by Cees Links
There have been numerous articles, studies, and surveys that have informed the tech industry that consumers want to be able to control the home’s AC and heating, lighting, security, and the various other systems that make a home comfortable, safe and energy efficient, from any place in the world, via internet and with their smart phones. Unfortunately, most of today’s manufacturers view this as a mandate to create connected things, not smart devices and smart services.
Many of these manufacturers simply add an internet connection to their products – basically a long distance remote control – and consider them to now be smart devices. There are several problems here.
How does this device now connect to the home network and from there to the web? How does the end user actually manage and monitor these devices and systems? Why can’t these devices work together to provide a seamless smart home management system? Why can’t they be smart?
First, connecting these devices to the home network can be a challenge. For a variety of marketing reasons, many large technology companies are developing different wireless communication technologies that cannot interoperate. These new communication protocols from Apple, Google, Intel, Samsung, etc., make it confusing for the manufacturers who actually design and build these connected devices. Imagine how confusing it is for a home owner to research these new protocols and try to decide which one to use?
Even though there are three standards already in use in the home for connecting devices – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee – the big companies, in their battle to be THE company that owns the smart home, are rolling out new communication technologies that, even though they all basically do the same thing, are incompatible with each other. This means that each smart home device or system may require its own gateway to connect its sensor and actuator devices to the home internet gateway.
Secondly, assuming the consumer can get these devices to connect, how does he or she control them? Each device may need its own app on the smart phone with a unique user interface and set of commands. In addition to having to deal with a screen full of various apps, the end user will need to remember how each separate app works.
We think the answer is SHaaS – Smart Home as a Service. Marketed by a service provider of some sort. This can be a telco, cable TV or internet service provider. It could be a local utility that provides power to the home or an insurance company that helps prevent damage. A new set of service providers could enter the market – smart home service integrators or even large retailers could decide to get into this service market.
Even though some consumers enjoy purchasing, installing and configuring technology systems, most do not. They would prefer that a service organization come in and take care of all of that. Let the organization decide which connectivity technology to use, which sensors and actuators to install and maintain. Let the third party company be responsible for maintenance, upgrades and security. All for a small monthly fee.
IoT and smart home device and system developers need to look at the big picture – understand that consumers want services – not just a bunch of connected devices. They want a consolidated and integrated service that makes their lives safer, easier and more efficient.
For example, one very interesting system is being developed by Qorvo. Their new Family@Home technology consists of a small network of sensors in the home (position, movement, etc.) that not only senses what is happening in the home, but in concert with cloud intelligence, actually learns what is “normal” for the household and is able to send alerts and take action if something happens that is out of the ordinary.
For example, if the family leaves the home in the morning – kids off to school, adults off to work – and the system notices that the back door has been left unlocked, it can actually lock the door itself. Instead of just sending a signal to the homeowners who might have to rush back home, the system, combining security sensors and automated locks, actually locks the door. In many ways, this is like a personal digital smart butler who knows how a household is supposed to operate and takes care of it for the family.
Because the system is integrated and unified, some sensors can serve several different functions. For example, in the middle of the day, a movement sensor may note that that there is someone in the house when no one should be there and activates the security system. Or in the evening, the same sensor can note that someone is entering a dark room, and instead of activating security, it turns on the lights. Or after a period of time, it notices that no one is in that room, and turns off the AC or heating.
The lesson is that the Smart Home should be an integrated solution, a collection of smart service manages and controls a variety a variety of smart devices. Consumers want a unified whole Smart Home as a Service solution.
Cees Links was the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, now part of Qorvo. Since GreenPeak was acquired by Qorvo, Cees has become the General Manager of the Low Power Wireless Business Unit in Qorvo. For more information, please visit www.greenpeak.com.