Predictions for the future vary. The trajectory is upwards, of course; though there is uncertainty about how quickly it will grow, and where it will lead. What does seem certain is that the intelligent home will be an area of dramatic evolution over the next decades, driven by social, economic and environmental factors. As well as styles and fashion, smart homes will address many of the challenges of demographic change, sustainability and housing needs.
Evidence for growth is the number of home devices connected through the Internet of Things (IoT). In Europe, this reached 22.5 million at the end of 2017, according to a research report from market analyst Berg Insight. Growth is forecast to reach 84 million homes in Europe at the end of 2022, representing a market penetration of 35%. (source: www.buildup.eu).
According to a 2019 survey by OnePoll, on behalf of Smart Home Week (source: www.smarthomeweek.co.uk), there are now 15 million ‘smart homes’ in Britain. 57% of homes now have some sort of smart device to control appliances such as the lights, security, kettle or vacuum cleaner, and more than four-in-10 adults use smart technology to work their television, while a further one-in-three often control their music with a gadget. 45% of those polled intend to make their home even smarter, with half of adults believing this will save them time and money in the long run.
The smart home market will grow via two channels: DIY (mainly via Smart LED Lighting) and modular homes. Shortage of housing, the product of demographic change and low national build rates for the past 40+ years (source: fullfact.org) is leading towards the growing trend of modular factory-built houses which by their very nature lend themselves to smarter building techniques and the installation of smarter technology.
Smart homes today
Right now, the greatest potential growth in home automation could be described as the “slightly cleverer home”. Typically, a smart home consists of LED lighting that is controlled via an app on a tablet or smartphone. This poses two issues. First, is it really any more convenient than a familiar simple intuitive wall-mounted switch? Secondly, there are growing security concerns wherever a smart home is connected to the internet. A better solution could be to use battery-free self-powered switches that connect to lighting and other controls via radio signals. Without the need for mains wiring, these ‘lick and stick’ switches and sensors speed up the installation time and minimise disruption.
Home entertainment is another candidate for battery-free switches. As well as controlling light levels and colour, pushbuttons can now link to ‘smart speakers’ allowing volume control or playlist selection. The integration of HVAC and window shading is also possible with battery-free controls and self-powered sensors and the use of standard frames like System 55 also provide the opportunity to offer a huge range of colours and finishes for switches and accessories –styles to match every home.
Battery-free wireless switches for lighting control, HVAC, shading and home entertainment can be powered by the kinetic energy harvested from the switch operation itself; sensors can also use solar energy or heat differential. This means that they can be placed virtually anywhere quickly, simply and maintenance-free.
Organisations like the EnOcean Alliance bring standards and qualifications that ensure range-wide interoperability of devices from multiple manufacturers. This multi-manufacturer alliance also offers comfort to the developer/homeowner that installed devices will be supported into the future.
The next 10 years
Single applications and easy operation will also be the smart home door opener in the near future, particularly in the DIY market. Interoperability of different products will broaden, enabled by a systems or platform approach. Central functions from wall switches such as ‘all off’ will become a standard feature – simple, intuitive, convenient. Switches will further develop to be the core controller in the home covering control for lighting, heating, shutters, security and many more smart solutions – all with a recognisable finger tap.
Already there is the possibility to, for example, dim all the lights and turn the heating down with a single switch. Similarly, a house with a ‘panic button all on’ would allow all the lights to be turned on if the homeowner heard a sound in the garden with a single switch next to the bed. The next 10 years will see home automation develop into systems that do not require a highly technical systems integrator. Slightly smarter homes will become the standard, and a qualified electrician will carry out the installation – accelerating the path to smart home take-up.
For new-build homes, prefabricated modular homes, which can flexibly be adapted to individual and changing demands (e.g. ambient assisted living – AAL), will replace the classical approach of brick-built houses. Highly flexible technologies will give wireless smart home solutions the necessary future-proof approach.
Smart buildings will only be truly sustainable and future-proofed with resource-saving technologies such as energy-harvesting switches and sensors. Energy savings and higher comfort should not cause a collateral problem – the change and disposal of billions of batteries. People will strongly demand sustainable technologies.
Further in the future
Moving towards truly smart homes, light-powered occupancy sensors will link wirelessly to intruder alarms. In addition, they can switch the heating off when nobody is around. Similar capabilities are available by equipping windows with contact sensors powered by light. Safety and security can also be extended; for example, using light-powered CO2 sensors or flood detection with kinetic sensors.
Soon, such smart technology will be simplified yet further by the introduction of new self-contained multi-sensors. A solar-powered device will be able to collect a range of data – light levels, humidity, temperature and also detect vibration.
Our way of living will change significantly as it already starts today with new working environments – demand-based services, agile buildings that flexibly adapt to changing needs, resource-saving living to protect resources for next generations. Smart applications will be part of our daily lives and routines. Artificial intelligence based on resource-saving technologies will significantly help to meet the challenges of climate change, demographic change, rising prices and limited space.