convenience Security, health and wellness,
convenience, cost savings, sus-
tainability, social engagement
Freedom, self-fulfillment 
Communication: One-way, person-to-device Two-way, person-to-device,
some device-to-device
Two-way, person-to-device,
device-to-device, automated
responses

Three-phase evolution of home technology


What are the major challenges for companies that participate in the smart-home market? Does it force companies to change how they interact with the ecosystem?

There are many challenges facing participants in the smart-home market. A major issue is that of interoperability. Today, we have a number of technology ecosystems in place and they are competing rather than cooperating. The result for the homeowner is that if devices are not designed to work with a particular platform, making them function as desired can be difficult and inconvenient. This is beginning to change. We now have gateway devices emerging that can intelligently translate between protocols and so resolve some of the connectivity and interoperability issues. As that evolution takes place, the next challenge is in moving towards the seamless integration that can unlock value creation.

Critical to the success of the connected home and then the proactive home is the ability to translate harvested data into product value. The many overlapping data streams in a home will be powerful predictors for all kinds of behaviour.

No single company can overcome these challenges. Instead, collaboration along the entire home technology value chain will be required. Rather than thinking in terms of individual devices, suppliers for the proactive home will partner for complete solutions that combine devices, applications, services and processes to harvest and use all the available data intelligently.

Another major challenge is power consumption. But we see progress being made on the energy efficiency of battery-powered sensors. Cooperation among vendors to improve interoperability will help optimise energy usage among the many sensors and devices installed around the home.

Companies can play many roles within a complex ecosystem such as the one required for the proactive home. Some will focus on a segment within the ecosystem only, such as just the device layer or just the gateway. But there are also an increasing number of companies who are looking at the entire ecosystem. Molex has been traditionally an interconnect company and as a result has mostly focused on the device layer. But as we transform into a solutions provider, we are increasingly looking at developing gateways and even ecosystems. We are continuously acquiring new technologies that span sensor, software and firmware developments. And we are collaborating with our own sister companies within Koch Industries to explore bringing advanced technologies to the home.

What solutions does Molex bring to the smart-home market?

Molex has a number of solutions in place and we are working on many more. In terms of smart-device design, we have solutions such as Soligie. This provides a thin, flexible, robust and economical alternative to rigid printed circuit boards (PCBs) or copper flex circuits that are suited to deployment in flexible sensors. In the smart-home environment the Soligie technology helps enable applications such as remote medical diagnostics.

As connectivity and energy efficiency are critical requirements for connected home devices, we’re working hard on RF design. Molex Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) technology is helping to create more efficient RF antennas. This technology uses a laser beam to create antenna patterns on the surface of complex 3D parts, avoiding the need to integrate discrete parts that have a detrimental impact on the industrial design.

As part of our strategy to provide solutions that incorporate multiple technologies, Molex has joined the EnOcean Alliance. We will integrate the EnOcean energy harvesting technology with the Molex Transcend Network Connected Lighting system to enable lighting that adapts to mood, tasks, ambient lighting and more. The innovative LED-based system creates a personalised experience for the user that improves wellbeing and productivity. It goes further than lighting. The connected applications in the system feed sensor data to a central host to enable the monitoring of real-time energy consumption, air quality, temperature and more.

 

Engineering tomorrow' connected house - Today!

Are you developing an application that could help enable the world's connected homes? Chances are you'll be considering antennas as part of your wireless connectivity solution. Avnet Abacus has worked closely with Molex to bring you a range of antenna solutions ideal for a wide range of Connected Home applications, as well as an ecosystem of resources to help you achieve the proactive home of the future. Find out how we can support you, and request a sample kit to start testing your design.

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