We’re fortunate to live in an age when technology is so readily accessible to the general public. It’s estimated that there is up to 100,000 times more computing power in an iPhone that there was on Apollo 11, the spacecraft that took Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the surface of the moon. Incredible technology is literally in the palm of our hands – and increasingly in our homes.
The concept of the smart home is a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. The popularity of devices, such as video doorbells and apps to control our thermostat from our smartphone, demonstrates our desire for instant knowledge and connectivity. Today’s society doesn’t want an off switch: we want to receive immediate notifications, push alerts, and the power to act on this information immediately. We are the always-on generation.
Smart or connected?
However, while the average home now contains more smarts than a Mensa meeting, do they really create a smart home? The devices mentioned above require human interaction. They’re connected devices, sharing data about a set of programmed alerts, such as movement at the front door and room temperature.
Truly smart devices are those that can detect a change in the home environment and use machine learning to decide on the right course of action to take. Tomorrow’s smart home won’t need to send you alerts and wait for your instructions. They’ll take care of that for you.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Being smart is cool
You make a cup of tea but the milk’s turned sour. You buy a bag of salad only to pile it on top of the bag you forgot that you bought yesterday. Or you have a random bunch of ingredients left in your fridge at the end of the week and you have no idea what to do with them.
These are all problems solved by the latest generation of smart fridges. LG’s InstaView ThinQ fridge uses computer vision and AI for real-time inventory of what’s inside. It will then use that info to suggest meals and warn you when you’re running low on your favourite ingredients.
If you’re out and about, your fridge will message you when you’re near a shop to remind you to pick up a few essentials. You can even subscribe to a delivery service, and your fridge will automatically order regular items to ensure you’re stocked up.
There’s also an important environmental benefit to smart fridges. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the UK wastes 7 million tonnes of food every year. This equates to £355.68 per household, or a whopping £9.7 billion across the whole country annually. With your fridge offering timely guidance on its contents and expiry dates, it’s possible to dramatically reduce waste. Smart fridges appeal to greener consumers as well as those who love to have the latest gadgets.
Health and wellbeing
While many smart devices are focused on home entertainment, there are multiple health and wellbeing benefits to consider when creating your smart home. Air quality monitors, such as those available from Airthings, constantly measure pollutants in your home or place of work. They'll let you know when it's too hot, too humid, or if there's too much carbon dioxide in your house, so you know when to ventilate and let in some fresh air. Considering we spend 90% of our time indoors, it's time we thought about our indoor air as much as we do about pollution outdoors.
Technology can even help look after the most vulnerable in society. Smart sensors can detect any unexpected changes in someone's daily activities – a missed cup of tea in the morning, the TV or lights not being switched on – and trigger an alert to tell carers that they should investigate. Smart technology isn’t always about what’s happening. Sometimes it’s what hasn’t happened that’s important.
Lighting and heating
Smart lighting is also set to shine in homes in 2020. Circadian lighting, which creates a range of subtle hues and shades at different times of the day, is already a feature on long-haul airlines. And it’s now entering our homes. Bright lighting mid-morning is good for activity and energy, with softer shades mirroring the change in natural light as the day progresses, eventually easing us into a relaxing sleep.
Our thermostats are also getting smarter. While turning the heating on while we’re on our way home is pretty handy, what if your heater could learn what temperature you prefer at different times of the day and automatically adjust? That’s exactly what the new generation of smart thermostats can do, using machine learning to understand how warm you like to keep your house and create the perfect environment for your home without you having to do a thing.
Smart is getting smarter
As technology continues to evolve, it’s easy to envision a future where all smart devices are connected, learning from each other and working in harmony. All voice controlled, recognising and understanding our personal preferences, and acting proactively to make our home as comfortable as possible. Now that’s pretty smart.