Industry Insights

The Race to a Truly Smart Home

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The concept of a smart home has been around for a long time and yet even in 2017, it remains relatively ignored by all but the early adopters.

The number of vendors offering new smart home platforms continues to expand, whether it is new startups, consumer goods giants or the Silicon Valley elite. But as the choice widens, it becomes more difficult to choose and integrate the best equipment.

In any case, smart homes are not even something the typical homeowner would even give much if any thought to. But to paraphrase a rather hackneyed quotation attributed to Henry Ford, if he had asked his customers what they had wanted, they would have asked for faster horses rather than a motor car.

The growing popularity of smart speaker devices perhaps give us the closest vision yet of the future home. However, by themselves they are little more than mobile devices connected to a loudspeaker and any interaction with lights, thermostats, security devices, etc. requires purchasing and integrating a significant amount of hardware.

The final experience is inevitably going to be rather stilted, not to mention the effort required to install and configure it in the first place. Faster horses perhaps, but horses nonetheless.

What we really need are homes that are built smart, homes where you walk in for the first time and everything just works intuitively.

Wienerberger took a step forward in this direction with the e4 house: an Arup designed housing concept with preconfigured supply chain including sensor technology and Building Information Modeling (BIM) in addition to the more traditional building products.

e4 stands for four key principles:

  • Economy – a house that is affordable yet built to last
  • Energy – so efficient that energy bills will be just a couple of hundred pounds per year
  • Environment – a house that minimizes its environmental impact and is responsibly sourced
  • Emotion – a house that people will want to live in

IBM is helping Wienerberger integrate the digital components of the house and provide the smart technology to complement the e4 principles.

It is just the beginning of the journey however the smart e4 house can now benefit from a building health monitoring system which will help identify when equipment like the boiler are about to fail enabling the homeowner take action when it is most convenient.

Whilst the building is inherently energy efficient due to the materials used, IBM’s artificial intelligence system, Watson, will perform further optimization by analyzing usage patterns and reducing unnecessary energy usage.

Sensors will detect water leaks and ensure that the system can be repaired before too much damage occurs.

Access to the BIM model will enable the homeowner to obtain useful information such as when the warranty on the boiler expires, the location of live wires behind the walls that may be hit with a misplaced drill, or the type of roof tile used during construction so that an exact replacement can be found for one lost during high winds.

It will also enable the development of applications that calculate the amount of paint/tiles/carpet required to decorate a room by accessing the dimensions from the BIM model and perhaps even allow retailers or local tradesmen to make an offer to get the job done.

Perhaps most importantly, a home concierge powered by Watson will enable the homeowner to interact with the house through a natural language interface – voice activated and via a chat interface on a mobile device. Whether it is switching on lights, boosting the heating or answering questions like “how can I reduce my electricity usage?” or “when is the recycling next collected?”.

A truly smart home needs to solve the real problems that homeowners face in order to be adopted. It needs to become as vital to today’s consumer as electricity or the internet.

House builders now have a unique opportunity to make the running in smart homes. Smart personal devices are starting to plateau in capability but smart vehicles are accelerating rapidly. Even smart workplaces are gathering momentum. Yet the race to a truly smart home has yet to really get started.

The technology is here today, but the winner will need to integrate the technology in a way that transforms the homeowner experience for the better.

Learn more about the new e4 home by watching this video.

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