SMART HOME OF 2017

Smart homes are the most elusive fantasy among all of the tech industry’s latest obsessions, with probably the biggest gap that needs to be bridged between reality and fantasy. A house that runs on its own is still way too good to be true- efficient use of energy, self-maintaining, being able to take care of some chores etc. For now, the closest thing we have to home automation is remote controlled gadgets and appliances.

Even though the idea of a house similar to the one in the ‘Jetsons’ seems unattainable, we are going to take a huge step towards it in the year 2017. Here is what to expect from the tech world this year:

CONVENIENCE BASED CONTEXT

For years now, Nest thermostats track whether the user is away or at home, and this information is used to adjust temperature accordingly as well as control other smart devices. Wi-Fi is built-in, allowing remote control via a smartphone, tablet or even PC. This is the exact type of contextual approach which is more than likely going to expand in a few ways this year.

The Nest is fantastic, but does have tough competition, meaning that the technology it is offering is going to become mainstream soon. The Ecobee3 Smart Wi-Fi Thermostat operates more or less the same way. Its features are not limited to simply monitoring temperature, and has multiple sensors in different rooms of the house. This is another example of expansion of the basic technology.

The fitness trackers and smartwatches that most of us wear work similarly- these contraptions can tell when we are in a relaxed position, exercising, awake or asleep. Again, those signals can be synchronized with smart thermostats which in turn control the atmosphere and climate of a house.

The use of mesh router systems has also been rapidly trending with brands like Eero, Google and Plume leading the market, creating multiple points for generating connectivity throughout the house. Although simple, the possibilities of this set up are endless. Eero for example, has the functionality to tell the user exactly which part of the house their smartphone is at, and the same technology can be used to adjust lighting and temperature depending on the area where people are gathering.

In the category of home automation hubs, a promising contender is the Wink Hub 2, working with devices which use Wi-Fi, Kidde, Bluetooth, Lutron Clear Connect, Z-Wave and ZigBee. For the future, it is Thread enabled. Everything available within the confinements of the smart home spectrum is included, ranging from the Netgear Arlo camera and Philips Hue lighting to Google Home.

Talking about the software, services such as IFTTT are attempting to converge contrasting apps and products together in complex ways. The ability to use a singular trigger to release multiple actions is now supported by IFTTT, so for example, by opening the garage door, the lights turn on and the heat is cranked up simultaneously.

The technology is already established, so in 2017 it is likely that we are now going to see how this technology is perfected and made suitable for multiple users. Turning lights on or the heat may not be what the other members of the house would want. Also, time will tell which of the two preferences will prevail; automatic monitoring and controlling or having everything on your smartphone at your fingertips?

There is a reason why people are still so partial towards Apple’s home button on their smartphones and tablets, it is because people like pressing buttons to control things the old-fashioned way. Logitech’s Harmony Elite is a universal remote control with buttons that controls more than just the television.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EVERYWHERE.

2016 was a groundbreaking year for the connected speakers’ industry consisting of Google Home and Amazon Echo and in 2017, the AI underlying these products are going to become widespread. For instance, Amazon has been allowing hardware makers integrate the Alexa virtual voice technology into their flagship products and offers readily assembled prototyping kits for making development easier.  Amazon’s Echo is a Bluetooth speaker which is powered by this handy virtual assistant- Alexa. Alexa works directly with a list of smart home devices, as well as with IFTTT. There is work to be done still, but the idea of Alexa is to give the user the power to control gadgets around the house simply by the sound of voice.

On the other hand, Microsoft is targeting integration of its Cortana assistant into other devices as well and Google isn’t lagging behind either- currently pursuing similar initiatives, starting off with an intelligent bot in its latest messaging app ‘Allo.’

At this point, it is a race to see who will be the first to introduce their virtual assistants in gadgets like Televisions, alarm clocks, lamps and possibly your fridge too for all we know, allowing you to navigate and order food items or search on Google from the comfort of your bed.

Making Your House ‘Hacker-proof’

There is no stopping the plethora of interconnected devices that will from this point onwards, only continue to grow, which means that protection of these very personal devices and their potential through smart home security, is going to become of great importance.

Wherever there is opportunity, you can bet on it to find someone who will try to exploit it. If there is even the faintest chance that your refrigerator can be hacked in order to access your credit card digits, someone is most definitely going to attempt to talk to it and pry information out.

The answer to these security concerns unfortunately isn’t as simple as keeping strong passwords or churning out constant software updates, for humans are prone to make errors. This lead to the creation of Cujo.

Cujo offers state of the art protection through monitoring, firewalls, data analysis etc., without getting too technical about its operation and implementation. Security locks and Surveillance cameras have also been revamped recently to become stronger and more alert than ever before.

