Cleantech Market Intelligence
Internet of Things Reaches the Smart Home
In the last several years, a lot of online buzz has promoted the Internet of Things (IoT), much of it centered on connecting more devices in the home, with a particular emphasis on enhancing energy efficiency.
And nothing gets the blogosphere more amped up than an announcement from Apple, which unveiled its HomeKit home automation software framework during its latest annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. HomeKit is the underlying technology that will enable users to connect in-home devices like light bulbs, appliances, and thermostats with iPhones and iPads.
Apple aside, there are other significant developments surrounding the IoT and smarter homes. For instance, the Consumer Electronics Association recently approved a new standard (CEA-2047/CE-Energy Usage Information) that would give users a more detailed picture of device-specific energy consumption. Though not mandatory for CE device makers, the new standard sets up a framework for manufacturers to provide energy consumption data that could be fed to an energy management system or to an application and present it to consumers on TVs, PCs, or mobile devices. In essence, the standard enables devices to be energy self-aware and share that energy data with other devices. The new standard is also compatible with the Green Button initiative, an industry-led move to provide utility customers easier access to their energy consumption data.
Not all of the action in this field is in the United States. In Europe, energy provider Vattenfall has partnered with Deutsche Telekom (DT) to offer a new smart home software platform to its customers for controlling their lighting, heating, and appliances from PCs, smartphones, or tablet devices. The platform, developed by German startup GreenPocket, is already used as the basis for a home automation and security system called Qivicon that DT sells to its customers. DT, which controls mobile carrier T-Mobile USA, has plans to bring the Qivicon product to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Still a Few Glitches in the System
Clearly, the IoT has begun to move beyond early concept to actual in-home devices and systems that provide automation and energy efficiency. Machine-to-machine activity working in the background is a reality. My own experience with connected devices, though, has been somewhat underwhelming. I have a Nest thermostat, and I’ve installed a few Philips Hue LED light bulbs that can be controlled from my smartphone. While the Hue bulbs are cool and all, they aren’t all that great. The original software was awful, and the third-party app I bought isn’t much better. The thermostat works fine, but the energy savings have been elusive, as I’ve previously mentioned. Plus there are downsides to a more connected home, as The New York Times’ Nick Bilton pointed out in his piece on the dark side of IoT. And even simple problems expose the weaknesses in the system; my wireless router was replaced recently, and for a time the thermostat was offline until I set up the new WPA2 passcode. Not a big problem in the warmer days of spring, but what if there is an outage during a cold snap or while we’re away on vacation?
So, while the geek inside me longs to embrace this move to the IoT and the greater efficiency, the reality is we are only at the quarter-mile mark into a marathon, and there will be more bumps along this road.