Smart home technology is just around the corner.

Here’s Why You Don’t Have A Smart Home Yet

Image courtesy of the Thread press kit.

Smart home technology promises to automate everything in your house, saving energy and providing ultimate convenience. It’s not quite The Jetsons yet, but the tech industry is bringing out its big guns.

Cheap sensors and wireless technology are increasingly enabling the Internet of Things, meaning that everyday electronics will be connected to the Internet.

The smart home is a culmination of that, connecting household objects together and ideally allowing you to control them through a unified interface (like a smartphone app).

Examples of what a smart home can do:

  • Adjust the A/C based on temperature and user preferences, or allow you to turn it on remotely, such as when heading home from work
  • Automatically turn on the security alarm when everyone has left the house.
  • Locking your doors and turning off lights in the house by simply saying “good night” to your smartphone
  • Send a notification in case of a power outage, allowing you to rescue the contents of your fridge
  • Heat up the oven before you need to use it

How the smart home works:

Smart home technology has been around for awhile (actually, since the 1975 wire-based X10 standard), but it’s been a costly, luxury niche.

Now, with the ubiquity of wireless technology, it’s becoming more accessible.

A lot of devices can communicate with wifi or Bluetooth. But ideally, smart home devices have their own mesh networks, using wi-fi-like radio signals that allow devices to communicate with each other (read more about how mesh networks work here).

The information is then often rerouted to your app, allowing you to monitor and control devices from afar.

There’s no industry standard for how smart home devices’ meshnets communicate yet, but there are two major protocols: Z-Wave and ZigBee.

The former is a proprietary technology used by many major brands, while the latter is built on an open standard suggested by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Thread, a recent smart home standard launched by Samsung and the Google-owned smart thermostat company Nest, is compatible with the ZigBee devices.

In addition to the low-power, wi-fi like signals used in the mesh networks, smart homes can also take advantage of GPS data from smartphones with a tech called geofencing, allowing devices to sense a user’s position.

Smart home devices are here, but the smart home isn’t

While analysts disagree on what exactly constitutes a smart home device (do “smart TVs” shipped with Netflix apps count?), most seem to agree that the market will be huge by 2020 – somewhere in between $35 billion to at least $71 billion.

Industry giants like Samsung, Google, and Apple are already competing in the space, hoping to replace or upgrade analog devices in millions of homes.

Smart home devices are already on the market, such as the smart General Electric A/C unit, or Whirlpool’s 6th Sense dishwashers and fridges. These systems exist in isolation, however, no in communication with each other.

So before the fully integrated smart home arrives, where every device is controllable from a single interface, the industry might have to agree on a standard.

Ole Skaar