The Piper for instance, is an indoor surveillance camera which can be viewed from an iOS or Android device, and is convenient for keeping an eye on everything that is going on in the house and all its members. Its features are not limited to surveillance though; it also serves as a Z-Wave controller, enabling total control over home gadgets from any location.

What’s more, rather than being fixed into one position, the camera can be tilted in diagonal directions, zoom in or out, and even provide two-way audio so you may talk to the person at the other end of the camera.

The leading names in the door locks category have smart home selections, but their presentation hasn’t created a sensation as yet, which we anticipate will change in 2017. Apple’s Smart Lock is home-enabled and provides connectivity to doors by mounting the lock over a deadbolt switch. Communication is done via Bluetooth from the smartlock to your smartphone in order to allow access to the user or guests. 

There is also always the option of Vivint which is an all-in-one straight out of the box solution for building a home security network, but will require a fierce kind of brand loyalty.

Helping Around The House

All of us would like to see Rosie the Robot or Bicentennial man come to life, and we are definitely getting closer. Not counting iRobots and Roombas, household robots exist now that can clean up, fold the laundry, handle the dry cleaning, mow the lawn and even clean out the gutters.

The age of robots is here one way or another. The device that has been mainstreamed by robotic functions is the vacuum cleaner. Neato’s Botvac is equipped with a navigation system guided by lasers which is almost unbeatable, and its design is in the shape of the letter U, swerving at corners instead of banging against walls. It seems that app control is the go-to function that is expected from everything that becomes automated. Such is the case with the Botvac, which has Wi-Fi built-in so you can control it from the comfort of your couch and get the house cleaned up in no time.

The challenge is trying to integrate all these functions into a few robots so that a different one isn’t necessarily assigned to each chore. The Braava Jet by iRobot not only vacuums up the floor space but also mops it up quietly without disturbing the residents.  Additionally, it can also damp sweep, eliminating the need for a Swiffer.

Having a robot that will create restaurant quality dishes at home is a long shot, but 2017 will see technology and Internet of Things incorporating the cooking sphere of domestic life. The Anova Culinary Precision cooker can be controlled from anywhere via Wi-Fi, even when you are not at home.

The desired temperature and the food’s current status is displayed on an LED and the cooking progress is tracked and notified by an app every step of the way.

Similary, the Perfect Bake Pro is a baker’s dream come true. All the risk and guess work involved in baking is reduced. The delicate processes of baking are assisted through an app which helps get everything perfect. The app provides precise scale measures.

THEY'LL SHOP FOR YOU

While technology giants like Samsung are able to install cameras inside their home appliances like the refrigerator, the basic essential task of reordering groceries for the consumer is still being worked on.

On the brighter side, Amazon has come up with a nifty service called Dash Replenishment- software tools which appliance manufacturers can make use of to order groceries whenever they run low. This concept isn’t limited to the fridge, as 2016 saw the emergence of a Brita pitcher which orders filters, dishwashers and dryers that order detergent and fabric softener.

What’s more, trash cans are being worked on that order more of items that are frequently thrown away. The technology and its potential is there, but the big question is whether Amazon will face competition sooner or have total monopoly?

ENTERTAINMENT

The moral of the success of the Amazon Echo is that smart home items don’t have a pre-requisite of home maintenance and upkeep. A good portion of the focus in 2017 is on services, apps and devices that will simply help the user stay connected or entertained.

Google has begun working in this category with its Google Home Speaker- which will allow you to launch Netflix by voice recognition on any of the Chromecast TV devices as well as play audio synchronized with other Chromecast devices that are around the house.

The next step is possibly being able to transfer music playback to your car as you exit your house or ask for video recommendations. These changes are not supposed to have a massive impact on your life or daily routine, but entertainment has always been the primary contender for getting ahead in any advancement and will probably do more to kickstart smart home automation this year than any of the other categories. After all, the latest gadgets and gizmos that become sought-after immediately are smartphones, TVs, media streaming services etc.

Conclusion:

Smart home technology is increasingly becoming more and more prominent at the CES each year, with the product line up increasing too. As mentioned before, the biggest challenge for home automation is probably trying to get multiple tasks done by a couple of devices or align multiple contraptions to synchronize and work together seamlessly without going haywire. It is crucial to know which devices are compatible with one another before adopting them.

In a nutshell, 2017 will of course bring more innovations, although according to analysts, the focus will shift away from making technology better and better towards educating users on how to use them smartly, enhancing security for safe adoption and lowering the prices.

Voice Assist is going to become much more common, and all the appliances are going to undergo some sort of automation and Wi-fi integration. Predictions suggest that a minimum of 130 million smart home products will ship globally this year.

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