|Topic:||A fresh look at the smart home|
|Author:||Luca Giacomello & Duncan Bees|
|Title:||Board Chairman, & CTO|
|Organisation:||Home Gateway Initiative (HGI)|
Luca Giacomello is the Chairman of the Home Gateway Initiative Forum. Dr Giacomello works in the home network innovation department in Telecom Italia and leads research projects related to home networking environmental efficiency.
Duncan Bees is the Chief Technology and Business Officer for the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI). Mr Bees was previously at PMC-Sierra and Bell Northern Research and holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from McGill University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science from the University of British Columbia.
The Home Gateway Initiative Smart Home Task Force is devoted to understanding smart home use cases and developing architecture recommendations for delivering these services. Such developments indicate that smart home services are poised to provide a compelling level of service integration providing commonly required home automation services together with home health care, assisted living, home energy management and other services.
A confluence of user expectations and technology trends are developing such that truly ‘smart’ homes and services may be ready to achieve mass-market acceptance. In this article, we look at smart home services from the perspective of users and technology providers. What are the underlying trends that – as many believe – will provide a basis for services that assist people to manage their day-to-day lives in the home? What factors must be taken into account by technology providers and industry bodies, such as the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI), as they develop smart home solutions and standards?
Home automation vs. smart home
For years consumer have had access to a range of home automation devices and related services that allow them to help control their environment at home. Examples include lighting control, smart thermostat, home security, automated sprinkler systems and smoke or fire alarms. Home automation systems include some or all of the following:
• Visualization of status at a centralized location. For example, a home energy management system may provide information related to whole-home electricity consumption at a single display device;
• Centralized control. Not only can people visualize status from a central display in the home, they may also be able to turn on, off or otherwise control devices from a central location;
• Automated scheduling supports features like time of day, or day of week cycling so that services do not need to be switched on and off at every usage;
• Remote monitoring. Some services, like home security systems, usually include remote monitoring and possibly remote control.
These systems have gained wide usage for selected applications, but also have drawbacks.
• Some kind of wiring or signalling is needed around the home. This may involve a high installation cost, and while self-installation may be an option for some systems, the complexity may be too high for many consumers to manage. Wiring may require a ‘truck roll’, passing wires through walls, and other disruptive aspects.
• The automation system has typically required purpose-built kit for visualization and control; a few examples include a sprinkler control box, a smart energy information display or a lighting control panel.
• Configuration of each system is different, and often the control panels used provide only ‘primitive’ user interfaces in order to constrain complexity and cost. As a result, consumers are faced with difficulties in configuration of many services. Even a task as seemingly simple as programming a time of day electrical baseboard heater can be aggravating.
Furthermore, monitoring may require a monthly fee that may deter consumers.
Thus, home automation has been restricted to a smaller user base than would be the case if these factors weren’t so. By contrast, smart home services may be poised to provide a more compelling level of service integration. Smart home is about providing the most commonly required home automation services together with home health care, assisted living, home energy management and other services we can’t yet foresee, all within a cohesive user, up-to-date user experience taking advantage of technology trends described below.
Technology trends and changing user expectation favours the smart home
The past two decades, and particularly the past five years, have changed the way that people expect to relate to technology services and products. The combination of web, access to the web irrespective of location, smartphone with effective user interface and app-store, means that people currently expect to access information services wherever they are in their daily lives 24/7.
Along with availability of services, they also expect a degree of sophistication in the user interfaces (UI) provided by technology products. The innovations in Graphical UI (GUI) technology, initially with web based application and now flourishing with smartphone display technologies, software infrastructure and apps, means that people anticipate having simple, visually effective means to access information and control services. People also expect to use touch screen, voice recognition and other types of advanced user interfaces. Smart home services must take these expectations into account. Compared with existing control panels for home automation services, smart home services that take advantage of the latest GUI technology will be compelling.
User expectations have also changed regarding service integration. For example, communication services of all types that were formerly entirely separate – voice, email, text, chat, video chat, etc., have become integrated. Social media has also integrated consumers’ data in all its varieties – photos, web links, music, – making the data available within applications in a convenient way and allowing consumers to share data easily. As boundaries between types of services and types of data blur, consumers will expect to access all types of information services from within common platforms and applications.
How would smart home services meet these expectations? Users will not want to have to use one type of console to control their thermostat, a second to find out their energy consumption, a third to manage their home security service, etc. People want all their information services available on a standard web and smartphone infrastructure no matter where they are located. Even if different services may be served by different providers, users should not have to control smart home services using radically different methods.
Smart home service example
What could a smart home service package enabled by a broadband service provider (BSP) look like to a hypothetical user, the Martin family? Because of the BSP platform approach, a range of services are enabled, and the Martins may initially choose a single service and later augment it with additional services.
Mr Martin buys his high speed internet services from a BSP, who installs a home gateway (HG) in his home to provide an Internet service. Mr and Mrs Martin, who live in a prosperous neighbourhood, have discussed the need for a home security service. They only want to start with a simple service that monitors when their front door has been opened – very useful for parents of school aged kids.
Mr Martin goes to the BSP’s smart home web portal. The web portal lists several services available from a variety of providers– but all are available from the same portal. He orders a monthly package with door sensor and video monitoring of the front entrance and chooses a self-install option. Several days later the kit arrives and he follows the instructions to install the video camera and door sensor – both of which operate wirelessly and can talk to the Martins’ existing HG.
The Martins can access the door state and image from the monitor in one of several ways. They can navigate to a web portal, so they can see the information from their office, while on vacation and can also access the information from apps available on their smartphones.
The Martins, happy with their current service, later decide to add home energy management (HEM) – choosing an option for integration of a ‘smart washing machine’. The HEM service gives them a global view of the electricity consumption at any time and tracks usage by time of day and tells them the cost of usage. They also add a control for some of the lighting, so for example; lights can be turned on before they arrive home from work.
Installations in all cases follow similar patterns – ordering at the web portal, shipment of self-install kit with wireless interface and service activation. All the related devices ‘talk’ to the existing HG – either with a wireless interface or through data communication over the home power lines, which the Martins don’t have to configure and all the services would be available from web and smartphone apps that also have a similar look and feel.
Implications for smart home technology requirements
BSPs are taking the steps to integrate home automation services into the consumer’s daily mix of information services. This integration – building on the factors mentioned above and the availability of widespread home networking solutions offers an interesting business opportunity for the BSPs – the provision of both services and the platform capabilities to offer the services
At a high level some of the key requirements are:
• Trouble-free home area network solutions that require minimal user intervention and configuration, operate with low power and interact seamlessly with the existing home gateways already deployed;
• A flexible home gateway platform that is ‘always there, always on’ to act as a data hub within the home;
• An application capability in the HG so it can assist with configuration, management and troubleshooting of the connected devices. And can act as the local application intelligence –the ‘brain’ behind the various smart home services. By placing this logic in the HG, the system continues to operate even if the broadband link is down;
• In some cases, cloud logic including access to user data will be involved in the application intelligence and the right hooks have to be provisioned between the HG and the cloud;
• User interface must be supplied via web portals and GUI on smartphones and tablets.
The future’s smart
The HGI’s Smart Home Task Force is leading the way in the industry to set the requirements for the smart home platform in all its aspects, and to develop testing approaches that will enable vendors to bring smart home products to market quickly. HGI brings together about 65 companies from around the world which include service providers and manufacturers of chips, software, home gateways, home network devices, services, and consumer electronics.
The organization’s role is to determine current requirements for home network features and testing approaches. By determining the core requirements at an industry level, HGI helps to create a robust smart home ecosystem that can flourish to the benefit of many.