Home Automation in 5 Years
Hidden Wires, a leading European Technology trade magazine, asked a number of industry experts what they expect the home automation market to look like in five years' time.
Here are their replies:
David Webster, CTO, RGB Communications
It seems very curious to me that most residential custom installers, who describe themselves as being in the home automation business for the most part, deliver systems that are more focused on entertainment and (remote) control with little or no actual automatic operation involved.
Perhaps autonomous operation is too difficult to achieve with present technology, or maybe too difficult to live with if it is not truly intelligent and adaptive. For example, we have been supplying intelligent lighting control systems for many years, yet rarely do these get programmed to the fullest extent of their ability. This could be because fixed schedules for lights and blinds are too restrictive or too difficult to change when the need arises.
So what will the home automation market look like in five years time? Ultimately it will look how end-users want it to look! After all, it is the end-user who best knows the most convenient automation they want to meet their individual needs. The challenge will be to set up home automation so that it is natural and easy to change.
To meet this challenge, I think we will be looking at home automation that includes two key elements; more natural user interfaces, particularly speech, and artificial intelligence for natural interactive conversations with the control system.
Thanks to Moore's Law, we are already seeing processing power increase to the point where this is doable. For example, the latest smartphones already have voice input and a conversational response to enquiries, so it is not too much of a stretch to imagine such an approach extended for home control. Particularly if the intelligence can monitor, learn and adapt its behaviour to achieve larger goals such as energy savings, rather than just slavishly following pre-determined rules.
For practical reasons, phone systems tend to use relatively low power front ends that connect via the Internet to more powerful computers that do the 'heavy lifting', and this client/server approach could well be that used by home automation systems in the next five years.
But a big question remains: who will create and maintain these back-end servers? The utility companies or the giant Internet search engines? That remains to be seen, but whoever it is, the front ends will still need to be installed, maintained and integrated by those best placed to do it - the custom installer.
James Drummie, Product Manager, AWE
Imagine, opening your front door using a keyless entry system, being personally welcomed home by your system and either asking your house to turn the light on or have a pre-programmed welcome home state set up for you for your individual requirements. Once sitting down on your sofa, ask your TV to turn on and show your favourite channels. Maybe have a chat with someone through your TV?
This sounds very much like something from Back to the Future - Part II. And yes, I completely stole this vision of home automation directly from the 23 year-old movie set in 2015. Remarkably the part of the film looking at the home of the future wasn't too far from reality (ignoring all the fax machines and the descending fruit bowl). We can now control Samsung TVs with voice or gesture control. Panasonic TVs have had Skype cameras built-in for their latest generation. We can integrate lighting systems such as Philips Dynalite with entry systems to automatically set up 'welcome home' lighting pathways. We can also fully integrate all our subsystems and distributed audio. Five years from now, it's a safe bet that all of our home systems will focus on the network. All of the products above already do.
In that time, I hope that BT will have made significant inroads into improving the UK's cable infrastructure to make cloud content a workable reality. I hope cable standards become more synergised. I hope architects and developers start realising that the CI business is an essential service, not a luxury. But if I'm being too optimistic and none of these things happen, I'd like to issue a warning to manufacturers now - you only have three years left to get me my hoverboard!
Robin van Meeuwen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Crestron International
With the increase of connected devices, accessibility of home technology and imminent explosion of smart TVs, consumers are now more aware of technology and how it can be deployed in the home. The next logical step is to bring in elements of automation, and we have already begun to see this aspect of our business increase.
Whether that be through integrated tablets or remote movie servers, end-users will always need reliable infrastructure to handle the behind-the-scenes strains of content management, signal delivery and point of control. What we will aim to do is present solutions that are effective in their operation but also present an aspect of longevity, in order to protect consumers investment in home automation.
All this, however, must come with a conscience as consumers are extremely focused on carbon footprints and spent emissions. In the next five years I expect to see all AV technology in the home having to perform even better, not just from a sound and vision point of view, but also in terms of energy consumption and emissions, achieving both environmental and fiscal savings to the planet and homeowner.
Jonathan Mangnall, Sales Director, AMX Europe
Consumer expectation will continue to drive the market over the next five years. The widespread adoption of smart-enabled devices and products such as the iPhone and iPad forever changed the wireless mobility market and has increased the demand for a similar experience in the home. This growing expectation, coupled with the decreasing cost of bandwidth as well as the technology itself, will mean that home automation will become even more ubiquitous - so much so that the 'average' customer in five years' time will enjoy the functionality and performance that the high-end client does today.
The home automation landscape will also look more business-like. BMS systems have long been a feature of large commercial buildings to control, monitor and optimise operation and efficiency. Customers in the residential space will increasingly demand this integrated approach to the management of their homes. They will still want the simple, single user-interface they always did, but behind that user-interface they'll want efficiencies, cost-savings, sustainability, intelligence, remote management, real-time information and feedback, carbon footprint reduction and seamless interoperability with lots of other technology.
Jeroen van der Velden, Technical Support & Product Manager, Amber International
I expect that we will begin to see more and more devices being connected to our network - AV/IT equipment, phones, environmental controls, blinds, irrigation, swimming pools, etc. This will mean that building network structures will need to improve to be able to handle more bandwidth.
Due to inconsistencies with wireless systems, my guess is that customers will require their static equipment to be hardwired to the network, providing more reliability and speed. However, I think handheld devices will remain wireless.
The introduction of fibre optic to residential and commercial properties will become available, affordable and most likely necessary to improve speeds and bandwidth. I also predict that we will continue to see an investment in eco-friendly properties in the next few years.
Guy Martin, Northern European Sales Director, Lutron EA Ltd
From a lighting perspective, I can very much see the trend of 'set and forget' home automation becoming the norm in residential installations. Homeowners want to maximise energy savings, but don't want to have to remember to do it, so light control systems that centralise the lights, heating, air-conditioning, security and window treatments within a property, whilst giving the end-user a reliable, easy-to-use, intuitive interface are going to be a winner for them for many years to come.
Connectivity will continue to play an increasing part in the home and although it has been possible to access light control solutions via mobile devices for a long-time now, the levels of connectivity that we see at present are only the tip of the iceberg of what will be possible in five year's time for installers and end users alike.
Jay McLellan, President and CEO, HAI (Home Automation Inc)
Home Automation will continue to grow, fuelled by several factors: more mobile devices connected to the Internet, recovery in major markets, increasing use of wireless in the product lines and increasing energy costs and consciousness.
Custom-installed systems will always have the lead in performance and functionality. While entry-level, fee-based systems may gain a little traction with early adopters, many are opposed to the monthly fee structure and poor performance of cloud-based home automation services. Custom or assisted install will continue to be the preferred sales venue, as most consumers are not willing to figure out the installation details. Mobile device apps to access the home's security, energy and comfort controls are key features of home and small commercial systems. Connected consumers will expect this type of control over any property they own or lease.
Iain Gordon, Owner of GES Digital and President of the KNX UK Association
Within five years, the home automation market will be an integral part of the design and construction phase of new dwellings. Energy conservation and grid security are key parts of this country's energy policy, and a control platform such as KNX, is required to both implement and monitor this.
The technology is racing ahead, with both ease of use and product self-awareness being key developments. Appliances that auto-switch-off during peak use hours, low-energy installations, micro-generation and a host of other technologies are on the market already, and the prices are dropping rapidly. The current economy is actually motivating great new innovation, and the essential products will inevitably be mass-market as legislation is tightened. It may be lean times for a period, but the future is looking very automated.