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Current State & Future of Home Automation Technology

By 2022, the global Home Automation market will top $ 79 billion. With Amazon, Google and Apple investing billions in Smart Home projects, the market is huge, full of promise and…largely fragmented. Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab, has shared his thoughts on the latest Smart Home technology and its indefinite future.

Latest in Home Automation: Smart Homes are surprisingly dumb

Q: Although 25% of US households now own at least one Home Automation gadget, Smart Homes aren’t mainstream yet. How come?

Pavel: Before I describe the current state of Home Automation products and technology advancements, we need to define what a Smart Home actually is. 

We live in the digital era, so every new device that is released to the market is labelled as smart. By “smart” 90% of gadget manufacturers actually mean that their device can be operated via a smartphone. 

Does replacing a light switch with a mobile app really make a house smart?

For example, you’re watching a TV show and want to dim the lights via your mobile phone. First, you need to fetch it from the kitchen or wherever you’ve left it. Second, you open the connected switch app and wait for it to load. Finally, you configure the settings. By the time you turn the lights down, you’ll miss half of the show.

That’s why companies that want to build a Smart Home system should take a few lessons from remote control manufacturers who intended to create a universal control device with a sensor screen some 15 years ago and reached a dead end. The average remote control has between 10 and 20 buttons of different shapes and colors. We can distinguish them to the touch without taking our eyes off the TV screen – and that’s the way a remote control should work. 

In my opinion, a true Smart Home is a home that learns your habits and preferences and requires little to no management on your part.

Several brands have actually made a serious step towards real Home Automation. The famous Nest Thermostat, for example, analyses your temperature settings and automatically sets the desired temperature when you’re home (only to turn it down while you’re away). Also, there’s Amazon Echo, a connected speaker that manages your Spotify playlists and can get you a ride with Uber, and a fairly good Belkin WeMo Switch. However, those gadgets neither manage all the devices that comprise your home electronics ecosystem nor work in sync.

Current State & Future of Home Automation Technology

In fact, it’s not just Smart Home systems that suffer from the lack of interoperability standards. The problem is common for all connected gadgets, and that’s why IoT has so many barriers to mass adoption.

Q: Do Smart Home manufacturers attempt to solve the interoperability issue somehow?

Pavel: Although most companies that produce new Smart Home solutions come up with their own technology, security and interoperability standards and hardware (thus making things even worse), there have been some positive changes on the market lately.

ZigBee Alliance, for example, has developed universal standards of wireless communication, thus enabling connected gadgets which are built by different brands to exchange messages over a network in a secure way. Also, ZigBee allows home owners to integrate new gadgets into a Smart Home ecosystem. There’s also Z-Wave, a wireless protocol which supports one thousand IoT devices.

Amazon, the company that disrupted the entire Home Automation market with its Echo speaker powered by the Alexa AI assistant, has launched the Amazon Lex platform enabling vendors to create voice interfaces. The company has also made its latest Alexa REST API open-source, thus cementing its place in the Home Automation market and giving both software developers and hardware manufacturers an opportunity to connect to Amazon’s IoT.

However, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. According to Business Insider, the biggest barrier to Smart Home adoption is the “technological fragmentation within the connected home ecosystem” – and I couldn’t agree more.

Latest Smart Home systems: putting technology to work

Q: There are plenty of IoT case studies in our r-stylelab.com portfolio – and I know you’ve recently worked on a Smart Home project, too. Was it successful?

Pavel: That’s right, we’ve built a Smart Home demo for a start-up that is currently working on a complex Home Automation system powered by neural networks.

The system features a mobile app which uses the face recognition technology, motion and temperature sensors and several video cameras. A user can upload his picture to the app; once the system processes the image, it starts tracking the person’s whereabouts and activities and adjusts various settings (including temperature, TV channels and lighting) according to his preferences.

Current State & Future of Home Automation Technology

Q: How much does it cost to build a Smart Home system?

Pavel: A couple of months ago we discussed the price of building IoT software, and I set the average threshold cost for a complex Home Automation system at $ 5 million. 

Q: Where does the figure come from?

Pavel: Although multiple companies including ZigBee, Amazon and IBM make their APIs open-source, aspiring Home Automation entrepreneurs should understand that innovative software development – and the Smart Home market badly needs innovation! – requires writing code from scratch. You can’t just put the available technologies together and build a truly smart, independent and highly scalable Home Automation solution – otherwise the market wouldn’t be in its current state.

What’s more, all IoT projects are carried out by senior software developers and system architects, and high-profile specialists do not come cheap. Also, such projects involve a lot of research and are billed according to the Time & Material pricing model. Since the Smart Home concept is innovative by default, a software vendor cannot tell you beforehand how much time it would take to bring certain capabilities to life.

Q: What is the best advice you can give to start-ups who want to launch new Smart Home technology solutions in the near future?

Pavel: Do not waste your time trying to build Amazon Echo or Nest thermostat clone. Instead, come up with a technology which has the potential to bring different Smart Home components together, address a reliable vendor to put up a demo of your product and pitch your idea to investors. Work hard – and success will follow!

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