We’re in the midst of a technological revolution.
Our devices and apps are all connected to the Internet and are becoming more powerful, much faster, and interconnected. This is driving innovation when it comes to the technology in our homes, which are literally becoming smarter.
These ‘smart homes’ are complex. Built from multiple systems, including security, entertainment, control, and lighting, they are all connected (mainly through the Internet and Bluetooth) with end-user devices (smartphones, smartwatches, voice-activated speakers), the cloud, even a centralized control center.
This interconnectivity, and intelligence, will only increase with the big players, including Apple, Amazon, and Google, teaming up to develop an open-source smart home standard to ensure IoT devices work together, regardless of their manufacturer.
For those wanting convenience, comfort, and security at their fingertips, smart homes can provide that seamless experience. Curtains can be opened automatically, your coffee machine can be turned on via your cellphone, the lighting in your house can dynamically adjust as you walk into a room. If your garage door is open, you can receive a warning and even close it remotely.
The potential is limitless.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting smart home trends to look forward to in 2021 and beyond.
Artificial intelligence & machine learning
There’s little doubt that having AI-powered personal assistants have helped with the popularity of smart homes. Whether it’s Siri, Cortana, Bixby, or Alexa, these voice-controlled systems have given people the chance to control devices and complete tasks without lifting a finger.
Dim the lights, ask a question, play a song. All is possible. But this doesn’t mean that they are intuitively doing what we ‘might’ want it to do. We still give the commands.
Machine learning is rapidly changing this. By enabling the AI to learn and improve, it helps develop predictive and analytical capabilities so it can figure out what you want without you needing to ask. Soon, your AI assistant will be far more autonomous, able to set meetings for you, even order groceries when they run low (apps such as Hi Pedini can already tell you what you need to add to your next grocery order and do much more).
Samsung’s Ballie robot is designed to make real-time decisions based on your mood and previous requests – to be more of a companion than a simple tool. It can be a fitness assistant, act as your TV’s remote control, and even take photos.
AI is also being used to provide smart security with facial recognition, smart locks that can be controlled through a smartphone, even surveillance cameras that can predict a crime before it happens.
Smoke alarms, such as Google Nest Protect can now distinguish between smoke, steam, and gas. They can even send a message to your phone if any smoke is detected and determine the risk factor depending on how much smoke is detected (that is, it will send a lower level alert if it’s just your toast that’s burning).
LG’s DeepThinQ technology utilizes a range of AI functions to enable products to educate themselves and learn the behavioral patterns of their customers. An LG ThinQ air conditioner can learn to recognize what users routinely like and set the temperature to their preference. If a door is locked from the outside, lights inside are turned off. Robotic vacuum cleaners learn the difference between pets and furniture and react accordingly.
Ultimately, AI is being envisioned as a way to create superior, more individual experiences for smart-home owners. Soon, our appliances may know us better than we know ourselves.
Until AI hits the mainstream, voice assistants will remain at the forefront of smart home connectivity. It’s also growing in popularity. Google data shows that 72 percent of those who own a voice-activated speaker use them daily as part of their routines.
For those who have experienced the search for a lost remote control or who were comfortably in bed but wanting to turn off the lights, the ease and convenience of simply telling your home to do it for you certainly has its appeal.
Want to control nearly every aspect of lighting throughout your house (and outside)? Smart lighting solutions, such as Philips Hue, enable you to use your voice to dim lights, change colors, set lighting scenes, even act like you’re at home when you’re not.
You can control the temperature throughout your house with a system like Ecobee. Enjoy sous vide cooking? A product like Joule can be run remotely through your smartphone and with your voice if your hands are dirty. Too tired to make your cup of coffee in the morning? Just ask TopBrewer to make it for you.
All of these will only become smarter as their AI improves. Soon the temperature control will know your preferences and cool or heat the room exactly how you like it. Perhaps your lighting system will connect to your coffee machine? Once it senses lights going on as you get up in the morning, your coffee machine will know to start grinding.
