Let your home do the work so you don't have to
The past few years have seen consumers embrace an increasingly wide range of smart-home devices. The most obvious change that has come to living rooms is in the voice-driven smart speakers that include Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home devices. They join digital home security cameras and other sensors intended to increase safety and devices that monitor energy usage to keep fuel bills down.
Many are now connected to the cloud. The smart speakers rely on cloud connectivity to deliver sophisticated voice-recognition services that are able to learn the more they hear. Network-connected automation systems for controlling home heating and lighting make it possible to have the house warmed up ready for when its occupants return from work or a trip. Market research firm ABI Research is predicting that by 2022 five billion sensors will be installed in smart homes globally. But this type of connected home is just the beginning.
Today, we need to interact with connected products in the home deliberately. We press buttons, issue voice commands through smart speakers or work with apps on a connected phone or tablet. We are used to this and accept it. But it does not have to stay this way. The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) technology by devices such as smart speakers opens up possibilities that will make these devices much more helpful in our lives. A real smart home will be able to anticipate our requirements and desires by analysing the patterns of our daily lives, using the immense amount of data they capture to become aware of what we want. The connected home will become a proactive home.
Repetitive actions such as adjusting the heating, turning on the radio to hear music or even ordering food consumed on a regular basis such as cereals and milk can be performed by the home devices themselves. You may arrive home with your hands full. The door will recognise it is you and unlock automatically. As you enter, the lights – if it is dark outside – will be on. There will be no need to turn on the heating or air conditioning: the home will already be at the owner’s preferred temperature. And music that was playing in the car can now be heard in the hallway. By being proactive, the home and the cloud working together will have worked out how best to get to this situation.
Today, you can control the heating remotely so that when you leave the office a remote-control message delivered to the home environment controls will activate the necessary systems. The proactive home will not need this. It will use both local and remote AI to determine what to do and when to do it. Not only will the home be ready when you arrive home, fresh groceries will be beside the door – ordered by the home systems when sensors registered that supplies of milk and other foodstuffs were beginning to run low.
The power behind the proactive home will be the combination of sensor technology and powerful cloud computing. A variety of sensors, including everything from simple temperature transducers to cameras around the home will provide information on the local environment. Sensor nodes and gateways will cooperate to determine whether the data they capture needs action and forward anything important to the cloud. There AI and other forms of software will combine the home data with sensor readings from devices that analyse factors such as traffic and the weather across a city or region.
By bringing together all that data, the AI-enabled software can predict how traffic patterns will affect the commute home. In doing so, the system can ensure the heating does not turn on too early and that energy is not wasted. The “autonomous living” that proactive-home technology brings can usher in a new age of personal productivity. With extra time on their hands, people will enjoy greater opportunities for self-fulfilment. However, there are challenges on the way there.
Power consumption, connectivity and interoperability are the most immediate challenges. Up to now, the focus in home automation has been from major suppliers trying to build systems using only their products. The proactive home requires a more open, more flexible ecosystem and we are beginning to see smart gateways arrive that make it possible to ensure messages relayed by each sensor are made compatible with back-end services.
There are more subtle challenges that will need to be overcome. As each occupant’s routines and preferences vary, the proactive home will need to adapt to situations where many of them are together and attain the best compromise, and then personalise the environment if only one of the occupants is present. One-size-fits-all solutions will not impress tomorrow’s homeowners who will expect their homes to meets their needs with a minimal learning curve.
Rather than thinking in terms of individual devices, suppliers for the proactive home will formulate their products as being part of a larger solution, recognising that effective systems will combine devices, applications, services and processes, and often in different ways as the day progresses and technologies improve. The leading manufacturers will leverage insights from across the entire supply chain. This is leading to changes at suppliers who, historically, have been seen operating in only part of the ecosystem, such as device hardware.
Molex, for example, has been traditionally operated as an interconnect specialist. But the company is transforming to meet the challenges of the proactive home. Molex is acquiring new technologies spanning sensor, software and firmware innovations to improve support for the proactive. In addition, the company is leveraging expertise and solutions from within sister organisations at Koch Industries. Through these initiatives and participation within the proactive-home ecosystem, Molex expects to be able to revolutionise our home and join the wider IoT revolution.
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.
As Technical Manager, Martin is responsible for marketing strategy across IP&E, power and battery products into key market segments. Martin has over 15 years' experience in electronics having begun his career at Nortel Networks, and since occupied roles at RS Components, Avnet and Altera.
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