User-Friendly Smart Home Technology is Key

The idea of being able to control your household appliances at the touch of a button is exciting, especially if it means saving time and money. But, for this to really work, manufacturers must devise technology that will interconnect all types of appliances from various vendors, simply and efficiently.
Published: Wed 26 Jun 2013

The smart home has much to offer both the home’s occupants as well as utility companies. As far as energy is concerned, the utility can optimize the delivery of power to homes and businesses and customers get to enjoy more control over their energy usage which will hopefully have a positive effect on their pockets at the end of the month. Smart technology is aimed at providing users a centralized control over just about any device in their home or office, from appliances to security systems. In addition, the technology includes robust asset-tracking, used to accurately track high-value equipment and vehicles. The implications for healthcare are extraordinary-medical staff and family members of the sick and elderly will be able to remotely monitor a patients' health around the clock.

While these smart appliances offer exciting prospects, the development of interconnecting technology that will assist the communication between the appliances and the smartphone or internet, is still in its infancy phase. The development of both wired and wireless networking technologies, to support the “smart” interconnection of household appliances face a number of challenges which engineers and manufacturers are attempting to overcome. Dana Myers, MCU platform marketing manager for Texas Instruments (TI), explains that the one major challenge is to develop a networking technology that will be easy for customers to install and utilize. She explains that consumers want the interconnection to be automatic, efficient and straightforward. It is also essential that the connection supports multiple technologies in order for it to meet customers’ needs and current trends. In response to these needs, Texas Instruments has created SmartConfig™ technology, a single step and once-off process to connect a CC3000-enabled device to the home wireless network. Considering applications that typically do not have a display or keyboard to enter Wi-Fi network name and password, SmartConfig technology allows end users to easily connect their CC3000-based devices to an access point. Through a simple SmartConfig technology interface, consumers can use an iOS or Android smartphone or home PC using a simple Web browser. According to TI, this technology will help customers avoid the multiple steps often required to configure a device onto the network. 

Manufacturers of household appliances are also left scratching their heads as they think about how to bring the Internet to their products. Household appliance manufacturers don’t have the Internet or engineering experience and they are often unable to afford the technology which ends up ballooning the price of their products. Manufacturers are being approached by a number of start up’s that offer the software and cloud service which will assist with making their products “smarter.”

As there are so many start-up’s and the technology is being improved all the time, many appliance manufacturers are holding back until a particular product, or company stands out in the crowd. The cost of making one’s appliance smarter can be extraordinary as some companies charge manufacturers an ongoing fee for the insertion of the device. Companies such as Ayla have recently decided to charge a once-off fee for including its technology in their appliances. According to the company, this is possible by ensuring that the appliances are highly efficient about the way they connect to Ayla’s cloud service. This would minimize its data center costs and allows manufacturers to price their connected appliances more aggressively. Smartphones and tablets act as the interface for network connection to Ayla’s device. The company estimates that a manufacturer’s cost to add Internet capabilities using its software and related hardware will be as low as US$10 per device. The company expects that figure to drop by 50% within a few years. 

With so many companies offering smart home connectivity solutions, end-users can become confused and frustrated with the large variety of products and services on offer. This could be one of the reasons why most consumers choose their telecom to install a smart home system. [Read Telecoms’ Smart-Home Race].  It’s going to take time for the industry to work out where all the pieces fit and how the various technologies will eventually interconnect. But as engineers and manufacturers continue to design “smart” devices, they need to remember the customers’ need for simplicity and speed. After all, isn’t that what the smart home is all about?

Engerati Analysis 

While the idea of controlling a household’s appliances from a smartphone or PC may seem straightforward, it’s essential that the interconnecting device is easy to configure. If the interconnection process is complex, the idea of a smart home may never be realized. It would be a dumb home, kitted out with smart appliances.