When it comes to wearable technology, we’ve come a long way from simple step-counters. While the initial focus of smart wearables was largely on fitness with smartwatches, this is quickly changing as the technology improves. Smart wearables are increasingly being used as convenient fashion items.
We have smart glasses that provide augmented reality, have speakers in their frames, and can even connect to the Alexa voice assistant. Smartwatches act as a smartphone on our wrist where we can go online, read emails, even use GPS tracking. We can monitor our heart rates, temperature, even the glucose level in our blood. They can also connect to your smart home systems so you can control them wherever you go.
There are even smart bracelets, socks, pajamas, and even rings that let us make secure contactless payments. As far as smart fashion goes, it looks like the only limits will be our imaginations.
But it’s not just about fashion. For example, the visually impaired can use a smart cane that uses ultrasound to avoid obstacles, it can be voice-activated, linked to public transport, provide destination tracking, and much more.
Wearable technology is also proving to be highly useful in other areas, especially the medical field.
The Philips self-adhesive biosensor provides hospitals with real-time, remote patient monitoring. It constantly tracks vital signs, posture, skin temperature, steps taken, even whether a patient has fallen and transmits that data to clinical information systems.
Smart hearing aids can now filter sounds, help with tinnitus, provide overall health monitoring, even send a notification if the wearer falls over. They’re quickly developing into far more than a trend.
The entire concept behind smart home automation is to provide convenient and secure control of all of your smart home devices, which connect to the Internet and link to a centralized automation system (or hub) – such as Amazon Echo, Google Nest, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. Convenience is the keyword. You can then use your hub to control your connected devices.
Don’t feel like getting out of bed to make your coffee? Just set up the right time and how you want it made using your voice or your smartphone. Use sensors to monitor how much water is being consumed (and if a potential leak is detected the water supply can be automatically shut off). You can use smart switches and plugs to control when lights and smart appliances go on and off or have your shades close when the sun is shining at its brightest.
When parts of your home are empty, a smart thermostat can lower the heating in those areas. You can even detect when someone leaves or enters your house to ensure lights and/or heating and cooling go on or off.
Such automation will only increase. Organizations, such as Deutsche Telekom with their Magenta SmartHome solution, can increasingly link thousands of devices, even those not seen as ‘smart’. This means being able to connect stereos, TVs, and any infrared or Bluetooth device to Magenta SmartHome and automate them from one place. That’s convenient.
Ambient Assisted Living
Initially conceived as a method to enable the elderly and people with disabilities to have a better quality of life within their home, ambient assisted living uses easy-to-use smart technologies (and processes) to increase comfort, security, and simplify a range of tasks – from entertainment to indirect monitoring.
This can involve using a wearable alarm (or a convenient button) that notifies relatives or health authorities if there is a fall or other accident. Or the use of AI-assisted robots, and a system such as Amazon Alexa to listen to music, make phone calls, purchase goods, ask questions (which Alexa answers using AI-enabled access to the Internet), even open doors using a networked lock. All with minimal physical effort required from the homeowner.
In addition to such assistance, ambient technology is also being used to provide a larger experience throughout the home, where a centralized system lets you ‘set the mood’ from one device. Lower the shades, dim the lights, turn up the music, light your gas fireplace – all from one command.
Robots and smart technology
Whether you’re looking for a home-care robot or one that’s social, the steady integration of voice control and artificial intelligence is seeing a surge in their development.
When it comes to robotic convenience, it’d be hard to look past the vacuum cleaner and lawnmower. They’re leading the way when it comes to smart home care. Even now, vacuum cleaners can dynamically interact with their environment and use a video camera to act as a roaming security service. They can now also mop the floors, sterilize bedding and flooring, clean windows, even clean your BBQ.
However, robotic personal assistants are developing quickly (just take a look at Samsung’s Ballie and Blue Frog Robotics’ Buddy robots above). Utilizing advanced AI, the Temi robot acts as a personal assistant – in the home, in a retail store, hotel, or hospital – and can recognize people, make calls, reply to questions, display videos, even carry small objects.
