Years ago, it was unthinkable to get back to an already heated home thanks to timer-control. Families had two choices: spend some time in a house as chilly as the outside world, or leave the heater on and pay a higher electricity bill. Nowadays, we have a better option that allows us to do away with this mild inconvenience. There are now timers that can switch on before we get home.
This is one example of what we call ‘smart homes’, and it’s probably one of the most popular, given that it’s among the first advances to come along with internet standardisation. The concept of a ‘smart home’ refers to simple automated telematic tasks such as locking a door; lowering the shutters; turning lights on; changing the colour of lights to create different ambiences; even monitoring our pets from work. However, advances will shortly be much more sophisticated.
What will the future of smart homes be like?
According to experts, within a decade we will go from switching the lights on and off with voice-activated systems to being completely immersed in the Internet of Things. Assisted by artificial intelligence, smart homes will be able to learn about their residents and anticipate their needs. Advances in robotics will also have an impact on cleaning and cooking. Meanwhile, new sensors will monitor our emotional wellbeing. The main idea is for homes to compile huge amounts of data to analyse and take action on our behalf, meaning they will go from being a mix of miscellaneous devices to true smart hubs.
Better security and surveillance
According to research firm IDC, households will set aside part of their budget to improve the surveillance and security of their homes. According to their estimates, monitoring and security devices will take up 22.6% of the smart home market by 2023. Additionally, the IDC also estimates an expenditure of 15.4% on smart speakers and 11.8% on lighting equipment.
The increased spending on security has a simple explanation; as our homes learn more about us, keeping them safe will be more important than ever. Each internet-connected device will be a potential target for hackers. They won’t just be able to access the cameras but also enter our homes or steal vital information.
Learning the habits of their residents
Furthermore, a wide range of developments will likely drive smart home technology beyond what we know today. Currently, voice assistants supported by artificial intelligence provide us with the news and weather forecast. However, in the near future, these platforms may become hubs for entire households, learning about residents and coordinating all their devices. For example, Creston, a company which specialises in the Internet of Things, is working on software that tracks an individuals’ habits, such as the music they like to hear when waking up or what lighting they prefer in the evening. Afterwards, once it knows the user, it plays that music and adjusts the lights automatically, without being asked to do it.
Involvement in household tasks
In addition, robots will also play a more essential and expanded role than current models like the Roomba. In the future, robotic furniture companies, such as Ori Living, will design pieces that automatically adjust depending on the needs of the user. For example, a bed sliding away when a user needs a desk or a wardrobe that can be hidden when it’s dinnertime. Likewise, the company Nvidia is working on an intelligent robotic arm that can work as a personal chef. This device can do everything from cut vegetables to help clean. If it goes into production, cameras and sensors will help prevent any accidents when owners head to the fridge to grab a snack. In other words, home devices and different technologies will need to comprehensively work together.
Aiding health and wellbeing
Moreover, the possible uses of this technology in health and wellbeing will also push the creative horizon for smart homes in the coming years. For example, integrated cameras and sensors in fridges may suggest more nutritious alternatives to those who often grab sugary drinks and snacks. Similarly, technology in medicine cabinets will check whether users have taken their medication. Additionally, sensors may appear in toilets to test for possible signs of illness in users’ waste. That’s not all, according to Time magazine, “a company has filed patents for devices including a mirror that’s meant to monitor users’ health just by analysing their skin”. Lastly, homes will have their own health check sensors that monitor for problems such as water damage or pest infestations.
In addition to all this progress in individual applications, Professor John Barrett, Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Research Centre in Cork, Ireland, states in an interview with Forbes Magazine that connected devices not only have individual potential but that their connectivity could further benefit society as a whole. “Conceivably, the Internet of Things can help, can, if not completely stop, at least help to improve things like global warming. If you can manage energy better and increase energy efficiency, you can reduce energy consumption and therefore the impact on the environment, and perhaps hold off global warming or at least slow it down.”
“What will the smart home be? … I would like it to [be] a home that’s embedded in a wider smart community”, states the expert. In this vein, a community of smart homes could detect rising water levels in a community, send out an alert to other areas and map out the direction of the rise. Down the line, it could predict and prepare people so that they could avoid evacuations. He states, “The homes begin to form a network that looks after the people.”