Smart homes have failed to deliver a Jetsons-like experience, and smart speakers are far from Tony Stark’s Jarvis. But that does not mean the smart home market is not on the right path. In fact, smart homes are about to get a lot smarter.
To date, smart homes have failed to deliver a Jetsons-like experience, and smart speakers are far from Tony Stark’s Jarvis. But that does not mean the smart home market is not on the right path. In fact, smart homes are about to get a lot smarter.
Thanks to developments in consumer technology, the smart home can finally move on from analog sensors like motion and door/window contacts to more advanced solutions like radar technologies. Radar could be the next big thing for smart homes because it has so many use cases, including ultra-wideband (UWB) that can provide a better experience than Bluetooth to find things or unlock a front door and ultrasound from Amazon that can detect occupancy. For wellness, Google’s latest Nest Hub uses its Soli chip to monitor sleep patterns; meanwhile, Sengled announced a health monitoring light bulb at CES 2022, and Vayyar has been using radar technology to monitor seniors.
More recently, Google has been testing “look to talk” features on the Nest Hub Max, which allows you to gaze at the smart speaker and talk to it without the need to say, “Hey Google.” So, with radar and advanced beamforming, the opportunities for the smart home are endless. No more sitting in the dark because your lights did not sense motion for 10 minutes and having to say “Alexa” or “Hey Google” hundreds of times each day are ending. Seniors can be monitored passively, while a potential burglar can be tracked across your yard and displayed on a satellite-like image of your home. Also, with radar, social robots, like Astro, when combined with computer vision, are far more accurate in moving through a home, with the ability to find new paths if their typical way is blocked.
New opportunities could also present themselves through partnerships and acquisitions, like Resideo acquiring First Alert. Since First Alert has already ventured into the smart home space with its Safe and Sound smoke detector, it would not be farfetched to see a radar-based smoke detector from the combined brands. This new detector could alert first responders to people trapped in burning buildings, providing an added layer of safety and security.
Thermostats are becoming smarter as well. With Nest Renew, the thermostat can determine when clean/renewable energy is being used by your utility relative to dirty energy. This means the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can be ramped up during certain times to take advantage of solar or wind power. This is particularly innovative because previously, smart thermostats mainly worked to save energy using occupancy detection along with time-of-use (TOU) and demand response programs. Plus, this means closer ties to utilities. This is an important step for sustainability and the smart home because utility companies across North America have been far behind those in European utilities in implementing smart home solutions and integrations.
Also, regarding energy, platforms like SmartThings Energy could bring more synergies between homes and utilities. By installing smart/connected appliances, these devices could become part of TOU programs. For example, today, HVAC systems are the primary energy guzzler in the home and are really the only way to reduce costs through smart thermostats. In the coming years, it is expected that more home appliances will be able to either switch on/off or reduce consumption based on TOU or when clean energy is being used. These actionable insights are what will make the smart home smarter—not just knowing that your refrigerator is using a certain amount of energy but also being able to adjust usage to save more. Smart electrical panels will also bring more intelligence to the home through brands like Schneider Electric, which could address the complexity between local generation, local storage, and the grid needs—all make smarter energy usage a reality. Moreover, once Matter comes to fruition, homes will be able to link smart outlets, connected appliances, water heaters, and HVAC systems with electrical panels to fine-tune energy consumption.
Security solutions and design
Security systems are also relying more heavily on AI than in the past. Edge-based system-on-chips (SoCs) that bring neural network ISPs to security cameras to remove the need for infrared (IR) sensors in cameras, enhancing low light recordings, are less than a year away for the consumer market. Using advanced chips also means spotlights on cameras will not be static any longer, revealing cameras that can use people tracking-light beams to thwart potential threats. So, for security, advancements in AI mean more effective deterrence. But personalization of AI is also on the horizon as brands like Wyze place deep learning in the hands of consumers. Examples from Wyze include the ability to teach the camera to identify if a trash can is at the curb on trash day or if there are one or two cars parked in the garage.
Lastly, as technology becomes more sophisticated in the smart home, technology will be placed front and center in the home. Speakers that double as artwork or a lamp (IKEA + Sonos) will combine with network video recorders (NVRs) that include a display from the likes of Lorex, and light switches will double as a display and keypad for the security system (Resideo and Brilliant partnership). Lighting, door locks, doorbells, and other features will be integrated directly into doors (Masonite M-Pwr).
Smart home of the future is near
So, in the coming years, the smart home will become smarter but not necessarily in the form of Jarvis or the Jetsons. Instead, the smart home will combine cutting-edge technologies, like radars, computer vision, and AI to bring new use cases involving health and wellbeing, senior care, security, energy management, sustainability, and more effective insurance. Through consortiums like the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) and Home Connectivity Alliance (HCA), more integrations will be possible to facilitate the smart home of the future, but partnerships across sectors will also be required, like insurance, security, and utilities.
Over the next few years, an autonomous smart home will have little to do with lights and locks but instead will be an actor behind the scenes, governing energy, water, air, and security. And that is probably for the best since consumers are not likely ready for a Jetsons-like experience because it would require more sensors in the home tracking your every move, and microphones would capture every word spoken in order to determine context—when the appropriate time would be to jump in with recommendations or casual conversation. For now, the smart home is governed by motion sensors and timers with AI dedicated to specific tasks rather than being applied across ecosystems; for example, the market is heavily siloed among brands that do not always talk to each other. Plus, the industry is not there yet with natural language processing (NLP), augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), and potentially gestures to interact with voice assistants. The treasure trove of data that comes with a smarter smart home means a balance must be struck between data collection, privacy, and cost. Perhaps in the future, everyone will have their own in-home server room that hosts their AI assistant and runs automation without having to lift a finger. With data collection already running rampant, the home is the final frontier in terms of privacy, so the smart home of the future must preserve that, not exploit it.
Blake Kozak, Senior Principal Analyst, Smart Home