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From enabled to proactive: the evolution of home automation

Person holding smartphone running home automation app, by door.

Avnet's Smart Building Automation 

Just how smart can a smart home get? Tomorrow’s home is a true a brainiac, making decisions for you before you even think to tell it to.

A hundred years ago, a smart home was one with the first electric home machinery. Fast forward to the 1980s and smart homes were samples of “cybertecture” (cyberspace’s influence on architecture), according to the National Association of Home Builders. By 2008, the number of connected devices on the planet outnumbered the amount of people. 

Now, there are so many advancements we have three levels of home automation: enabled, connected and proactive.

Today: the age of the enabled home
Think of a basic Google search: instead of crawling the web for an answer from a secure website yourself, the search engine does it for you. Current home technology was mainly driven by that same need for safety or convenience. A home refrigerator makes life easier. An expanded security system makes the home feel safer.

The problem is that all of these systems exist in a vacuum: none of them speaks with the other, each performs its function alone, and all require a high level of human involvement.

For the 20th century, this was enough. However, as the demand for smart home technology grows, so will the need for the kind of connection available in other Internet of Things (IoT) applications to appear in the home. In fact, Gartner predicts more than 20 billion connected things by 2020, nearly three times the world’s population of people.

For engineers, that means managing hardware protocols that properly communicate with associated software. For designers, there’s a balance between quality, cost and aesthetics, ensuring that placement of antennas is functional and scalable.

The connected home is well within reach
As search behavior evolved, so did searches. We no longer need to put in two or three keywords. Full sentences and phrases typed into URL bars yield results. Plus, virtual assistants translate full sentences of spoken queries to similar effect. That’s connection.

The confluence of increased hardware technology in the form of sensors, interconnects and their corresponding devices with software, app, gateway and cloud technology has created the right environment for this same kind of connection in a home.

The ins and outs of home automation standards like LonWorks. EnOcean, Thread, KNX® and BACnet are just a few to juggle as connected home technology grows. For an application to be truly successful, it must blend sensing, wireless connectivity and cloud connection into a single platform. Plus, that platform has to not only allow all the different things in a smart home to speak to each other—but also to speak in the same, secure language.

The future: predictive technology in the proactive home
When Google begins to predict what a question is before it’s even done; that’s prediction. Homes will go through this evolution as well. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is the main gap between the connected home and the proactive home.

Rather than just collecting data, machine learning will help smart devices derive insights from that data. Instead of just following programmed instructions, the device allows for more personalization based on homeowner preferences. Then, without human intervention, machines will also get smarter, adapting to changing needs over time. The result is machines relating to humans in increasingly more human ways. Think of Siri for a home: natural language processing blended with cognitive systems that enable the entire home.

The way forward for designers and engineers
Nearly 72% of millennial homeowners are willing to pay thousands more for smart home features, according to a 2016 study. From irrigation systems and window coverings that respond to their environments to lighting schemes and HVAC systems that grow accustomed to preferences, tomorrow’s homes will have to be predictive to be competitive.

To build these homes, look for partners who can see the 10,000-foot-view as well as understand the details. Product developers need more than a parts specialist, they need an ecosystem of resources and expertise to help achieve the proactive home of the future. 


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