The smart home industry in 2016 looks much different than it did only five years ago when Nest introduced its first-generation smart thermostat. No doubt, the industry will change again half a decade from now.
It’s time to jump into your time machine. You’re about to uncover what could be the biggest trends in the smart home industry in 2021 and the products you might be using.
Emerging Trends in Home Automation
The smart home of the future is expected to include more energy efficient products controlled by localized virtual assistants. Tomorrow’s homes will also be safer, which is particularly good for aging populations.
Every tech giant offers a digital voice assistant, from Apple’s Siri to Microsoft’s Cortana to Amazon’s Alexa. Right now, these voice assistants require an active web connection and external data to work. In the future, smartphones, tablets, and wearables will feature local voice assistants. In doing so, they will save battery life and reduce many of the privacy concerns some have about those services.
Earlier this year, MIT researchers unveiled a computer chip optimized for deep-learning. Code-named “Eyeriss”, the chip could allow mobile devices to perform such tasks as natural language processing and facial recognition without going online.
As Vivienne Sze, the Emanuel E. Landsman Career Development Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science explains:
You can imagine that if you can bring that functionality to your cell phone or embedded devices, you could still operate even if you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection. You might also want to process locally for privacy reasons.
Keep in mind: these smart assistants could be everywhere in our homes, not just in smartphones, televisions, and speakers. Imagine offline, localized appliances like refrigerators and ovens that work together to cook your dinner, according to a pre-programmed recipe. Or a shower that senses the outside conditions to select the optimal water temperature.
Home Energy Changes
Digital assistants built into home products, offline or otherwise, are great in theory. However, without a chargeable power source, these products are useless.
At the University of Washington, researchers have developed a technology that allows gadgets to work and communicate using energy from nearby TV, radio, mobile phone, and Wi-Fi signals. This technology, which uses a principal called backscattering, could lead to battery-free gadgets in your home, including security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms.
As Technology Review contends:
A gadget using the technique absorbs some energy from the signal it is modifying to power its own circuits.
Not every smart product will be battery-free in five years. Still, those products that do remain on the grid will also get smarter, especially when it comes to energy efficiency.
By 2022, Gardner Inc., a global technology research business, estimates that a typical family home in a developed market is likely to contain more than 500 smart devices. Many of these devices already have the ability to measure home energy usage. As more smart home products go online, efforts to control energy costs more efficiently will also rise.
As Macquarie Energy Leasing Global Head John Wilson explains:
A smart home allows for, quite literally, a smarter use of energy, more intelligent use of it, more independence and cross-use of technology.
He believes that smart energy metering is in your future.
These meters “will contribute to the take-up of smart home appliances such as air-conditioners, lighting, pool cleaners and dishwashers that consumers can program to switch on at times that suit them, including when power is cheapest,” according to Wilson.
People are living longer, more active, and independent lives, which is one of the reasons fitness trackers, smart scales, and products like Apple HealthKit have become popular. At the same time, healthcare costs continue to rise. To better assist an aging population and bring healthcare costs down, the internet of Things will increasingly play a pivotal role in home care.
“There aren’t currently any solutions on the market that integrate the physical, cognitive, social, and nutritional elements of elder care,” explains Joe Branca from Strategy Analytics. “And incorporating new features along these lines would help to deliver more value to elderly individuals and their families.”
What We Might Be Buying
Now that you’ve seen some of the emerging trends in home automation, it’s time to turn your attention to the future products that might be making a splash in the years to come.
Energy Monitoring Made Easy
Despite its advances, the smart home experience has still not been embraced by most consumers. Kevin Foreman, the director of product vision at the digital experience firm Vectorform, believes there’s a reason for this.
As explained to Wired, Foreman notes:
To date, the smart home lacks a killer app to drive these experiences but once this is made available, consumer adoption will skyrocket. Providing real-time feedback is the best way to get consumers interested in adopting smart home technologies.
With this in mind, Vectorform is working on a prototype device called PowerScan that allows people to measure the energy consumption of individual household appliances by holding an app up to a power cord. Sounds simple enough, no?
We’ve been waiting for automated robots since Rosie first began cleaning on The Jetsons. Since then, the closest we’ve gotten to a mass marketed consumer-based robot has been with products like iRobot and Neato.
Rosie might not arrive by 2021. However, with robotic lawn mowers and iRobot cleaning solutions already entering the mainstream, she might not be far behind.
Earlier this year, Samsung introduced the Family Hub. The smart refrigerator features a Wi-Fi enabled touchscreen that lets you manage your groceries, connect with your family, and entertainment your guests.
Priced at $5,500, the Family Hub isn’t likely to find many early buyers. Nonetheless, it represents a starting point. Expect smarter and more reasonably priced automated appliances in the future, each much more energy efficient than current models.
Products like the Kohler Numi already make a trip to the bathroom a more comfortable experience by adding ambient lighting, wireless Bluetooth, and a foot warmer. Future smart toilets could also make us healthier.
In 2015, Japanese company Toto unveiled the Flowsky toilet, which acts as a device to measure urine flow rates. As any doctor will tell you, a urine analysis can tell you a lot about your health.
Don’t laugh. A toilet that does this analysis at home could fast become an important wellness component.
A Final Word
You can expect to see many changes in the coming years in the world of smart home technology. Many of these changes will focus on improving energy efficiency in your home. Others will focus on helping us live healthier lives.
What changes do you hope to see in smart home automation?
Image Credits: Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock