John Leonard November 2, 2016
The smart homes of today already allow us to control lighting and heating, turn on the coffee machine from the bedroom, and make energy savings during the night. The next level of home automation systems requires not just a smart home, but a smart aware home.
The future smart aware home
For most people, your morning routine probably looks something like this:
You turn off the alarm and fumble about in the dark to turn on the bedside lamp. You get out of bed and head to the bathroom where you turn on the towel rail ready for when you get out of the shower. You turn on the shower, adjust the temperature because your partner has left it on ‘scalding hot’ again, and you get yourself ready for the day. You notice you’re out of shower gel, so you make a mental note to pick some up. Back in the bedroom you open the curtains, turn off the lamp, get dressed and head to the kitchen. After turning on the light, you turn on the coffee machine. While you wait for your latte, you turn on the radio and tune it so you can listen to the morning news. Eventually, you take a seat at the breakfast bar, enjoy your coffee and take in as much of the morning news as you can, while trying not to forget the shower gel.
In a smart aware home, your morning routine will look more like this:
An alarm wakes you up not at a specific time, but when you’re fully rested and in the right sleep cycle. You grab your phone, and your bedroom lights turn on because they know you’re awake. You get out of bed and wander into the bathroom where the towel rail has already heated your towel. The shower starts at your perfect temperature, and you step straight in to get yourself fresh for the day. There’s a new bottle of shower gel that arrived automatically a couple of days ago when you started to run out. Back in the bedroom the curtains open and the lamp turns off and so you get dressed and head to the kitchen. The light above the breakfast bar turns on as you walk in, the radio starts on your favourite morning station, and you pick up the latte that just finished brewing. You take a seat, enjoy your coffee and catch up on the morning news.
Your morning routine is a lot easier when your home is doing all of the thinking.
From smart to smart aware
A modern smart home can already do a version of what is described above. We can control lighting and heating from our smartphones, turn on the coffee machine from the bedroom, so our morning cup is waiting for us when we want it, and we can set complex patterns so that at bedtime lights turn off automatically, doors are locked and the thermostat is turned down. But to truly automate our lives we need to move from smart home to smart-aware home.
The front door can unlock when you walk up and then lock again when you’re inside. The lights can turn on when you enter the living room to the pattern you like best. The thermostat can set the temperature just how you like it. You can walk in the kitchen, and the machine will make your favourite coffee for that time of day. If the kids are in the living room, then the lights are up bright. Once they leave to go to bed, the lighting dims for a more relaxed mood for the parents. By knowing who is where the smart aware home can tailor everything to suit. More importantly, you can see instantly whether the kids are upstairs, downstairs or outside – no more shouting to find them!
Smart and aware in the outside world
Obviously, smart devices that are aware of who is around can be useful outside of the home too. Elevators that know you live or work on the sixth floor can be automatically called when you’re a few feet away, and only allow access to people who need it. If there’s already someone in the elevator and it’s about to close it can hold the doors knowing you’ll be there in a few seconds.
Senior citizens could be monitored for signs that something is wrong, such as no movement for long periods of time, or being horizontal but outside of the bedroom.
Kindergartens and schools could monitor kids’ location and activity independently, increasing safety and helping make sure all of the kids are being active and none are being excluded.
Theme parks could sense different types of ticket, for example, to direct wheelchair users to the priority queue or to make sure kids and their parents don’t get lost.
Roadblocks to a smart aware home
The main challenge ahead is to get devices connected independently. Most smart devices rely on a smartphone and therefore go ‘dumb’ when the phone leaves the house. Bluetooth hubs or Bluetooth-enabled routers are needed so that the smart home stays smart. We also need the home to know where people are, not just where their phone is. A small tag on a chain or bracelet could easily solve this.
Next, companies need to consider how to make their products both smart and aware, to interact more personally with users.
Finally, the products need to know how to react to conflicts. You can hold the elevator doors for a short time, but you don’t want to hold them for someone who has stopped for a chat!
Once realized, the smart aware home will transform our lives in ways we’re only really beginning to imagine. Just as kids today don’t recognize a phone plugged into the wall, soon light switches and key locks will become relics of the past.