Up until recently, all the hype surrounding the smart home movement was just that – publicity driven by technology companies in an effort to entice consumers. For years it seemed as though something were missing from the equation.
Now the field lies at the intersection of several high-tech trends, which finally appear to have reached a level of maturity and sophistication that they lacked in the past. As demonstrated at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in January in Las Vegas, many of the products now on the market represent a big step up from what was possible before.
The home automation arena is expected to be one of the largest tech growth sectors for the next five years. The website Statista has compiled some of the market statistics. Currently, Americans spend an average of $350 per year on smart home devices and services. At the beginning of 2017, 32.5 percent of US homes had voice-activated smart devices. That number is expected to double by 2021. Reports estimate that a total of $14.649 million in revenue can be expected for smart home products before the end of 2017.
At the heart of the newest “smart” goods are improvements in speech recognition technology. They enable a more natural interface than touchscreens or keypads and are widely deployed in today’s digital assistants, like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. This is important because a new study from Coldwell Banker shows that 72 percent of Americans want to use voice control to interact with their smart home equipment. Perhaps they’ve become familiar with this means of operating their gadgets after trying it out with their cellphones. Parks Associates has found that 39 percent of those with smartphones use voice recognition technology.
While computer hardware and software providers were the initial leaders in popularizing voice-enabled digital assistants, the crown now sits atop the head of e-retailer Amazon. Its Echo speaker and Alexa assistant have proven especially popular with the public, selling more than 5 million units since introduction in 2014. What makes the Echo so enviable is that it’s designed to play nicely with other automated home equipment, offering users a single platform from which they can access all their smart devices. Moreover, Amazon has opened the architecture up to third-party developers, who have released thousands of “skills” for Alexa, expanding “her” capabilities. With a large installed user base and the ability to add more features going forward, Amazon is a key player to watch in 2017 and beyond.
Voice recognition systems use advanced artificial intelligence principles to try to understand what users want based on conversational context cues and the history of previous commands. AI has evolved to the point where it’s capable of using sophisticated algorithms and vast troves of data to communicate and solve problems. In software like the Vivint Sky app, an algorithmically-driven agent is able to ask the user questions and thereby learn his or her behavioral patterns. For homeowners and business professionals alike, this type of AI will soon add a layer of functionality and intelligence to connected devices that enhances all aspects of everyday life. In fact, Gartner analysts estimate that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.
Now that cloud computing allows thousands or millions of devices to communicate with each other, they can share their data and experiences to act even smarter than when they first came out of the box. Gartner Research foresees more than 20 billion devices connected through the IoT by 2020. This much quantity becomes itself a kind of quality as large databases of data empower cutting-edge analysis and learning protocols.
Security cameras are some of the electronic systems that stand to benefit the most from advances in artificial intelligence. Several models shown at CES incorporate facial recognition features, allowing them to differentiate between residents and intruders. The momentum this year is toward combining multiple elements into one camera, like integration with lighting systems and motion sensors. Anything that allows a camera to better focus in on and capture events as they unfold has applications in security monitoring. 360-degree fields of view are another compelling reason to invest in the current crop of all-knowing surveillance cameras.
Smart lights mean no more stumbling around in the dark. Bulbs from Lifx produce normal, visible illumination as well as infrared light, which allows cameras to see clearly even at nighttime. Other units contain motion detectors so that your outdoor lights will brighten if you’re moving around your property. Smart thermostats meanwhile keep tabs on the home environment, tracking and informing users of temperature, humidity, air quality and other metrics that contribute to human comfort and well-being. Although there’s little hard data yet on just how effective smart thermostats are, findings seem promising – residents who use them report energy savings of approximately $135 per year.
The best innovations from multiple areas of research are coming together to make the smart home dream a reality. This fact is perhaps nowhere as evident as it is at major trade shows, like the 2017 CES. After reviewing the exciting innovations on display, it becomes clearer than ever before that home automation systems and products will continue to grow significantly in popularity, flexibility, and convenience.