The consumer electronics industry is pushing hard to interest homeowners and builders in “smart” gadgets that automate a home’s functions.
January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased a new wave of products for the home that can do everything from allowing a homeowner to use the Internet, to turn lights on and off, to starting the coffeemaker as soon as the homeowner wakes up—no matter what time that occurs.
Techies call the smart home of the future “the Internet of Things.” In general, it’s a home that has electrical components—like lights, security alarms and even the coffeemaker—interconnected so each knows what the other is doing, and so each can be controlled by the homeowner using a smartphone application.
Those “things” have become big business: The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that sales of “smart” security and energy systems will amount to $574 million this year—up 23% from 2014.
Not quite there
Still, even manufacturers of the smart stuff admit its common use in homes is still a few years away, as it could take that long for prices to drop to the affordable levels required to make interconnectivity and automation as common as the TV.
And the market for the gadgets is limited, as sales of new homes—where it makes the most sense to install them—aren’t exactly skyrocketing, and landlords and tenants aren’t willing to spend the money to add them to homes that are temporary. Plus, youthful early adopters of cool, new technology are part of a millennial generation that so far has opted to rent rather than buy homes.
However, tech-savvy homeowners could eventually find they can’t live without a smoke alarm battery that notifies their smartphones when it’s beeping or a coffeemaker that “knows” when its owner is going to need an extra-strong cup in the morning because he or she has tossed and turned all night.
The annual CES bristled with vendors offering gadgets that could make George Jetson drool. Some examples:
- Control systems that link things like the coffeemaker and the lawn sprinklers so the water shuts off when the coffee pot is empty—in anticipation that someone will be walking out the door at any moment and won’t want to get wet.
- A lighting device that “learns” a household’s daily patterns over time and sets itself to turn the lights on just before the family starts arriving home in the evening; or that turns on a dim light when someone gets out of bed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night but a bright one when it’s time to shave in the morning.
- A bracelet, worn by a parent, that vibrates when the baby cries in another room.
The concept, Chris Penrose, AT&T's senior vice president for the Internet of Things, told The Fresno Bee, is to “make their lives better and be incredibly easy to use."
Brett Dibkey, a Whirlpool vice president, told the newspaper that the end game is connecting many devices to work in concert with each other—even if they are made by different manufacturers.
For example, Whirlpool displayed a clothes dryer at the show that can operate a slow, energy-saving cycle when the homeowner isn’t home and doesn't need those dry clothes in a hurry. It can be linked to Google’s “Nest” smart thermostat, which has sensors that can assess when the house is empty and automatically lower the thermostat. Nest, in turn, can coordinate with automated window shades by digitalSTROM to let them "know" it’s trying to cool down the house and that the shades should lower to block the sun.
Privacy and security
Still, this next frontier won’t emerge without some worry that the data home devices can collect on a homeowner’s whereabouts, habits and even his or her mood would get into the hands of hackers.
"Toothbrushes and ironing boards, one day it will all be connected. I think that's great," one consumer at the show told The Fresno Bee. "Some people don't want all the data out there. I'm worried about access to my bank account, less so about whether my heat is going on or off."