Future Of Tech: Smart Homes

Den W. Den W. 22 September
Future Of Tech: Smart Homes

It's 6:34 AM and your smart alarm is beeping. It has scanned your calendar and knows your sleep pattern, so it can wake you at the most efficient time. By the time you get to the bathroom, the shower is running at your preferred temperature. As you brush your teeth, the toothbrush scans your teeth and schedules and dentist appointment to check a possible cavity. Overnight your car's charged from the solar cells and the roof turbine, that's on your house. It drives you to work while you catch up on emails. When you get home, a drone delivery has brought some cold and flu medication, as sensors in your house detected a slight elevation in your temperature.

This time we look at the homes of the future, smart homes. I explore what makes a smart home. Some of the, many, many gadgets you can put in one and what the future challenges for our connected home lives could be.

In 2020, there are an estimated 31 billion devices connected to the internet. Future Of Tech: Smart HomesBy 2025 it is estimated that number is in the vicinity of 75 billion and many of those devices we're going to put in our homes, but how many devices do you need to make a home smart? What is a smart home even? According to Oxford's lexicode, it is

a home equipped with lighting heating and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by smartphone or computer.

However, the general community consensus is much more blurred and having a single smart device in my book does not make a home smart. I reckon you'd need more IOT devices, more smart lights, more humidity sensors, more robots, more cameras, sorry. You need a collection of items that work together such as a weather station that informs the heater thermostat in your house.

Imagine lighting systems that knows when you're in the room and turns on and off accordingly. Climate controls that keep turning temperature, and knows the weather forecast to predict the most efficient way to heat or cool.

Are you still using a key? That is so old school. The locks of your future smart home will either recognize your fingerprints. Or recognize another smart device that you have. This could be your phone or a relatives phone that you grant access to over the internet.

But what if your whole house could just monitor itself? Using sensors, cameras and AI, it could report any abnormal activity to you or even the emergency services. And as the home learns about you, it can mimic your behavior with turning lights on and off and more when you're out. Security will be implicit rather than an explicit action, such as turning your alarm on.

Developments in robotics will give us machines that offer a helping hand with cleaning, cooking and more. Computer graphics company NVIDIA is working on a smart robotic arm that can act as its owners, personal sous chef, doing everything from slicing and dicing veggies to helping with cleanup. Future Of Tech: Smart HomesAnd finally health. Your future smart house will look after you. Cameras and sensors in your refrigerator will suggest more nutritious alternatives, if you continue to go with cake. Similar technology in medicine cabinets, will check if you've taken your prescription pills. And sensors will even show up in toilets to check for signs of any potential health conditions by scanning human waste before it is flushed. 

Homes will also look after their own health, they will check for issues like water damage, pest infections, and so on, letting you know to fix them before it gets worse and worse and much more expensive to act.

Central to all of these devices working together in your future, smart home, is data collection, data analysis, and data interpretation, all to make them all work together.  What makes a home smart is what is done with the data it produces. It's great and fun for the first 10 minutes that I can turn my office heater on from my phone, but it isn't smart. What would be smart would be it automatically turning on when I am likely to be in the office. And for that, we need to use cloud services. All of these billions of devices will send a constant stream of data and it has to go somewhere. The major cloud providers such as AWS, GCP and Azure will be key. They are already offering services to collate and analyze huge collections of data. These are, would need it to find patents between various devices and inform opinions on what a smart house should do and when it should do it.

One of the major challenges is keeping all of that data, transmission and access secure. Every device that's connected to the internet is a potential target for attackers. Cybersecurity will become all the more vital. In 2016 attackers gained control over hundreds of thousands of insecure IOT devices. Then use them to send a bogus internet traffic to target websites in hopes of crashing them.

Another challenge integration. I have a smart heater, smart lights, network attached cameras, a remote doorbell, and Google Nest devices. They all use different apps. The future will have to sort this out and there are currently some projects making some headway in this space as well. It needs to be open box, plug in, go.

Finally, I get to the proverbial elephant in the room. If all of this data is collected all the time, and it is all stored in some cloud computing data center somewhere. And it is then analyzed and conclusions are derived. Where do we stop? Users are actually aware of this. And it is one of the major points of hesitation when connecting devices to a smart home. The challenge of preserving privacy while collecting data about everything we do is a tough one to crack.

Let me give you an example of what the future smart home will look like based on current concepts and prototypes. The entry to your home will know who you are and let you in. Your future kitchen will monitor your carbon footprint, help reduce food wastage and both grow and prepare your meals.  LG, Samsung, and GE all see future homes having their own veggie farm in the kitchen. You will also have dedicated fridges. One will maintain conditions for growing vegetables and herbs, one will be for daily items consumed, and there'll be one for only cake. Okay? That that's just me, hoping.

TVs will be able to track your body movement for following workouts or even display a virtual trainer in the room in front of you. Of course, these virtual assistants will be fully interactive and you can talk to them. And the mirror will tell you all your vitals as well. Or you can try out that new shirt or hairstyle.

I love gadgets and I love it when technology makes my life easier or frees up time to do other things. I'm constantly changing my own smart home with that in mind. But I'm also acutely aware of the privacy and data breach concerns. Do you currently live in a smart home or do you have an opinion of what should or shouldn't be in one? 

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