Guest Post by Dan Matthews
For decades, we have imagined an autonomous home of the future — a living space that caters to our daily needs with the minimum of input or effort from its human inhabitants. While we’re not quite in Jetsons' territory just yet, the last several years have seen technology that helps us jump a little closer. Smart homes are becoming a practical reality for many of us.
We can speak directly to devices and expect an intelligent response. Our TV viewing is not dictated to us by a rigid schedule but personalized based on preferences gleaned from data analysis and machine learning. Our gadgetry is connected, communicating with other devices for our convenience. But with these advantages also come concerns. Cybercrime has become a prevalent aspect of our society, to the extent that we must be vigilant about antiviral software and hack-proofing our digital devices
As we move into 2020, it’s time to take a look at the current state of smart homes. What aspects we are already embracing, and what is waiting for us just over the temporal horizon. Just how close are we to the sci-fi robotic homescape?
Some of the most important aspects of current smart home discussions are not necessarily the obvious devices that surround us. Smart home energy strategies are of particular importance. Both in terms of our huge number of electronic items putting pressure on the grid, but also from potential damage to our environment. Thankfully, developers have already begun to tackle this issue by including energy-efficient routines in smart devices. For example, smart washing machines already collect data on the level of dirt in a load and adapt their cycles to provide energy, water, and detergent-efficient cleaning.
From an infrastructure standpoint, the government has already begun to recognize the energy consumption problems our smart homes may present. As a result, there are now loans and tax credits available to encourage citizens to adopt energy-efficient measures in their homes. Many of these directly reflect the amount you’ve spent to install energy-saving products and solar or geothermal systems. However, there are limits to which this should be taken into account.
In the near future, it is likely we’ll see energy efficiency being adopted by entire smart communities. A trial neighborhood near Birmingham, Alabama, has 62 homes that are connected by high-performance, energy-efficient smart devices. Each home also helps to generate electricity for the neighborhood through solar cells, and a microgrid provides power to the community based on data received regarding its expected consumption.
The internet of things (IoT) has become a huge buzz phrase as of late, due to a rise in the development of traditionally static objects which can connect and share information with each other. In effect, the IoT makes up much of the ecosystem of smart homes, ensuring that menial tasks can be undertaken efficiently through automation without much human interference.
While 2020’s average smart home isn’t quite into sci-fi realms, the current state of the IoT is still rather exciting. Robotic vacuum cleaners, like the Roomba, have become a generally affordable item — using smart technology to map the rooms in your home and undertake an automated cleaning schedule. Smart doorbells are becoming popular, recording footage of visitors and sharing the high-definition video to your virtual assistant for you to review before answering the door. Thermostats that learn from your environment, adaptive lighting, and even barbecue grills that regulate cooking are all part of the contemporary IoT.
But where is our collection of connected objects headed? In the short-term, we can expect further smart updates of familiar items — development is already underway for an IoT-compatible intercom system. The number of IoT devices in 2020 will reach around 30 billion, and it is predicted to grow to 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025. On a grander scale, the IoT is believed to be instrumental in the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), collecting the vast amounts of data needed to make machine learning useful in our homes.
While most of us enjoy embracing new technology, we have certainly become more wary about security and privacy concerns. As smart devices are integrated into our homes, we must also consider what threats exist and how we can protect ourselves. Cybersecurity is becoming a huge aspect of our digital world, and this must be reflected at home.
The most immediate concern for many of us is whether it’s possible for our smart homes to be hacked by unscrupulous actors. This is particularly important as our use of smart home security systems is on the rise, including automated locking and CCTV. A recent study suggests that manufacturers haven’t been especially proactive in addressing security concerns. Moving forward, it is vital that manufacturers hire IoT security experts and deal with potential issues from the start of development.
Each of us should also be making intelligent choices about smart devices we welcome onto our lives. We must do our due diligence to keep on top of downloading security updates and researching exactly what data is collected by devices and how this is used. Concerns were recently raised regarding the plan for room mapping data collected by Roombas to be sold to other tech companies.
For the majority of us, 2020 is unlikely to be the year that our homes become fully automated. However, there is a rise in consumers implementing elements that will take us closer to technologically immersed living spaces. We are embracing the IoT and paying close attention to the infrastructure that will support our smart ecosystem. However, we must also be careful to address the ongoing security concerns as we progress.
Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience writing online at the intersection of business, finance, marketing, and culture. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.