Exclusive Interview: The Evolution of the Smart Home

Exclusive Interview: The Evolution of the Smart Home

Home UK Magazine speaks exclusively to Colin Calder, CEO and Founder of PassivSystems,  about the evolution of the 'Smart Home'. 

Q. What is the Internet of Things and how does it apply to the home?

'The Internet of Things' (IoT) is a phenomenon which has recently carved a foot-hole for itself in the world of consumer technology. Whilst the Internet of People in the early 2000’s saw the connectivity of people throughout the world through the internet and mobile phones, the IoT has seen the connection of everyday items, appliances and facilities used by institutions, businesses and consumers through the existing internet infrastructure. Whilst still in its early days, the remarkable rate of adoption that this new concept has experienced suggests that the IoT will very soon become paramount to the basic standard of living.

There are a number of reasons as to the proliferation of the IoT. From a practical point of view, a world where people, items, machinery and processes are all connected and can be controlled wirelessly and quickly equals a more efficient world. Safety is another driving factor, with many smart technologies targeted at improving safety in both the work place and at home. Comfort has been of huge importance in the development of IoT, with the consumer’s happiness placed at the centre of the development of smart home technologies such as remote controlled heating and security systems. Perhaps most importantly, basic human curiosity has driven the development of this industry, with technology experts across the world seeking to push the boundaries of technology, thus producing products far beyond what has ever been produced before.

At the heart of the IoT industry is the smart phone and tablet. With the introduction of widespread mobile internet came the opportunity for the consumer to be able to control his or her entire world through one personal hand held device or a series of devices. At PassivSystems we have centred our smart technology home energy product PassivLiving HEAT on the phone in recognition of the consumer’s desire to be able to control their home heating and hot water whenever and from where ever they like. We therefore anticipate that the evolution of the IoT industry will very much depend on the on-going evolution of the smart phone.

The IoT industry will have a huge impact on the home environment due to the fact that the home is the space where most consumers hold, store and operate the potentially “smart” everyday appliances that help them live their lives. For example, a growing number of people have now engaged with smart home energy management systems that can be controlled through the internet and can improve home energy efficiency producing cost cutting benefits. Other home appliances that are in the process of being connected include lighting and security systems, with future candidates for connection include home televisions and radios.

Q. What will the average home look like in 2035?

The average home in 2035 will look almost exactly the same as the average home in 2015; it is the feel of the home that will be very different. This difference will be due to the fact that the home of 2035 will be a truly connected home, with everything in it contained wirelessly, and invisibly allied to the internet. The consumer will enjoy greater comfort through the ability to fine-tune and control his or her environment, and will pay less than they are currently paying for utilities such as energy and water owing to increased efficiency brought about by smart technology.

For example, the currently available smart home energy system enables the consumer to turn on their heating as they leave work so as to ensure that the house is warm by the time they return home. In terms of energy efficiency, on the odd evening that the consumer is unexpectedly out, they are able to turn off their heating remotely so as to ensure that energy is not being wasted on heating an empty house.

The home of 2035 will not only be a comfortable and efficient home, but a zero-carbon home as well. In the future, we should expect to see a multitude of appliances and services, such as renewable energy generating micro-assets, contributing to the production of the zero carbon through the existing infrastructure, and the cloud. Many smart technologies currently available are focused on enabling the consumer to become more energy efficient and to use renewable energy sources. PassivSystems’s smart technology for renewable energy management is just one example of a technology which aims to enable homeowners and councils to produce and control renewable energy at the domestic scale; by 2035 we envisage that this renewable generation will have become common-place.

Q. What will be the key challenges in achieving the smart home?

One challenge that currently faces the smart home industry is the necessity for initial investment by the consumer. At present, the purchase of the technology required to make a home “smart” is quite costly, and so therefore out of the financial reach of the majority of the population. What is clear, however, is that once the initial investment has been made the consumer can look forward to seeing a return on their investment through subsequent savings. The challenge of the initial investment still stands in the way, however, and will continue to do so unless new business options come into play. One such option which could help consumers overcome this financial hurdle would be the bundling of smart technology products in with the purchase of normal home appliances. For example, if the purchase of solar PV panel automatically came with a system for home energy management, the consumer would not only generate its own energy but would also save money on its on-going energy bills into the future.

Another challenge to the widespread adoption of the IoT industry relates to connectivity and the patchy internet mobile signal across the world. Despite the recent rollout of networks such as 3G and 4G, there remain areas and even countries devoid of internet signal for mobile phones. Whilst these infrastructure shortfalls continue to exist there will be regions of the world where smart homes cannot develop as the residents living within these areas will be reluctant to make the smart home investment without the remote control functionality being possible at any given location.

Q. Will the future be a reality of the haves and have nots in the smart home revolution i.e. those who can and cannot afford the tech?

The social inequality that the smart home revolution could create is perhaps the biggest challenge that the industry will have to face and address. As it currently stands, hi-tech products are largely confined to the rich due to the fact that the majority of the world’s population does not have the disposable income to make their homes “smart”.

There are two big issues that could arise from this technology inequality: 1) those able to afford smart home technologies will enjoy greater home comfort and therefore an improved standard of living, leaving those who cannot afford the lifestyle behind; 2) after the initial investment, those who have been able to afford smart home technologies will actually save money on their utility bills when compared to those who can’t afford the technologies. Both of these issues will have the predictable effect of widening the cultural and social gaps of our society, and thus proliferating issues such as crime and population dissatisfaction.

One way that we can overcome this inequality is through government and council led policy. At PassivSystems we are working with social landlords to provide the social houses that they are responsible for, with smart technology for renewable energy management. It is through schemes such as these that the benefits of smart home technologies will be able to transcend demographic groups and reach the wider population. Another way that the technology inequality issue will be solved will be through the wide-spread adoption and mass production and uptake of smart home technologies, as this will increase manufacturer competitiveness and so drive down prices.

Q. Will the smart home resemble the house from Back to the Future or how do you envisage it?

Some have asked if the smart home of the future will resemble something similar to that designed by Dr Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future”. As a technology entrepreneur at the heart of the smart home industry, I do not believe that this will be the case. Whilst very smart and efficient, the network of wires and appliances, buttons and bells that was contained in Emmett Brown’s genius “smart home” was not too dissimilar to that of his personal appearance; messy and unkempt. The smart home of the future, however, will be smart, neat and tidy, with every appliance wirelessly and seamlessly connected.

Essentially, the smart home of the future will have all the bells and whistles of the Doc’s, but the bells and whistles will be invisible.