All of this is being driven by the wider integration of smart home technology directly into the robots. For those looking to simplify their lives or gain greater independence (such as those in assisted living conditions), the appeal is obvious.
5G and Wi-Fi 6
This year it’s expected that 5G adoption will triple around the globe.
5G promises a more secure and reliable network with faster processing and much stronger connections, which is essential when it comes to remotely connecting to the ever-increasing number of devices connected in a smart home – whether we’re in our car, at work, anywhere.
Looking at the figures, it’s clear why. Even though 4G is very good for the average user, 5G is expected to be up to 10 times faster. The smarter your home is and the more devices you have connected, the more you’ll need this speed.
However, with 5G coverage already underway, it’s Wi-Fi 6 that’s on the horizon. Unlike 5G, which is the new standard for broadband cellular networks, Wi-Fi 6 is the most recent standard for wireless network transmission – that is, in the home or a business. When you’re at home you’ll want Wi-Fi 6, when you’re out on the road, you’ll want 5G.
Promising to be more reliable, efficient, faster, and with less latency than previous standards, Wi-Fi 6 uses orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), which substantially increases channel efficiency/network capacity. In today’s increasingly high-density smart homes this will make a huge difference. As multiple devices and smartphones try to connect at the same time, they won’t all be doing it on the same channel.
For our smart homes to continually improve and use more devices, speed, efficiency, and reliability will be increasingly essential.
A recent Statista survey shows that smart home security will nearly double its revenues in the next few years – from $2.7 billion today to $5.05 billion by 2025. This reflects the recent increase in connected security devices.
But the thing is, they’re always on and always listening, watching, and recording. There may (will) soon come a day when everything you do in your home is recorded – where you are in the house, how often you come and go, who is visiting, what you’re doing, anything. Not just through your security devices, but every connected device. Your vacuum cleaner’s camera just may be watching.
Can a cybercriminal gain access to this data? What if your security system itself isn’t secure? What if someone ‘finds’ your smartphone and gains access? Does that mean they can gain access to your home by remotely opening your smart lock?
This threat, at least, is being addressed. Smart locks can now use biometric authentication (fingerprint or facial recognition) on your smartphone before you can remotely lock or open your doors; so it can’t be done if someone accesses your phone.
Overall, however, because a smart home is connected to the internet, it is open to cyber threats. With this in mind, companies such as Avira, are now offering solutions that directly address a smart home’s overall digital security by constantly scanning each device and notifying you of potential threats. Blockchain-enabled decentralized artificial intelligence is also being seen as a truly secure method of protecting devices (including robotic ‘pets’ that use AI) from alterations or hacks.
As smart homes collect more diverse devices, security will become increasingly important.
If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s the pain of having to connect every single smart device to a charger. A household of four could easily need to charge at least 8 devices at the same time. While some devices have dedicated docking stations or are plugged into your home’s electrical system, the majority still use a mix of cables to charge their batteries. Cables (and charging ports) that can be easily damaged.
Since the introduction of today’s latest-generation smartphones, wireless charging has gained in popularity, but this still requires each device to sit on a cabled pad, mat, or tabletop. Realistically, if two devices sit on the pad, you’ve only removed the need for one cable.
But with truly wireless (invisible) charging this may soon be outdated. Providers, such as Wi-Charge, are developing technologies to power devices without any wires at all. Their solution utilizes compact chargers that plug into an existing light or power socket and send out infrared beams that charge compatible devices. No cables are required. Additionally, firms such as Infineon are also developing a large range of wireless charging solutions.
Everyone wants convenience. Having your devices charge simply by sitting in a room has huge appeal. This will be a trend to watch.
The smart home revolution is just starting. We’re seeing technological advances today that were considered science-fiction barely two decades ago. What’s to come will be no less amazing.