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Smart Cities Australia

Last update on April 25, 2016.

Dear Paddy,

Waiting 30 years for smart homes and still counting

Back in 1980 when I still lived in the Netherlands I worked with the
Dutch futurist Griet Titulaer (an astronomer by trade) in building ‘The
Home of the Future’. I would say that at that stage it was more built
around innovative interior design with automation features. Home
entertainment also played a key role in it.

At that stage these concepts had nowhere near the amount of technology
that we are seeing in the homes of the future that we envisage today,
but in essence lots of the elements we are still talking about were
present then as well. Most of you will have seen throughout your careers
several versions of these ‘smart homes’.

Yet it is rather puzzling that now, 30 years later, our homes are not
much smarter than those of the 1980s. Yes, we have more gadgets and
devices but no integrated holistic smart home. Given this, I can’t see
that the version we now have in mind regarding the design for the smart
home of 2016 will see a sudden rapid deployment.

While smart homes certainly attract our attention and in general are
viewed in a positive way by most people, a range of issues come into
play, not the least of which is the need for an expensive retrofit of
the current home in order to make it a true smart home.

A key element that wasn’t included in the home of the future of the
1980s and is now centre-stage is the ‘green house’ with net-zero energy.

Between the 1980s and the 00s  the talk was all about integrating
entertainment and communications elements – most of the time a male
thing to do – and those who embarked on it quickly found out how
difficult this actually is; and in many cases the female side of the
household was not impressed with the complexity of operating these
‘smarts’.

But even within these entertainment elements it is surprising to see how
little has changed in hi-fi and TV entertainment. Instead of integration
we now have piles of boxes sitting next to the TV.

Laptops, smartphones and tablets have become available since that time,
but these additions didn’t turn the house into a smart home.

At the top end of town we do see that business buildings are indeed
becoming smarter, especially around energy-saving and environmental
features, as well as integrated communications, security and so on; the
residential market, however, is still running behind in these
developments.

Rather than waiting for the ‘killer app’ that will make the home smarter
it looks like it will be a continuation of the past 30 years, and
developments towards a smart home will continue to muddle along in the
same way.

Also, rather than a holistic solution, developments will still largely
be silo-driven, with a range of industries involved:

   *   Design and construction industry
   *   Electricity, water and other utilities
   *   Telecoms and IT companies
   *   Hardware suppliers (entertainment, communications, incl. Google,
Apple, etc)
   *   Security companies

All of these have a strong presence in the home market and all have
smart home products and services; however because of the siloed
structure there is no holistic approach to the smart home concept - that
requires collaboration and interconnection.

We have seen utilities developing smart meters and smart energy gateways
but in general they are again stand-alone and low tech rather than
interconnected and more hi-tech and very limited in what they can do.
Telcos have dabbled in this market as well, mainly through services, but
in general the cost of these services has been prohibitive. Google Nest
has designed perhaps one of the slickest devices around its thermostat,
and while new developments have not been forthcoming since its takeover
by Google there are still high expectations around both Google and
Apple. Security companies have also upped their effort in this space,
but again around a highly siloed approach.

This brings me to the crunch of smart homes. In order to break through
this process of muddling on a totally new business model is essential –
one that will cut through the abovementioned silos and brings a holistic
approach to the smart home concept.

Beyond some niche market concepts, pilots and research projects, we
haven’t seen anything on a scale that would see this market finally
taking off on a mass market level. Without much better industry
collaboration, the only other breakthrough will require a large company
with the right concept and strategy, as well as with a holistic range of
products and services to seriously disrupt the market.

Nothing that’s going to happen any time soon.

Paul Budde

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