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Are Smart Homes the future? What would you like to see from the tech?

For this week's Friday Debate we take a look at Smart Homes and what we expect from them in the future.
July 18, 2014
nest thermostat

Earlier this week we not only learned of a new Samsung and Nest-backed home automation-focused wireless protocol called Thread, there was also news of Samsung’s plan to buy the home automation startup, SmartThings. Between these two events we started thinking about what we’d like to see from the Smart Home of the future and what would make it work well. On the flipside, it is also important to take a look at what’s holding the technology back and what could cause it to fail.

With that in mind, for this week’s Friday Debate we explore the subject of smart homes and what we’d like to see from home automation going forward. As always, be sure to join in the conversation below, as well as participate in our poll!

Robert Triggs

I am in two minds when it comes to smart homes. On the one hand, some ideas and implementations seem highly practical and easy to build, whilst others seem a little pointless.

Some of the products that we have seen already, such as thermostats and light bulbs, work quite well because our interactions with them are already rather limited. Moving these interactions to your pocket and/or automating them is actually more efficient and can be done cost effectively.

On the other hand, smart washing machines, kettles, or ovens don’t make as much sense to me, as they require a lot of manual interaction anyway, loading the washing, pouring in the water, etc. I’d love to have my breakfast made for me by machine, a la Wallace and Gromit, but that’s not going to happen. I suppose receiving a notification that your washing is done, or being able to remotely start up the kettle to coincide with your arrival home would be useful, but those are minor perks that I wouldn’t pay a lot for.

For smart homes to really take off, the system has to simplify the user experience, and automation will be key. I’d buy a hi-fi system that could follow me around my home or adjust its volume automatically based on the level of conversation in the room, and it would be great to wake up and have the shower pre-warmed for me.

For me, costs and ease of use will be the big factors to judge smart homes by.

Joseph Hindy

In my mind’s eye, smart homes seem like a more simple concept than things like wearables. Granted, it’s more complicated in that everything needs to be “smart” such as the fridge, oven, washer/dryer, lights, home entertainment systems, etc, but I feel like overall it’s easier to integrate those pieces as they come instead of having to do an entire house worth of stuff all at once.

I guess I don’t expect much out of a smart home. I know there are limits because I would still have to interact with things before they could work. For instance, I’d still have to take my dirty laundry to the washer before the smart washer could determine things like colors, fabrics, etc and auto-wash the cloths with its best settings for that load. I can have the oven auto-preheat but I still have to prepare the food myself. I guess looking at my descriptions I expect a lot of the house stuff to be automated because, well, that’s kinda what I’m hoping for.

The one thing I expect a smart house to have is an easy way to control everything from one interface. Whether it be smartphone, tablet, or a panel built into the wall somewhere, I do not expect to have to control each machine on its own while I’m standing in front of it. What’s the point of having a smart coffee maker if I can’t start the thing while I’m in the bathroom in the morning so it’ll be ready when I get downstairs? I also fully expect accessibility while I’m not home. To preheat the oven while I’m at the store buying groceries or have my fridge store the grocery list to the cloud so I can grab it while shopping. I’d love to be able to turn off my air conditioner when I leave but turn it back on when I’m on my way home to avoid that first 30 minutes of it being really warm while the AC gets itself together. Of course, if you’re going to have remote control you might as well have voice control too. Okay, Google, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

What would cause it to fail? Two things in my humble opinion. Not having anything I just described in the first paragraph would be one. If I still have to walk up to an oven to turn it on then I might as well buy a regular oven at half the price that still heats up and works just fine. There’s no point to smart homes if there isn’t a high degree of automation and remote control. The second point of failure would be the breadth of appliances available. It’s not a smart home if only your washer/dryer, oven, fridge, lights, and home entertainment stand is smart. That’s called having smart appliances. You still have things like the vacuum, toilets, showers, air conditioning, etc. The house itself needs to be smart as well and be able to control all of these smart appliances over your home network.

Frankly, I just want to wake up, go “Okay house” and have the house start to listen. Or just give us Sarah from Eureka. Having a house like Sarah would be a dream come true.

Jonathan Feist

I have been interested in home automation since we coded a project back in college. What we did then was, for starters, control a single lamp, on/off and any epileptic combination of the two we could manage. The lamp was our Hello World to get to know the language. From there, we tied straight into the fuse box and recorded electrical flow for several months. We determined that it cost upwards of $75 per month to run a single power user’s computer system, rocking 4 x 21″ CRT monitors – hey, I didn’t say college was recent.

This exact outcome is what I consider the true value of a smart home. We identified several aspects of the house, and habits of the occupants, that were responsible for nearly 80% of the household utility costs. Not all of those were adjustable, but, if nothing else, upgrading to LCD displays reduced power consumption significantly.

Obviously, I am totally smitten with the idea of controlling all my lights, thermostat, fireplace and more straight from my Android device, I would want to use Tasker, by the way, but I need more. User/time/weather profiles are a good start. Even adjustments to lights and temp that coincide with my Google Calendar schedule for the day is great. However, true smarts that dynamically adjust preemptive of my needs should be the ultimate goal, with analytics galore to make efficiency adjustments as we go.

Call me boring, but I want efficiency and optimization more than I want simple function. (The same is true for my car, OBD II scanner anyone?)

As Joseph mentions, we can add a bunch of smarts to our appliances, like the fridge and oven. However, until my washing machine can scour the house for dirty socks, I have to walk to the machine anyway, I can live with having to push a few buttons to start it.

So, stats and analytics, that’s what I want first and foremost from my smart home. Function comes second. Customization and integration with systems and apps like Tasker would score more money from me versus a competing option that doesn’t have it. Finally, each and every smart piece must still have a manual control/override. Let’s not yet worry about viruses or hacker ingression into our smart homes, but let’s not leave everything open to screw us over either.

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