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Understanding the Smart Home Concept
Space in the Third Dimension
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- The Future
The domotics of decades ago has given way today to new digital systems that provide solutions, connecting more and more elements in people’s homes. New features, increased comfort at home and increased energy savings are the main motivators for users when requesting a smart home. The change is slow to come: home technologies are still complex and the costs can seem unaffordable. However, solutions are gradually being democratized and more and more companies are entering the market.
Firstly, it is worth clarifying what the smart home concept means, since it is closely related to home automation. The terminology has changed and we often hear about smart homes, building automation or smart buildings. The main characteristic of a smart home or building is that it learns from its users and makes decisions that affect elements in the home. A connected house that lets you control lights, blinds, etc. is not the same as a house that has the capability to make decisions based on the inhabitants’ preferences and their habits. The main characteristics of a smart home are sensorization, connectivity and the interoperability of elements in the home.
One additional aspect worth explaining is the relationship between smart homes and the Internet. One of the current technological macrotrends is the Internet of Things, or IoT. A smart home can be connected to the Internet. In fact, there are home appliances and devices (air conditioners, for example) that can be connected to a Wi-Fi network so they can be controlled from a mobile phone or tablet. This has advantages, since it simplifies installation by reducing the need for wiring and pre-installations. However, smart homes are not always operated via the Internet. They can also work using their own systems to monitor, control and activate elements in the home.
In summary, a smart home has the following basic characteristics:
- It is sensorized and, therefore, collects data from the environment and on users’ habits (for example, what times of the day the blinds change position).
- The systems are interconnected, which allows for creating related events for different elements in the home (for example, turning on the lights when the blinds are lowered).
- The smart system adapts to how elements are activated in the home as it accumulates user data. In that sense, the house can ‘learn’ and ‘make decisions’ regarding the elements in the home.
- It is easy for users to control the system, including by voice interface.
Needs and User Attitudes Regarding the ‘Smart’ Concept
Interest is growing in the smart concept applied to homes. The most familiar elements which appear often in remodeling or construction projects center on the automation of air conditioning, lighting and adjustable elements like blinds. However, the smart trend can encompass nearly any element or equipment in the home. It can be incorporated into products ranging anywhere from intelligent flowerpots to decorative paintings or lightbulbs connected by Bluetooth. Some examples of smart products for the home are having an impact on the market, which is helping increase awareness and acceptance of the technological concept. Examples include smart thermostats, electronic locks or video door phones connected to cell phones, which can be purchased and installed relatively easily without technical assistance. However, these are independent solutions that are limited to a single product; it is not always possible for those products to interact with the rest of the home.
Despite the emerging offer of smart products on the market, the concept of smart home technology has yet to be fully embraced by users. The prevailing attitude is still a certain skepticism regarding smart home solutions. The reasons holding users back include a lack of awareness of available solutions, the idea that these solutions are expensive, and the difficulty of finding qualified professionals to provide advice and help with installation. Other obstacles have to do with privacy concerns regarding the digital data generated by the user or misgivings about excessive electromagnetic pollution in the home.
However, despite the most common objections, there are also a number of needs that are driving the demand for smart home solutions:
- Leisure and multimedia connections between devices (for example, voice assistants that are connected to the Internet).
- Safety and accident prevention.
- Energy efficiency, consumption control and the tendency to self-supply energy, especially in central Europe.
- Concern for environmental health in the home, which is driving a new generation of protective products such as air purifiers, antibacterial coatings, etc.