An Industry in its “Wild West Stage”

I’ll admit I have been sucked into the Smart Home hype, its hard not to, who doesn’t want to change the color of their kitchen lights via an app? How about unlocking the front door with a finger tip, or commanding a voice controlled robot to call an Uber?

These home functions are “cool” but what homeowners need is something practical such as motion sensors, occupancy sensors, and timers for lights, programmable thermostats, CT sensors  to know how much energy every room in the home uses, and don’t even get me started on protecting a house with smart security.

This type of smart home can help consumers know their home better and learn how to save money at the same time. It seems like all the big companies trying to corner the Smart Home Market are focused to much on “look what I can do with my phone” type of products rather than intelligent systems. Commercial real estate has it figured out and soon residential real estate will too.

I feel like their is a huge gap in this industry where both consumers and businesses are not sure what the home of tomorrow will look like or need. It’s the Wild West for the Future Home.

This rant was inspired by the below article

 


Why We Don’t Live In “The Jetsons” World And How The Smart Home Will Change Things

With the surge of technological innovation back in 50s and 60s people’s hopes and expectations about technology were high. Personal robot assistants and vacations on the Moon were just around the corner. However, some things appeared to be much harder to create than others. Now instead of a smart Rosie maid-robot (who is actually an outdated model in the Jetsons universe), we have this:

fail robot
Robot failing to open the door. (photo credit: Motherboard Vice)

And while numerous gadgets did provide tremendous benefits and are making our daily existence more comfortable, there is this uncanny feeling that it is us who serve as their butlers/maids and not vice versa. We spend a lot of time on gadget set up, charging, general maintenance, and our lives can go into havoc if something goes wrong. How your day can be ruined if you forgot to charge your phone, buy milk, or to change oil in the car!

It is still manageable on a personal use basis, but what if you have a whole company where you need to keep track of hundreds of devices (cars, trucks, construction, agricultural, and factory equipment, etc.) and, their possible issues – that becomes a huge hassle. Maintenance is hard.

Thanks, but No thanks, robots. (photo by Popular Mechanics)
Thanks, but “No, thanks”, robots. (photo credit: Popular Mechanics)

The core difference between our world and The Jetsons is that their technology is smart and can do things without us needing to hold their hand at every step. And here comes the Smart Home– the buzzword causing a lot of recent tectonic shifts in the tech world. Last week Assembly magazine posted an extensive article The Connected Home Is Here‘Smart’ appliances are forcing engineers to rethink age-old product designs, diving deeper into what this buzzword means both to the consumers and to manufacturers. They summarize the principle of smart home this way:

…[T]hey can react to the environmental information that’s captured by smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices. And, they connect wirelessly via communication protocols, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee or Z-Wave, to exchange real-time data for control or monitoring applications.

Basically, technology is giving the appliances means to read the environment, make some basic decisions, and to communicate with us via our smartphones. Another step is enabling the devices to communicate with each other (machine-to-machine, M2M). Our CEO Lucas Wang was   interviewed for this article and he explained this aspect of smart home devices:

M2M to You. (image credit: Telekom Austria Group)
M2M to You. (image credit: Telekom Austria Group)

The most important differentiator in this case is that we are unable to get data from traditional appliances remotely, and therefore, can’t update or react to actions as needed based on data. Traditional appliances don’t react to the environmental information that is captured by other devices, which could then sync up with the whole environment—whether it is managed by people or automated.

Yet, we are still in the early stages of these innovations and the new technology brings new concerns and challenges. Some of the main issues discussed in the article are:

Issue #1 Engineering and Manufacturing difficulties

 

It’s no longer about designing ‘products’, but developing components that will be part of a ‘system of systems. That fridge or water heater is now a mini system unto itself, while also being part of a larger, interconnected ecosystem, explains PTC’s Lamy. (fromAssembly magazine)

While there are some standards taking the lead, IoT is still pretty much in the Wild West stage of its evolution. The smart home trend is changing the whole supply chain: engineers need to re-think such things as antenna placement on PCB’s, possible hazards that the device will need to endure, and many other variables; manufacturers, need to adopt new methods to make these innovations real and economically viable; retail vendors need to consider selling an ecosystem, rather than individual products.

When IoT begins to enter consumers’ daily lives through smart appliances, it is very different from a PC, laptop or smart phone, Stability, ruggedness and user experience are not the same. Consumers cannot accept system failures or wait for a system to reboot in appliances. It is not just software, but also hardware that needs redesign for these applications. Considerable hardware redesigns are needed, in addition to more compliance testing and certifications for smart appliances. – HWTrek’s Lucas Wang. (from Assembly magazine)

The other most important ingredient in the IoT is sensors. Not only do they need to be cost-effective and sturdy (dishwashers and alike are not very hospitable places for sensitive electronics), but we also need new types of sensors. For example, GE developed refrigerator water dispensers that use laser-based sensor system and can automatically measure the size of any container placed beneath it, then automatically fill it 90 percent of the way full with pure filtered water. This is just a small sample of the things to come.

Issue #2 Security of connected devices

IoT security
IoT security. (Image source: Information Week Dark Reading)

“Everything that can be connected, will be connected” as the saying goes. And, then everything can be hacked. Cybersecurity is a huge topic in IoT and it will only get bigger. We often can see headlines about hackers taking over cars or breaking through smart locks. Security is something that will have to be implemented from the early stage of product development and still remains a largely untapped business opportunity. But while the benefits of smart home technologies will surpass the risks, the industry will move forward.

Issue #3 Consumer acceptance

 

The smart appliance has long been the feature of most visions of a future smart home. In reality, despite years of trade show displays and prototypes, sales of smart, connected large home appliances remains a tiny fraction of overall sales. – says ABI’s Collins (from Assembly magazine)

Smart Home and IoT is still pretty much an area of enthusiastic early adopters who often get burned in their bet on particular technologies (like the scandal about Google’s Nest disabling Revolv smart-home hubs that were sold with lifetime subscription). Though irritating, this risk is something that (most) early adopters are willing to accept. It’s part of the thrill of the game. When the prices will go down and more bugs will be fixed, more people will join in. It is a huge opportunity for current home appliance vendors to “smartify” their objects and new players to come into the market.

Despite that, Collins predicts the North American smart appliance market will grow 43 percent annually from $226 million in 2015 to $1.3 billion by 2020. (from Assembly magazine)

 

The predicted future is smart, connected and upgradable. Maybe we will at last get the promised technological a-al-Jetsons future and as long as we don’t add personalities, like depressed robotsand self-satisfied doors, it looks very exciting.

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