Navigant Research Blog

Speed Bumps on the Road to the Smarter Home

— August 20, 2015

While more smart home technology keeps rolling out from manufacturers, some of the targeted customers are finding the systems do not always satisfy their expectations or have shortcomings. This was pointed out recently in a Wall Street Journal piece that noted the downsides of the latest systems that control lighting, door locks, and thermostats, among other things.

Not Worth the Trouble?

One of those people is a professor of mechanical engineering who is also head of the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute at UC Berkeley. He received a smart thermostat as a gift, but has yet to install it because it wasn’t worth the trouble, according to the story. Another is a tech-savvy contractor who finds his smart home control system is too complicated, particularly when things go wrong. He now tells his own clients to avoid automated systems.

These are anecdotal examples, to be sure, and may not reflect the experiences of satisfied smart home technology customers. But these stories do highlight some of the barriers to smart home technology adoption and the related Internet of Things (IoT) trend, which has gripped many in the high-tech, home automation, and energy sectors. These barriers (as noted in Navigant Research’s IoT for Residential Customers report) include complexity, pricing, and data security.

Moreover, a Bluetooth Special Interest Group survey released earlier this year underscored what consumers consider as key factors in deciding what to purchase. More than half of the survey respondents (54%) said smart home solutions need to be straightforward to use and 41% said they should be easy to set up; 4 in 10 of the respondents (42%) said offering products at competitive prices is important; and an equal number (42%) said keeping their data secure is essential.

Too Complex

While conducting research into IoT trends, many of the vendors and stakeholders I spoke with mentioned complexity as a barrier for smart home tech adoption. It is an age old problem: How to solve thorny problems, like increasing energy efficiency in a home, with improved products that don’t require the consumer to do too much? In other words, bring the benefits but hide the complexity.

Some manufacturers have done this. And despite the professor mentioned above who has yet to bother with his, smart thermostats from Nest, Honeywell, and ecobee (to name just a few) can boost efficiency without sacrificing comfort and without too difficult a setup. They aren’t perfect answers, of course, and tend to be more expensive than common offerings. But other hardware and solutions providers should take note: It is possible to conceal the complexity behind smart home devices. And it should be a top priority in designing solutions, especially when even geeks among us are reluctant to engage.

 

The Internet of Things Invades Garbage Cans

— July 20, 2015

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a trend that is seeing a lot of recent attention in the residential, utility, and the commercial and industrial (C&I) spaces. Through home automation, the IoT can make consumers’ lives easier and more efficient. Meanwhile, it’s allowing utilities to increase equipment effectiveness, reduce cost of compliance, enable real-time decisions in demand response (DR) events, and improve customer experiences. The IoT can also help C&I  businesses heighten asset performance, mitigate supply chain risks, and ensure product quality and consistency. 

Now, the IoT is hoping to make life easier in the Big Apple, specifically in New York’s Times Square. But the IoT isn’t on Broadway or the big screens (yet). Instead, it’s been finding use in one of the most humble, overlooked, and under-appreciated parts of New York City—in garbage cans. Bigbelly, a waste management company offering unique solutions for public spaces by leveraging solar energy and information technology, is applying for a grant from the Mayor’s Office to install Wi-Fi garbage cans in underserved neighborhoods.

Bigbelly’s garbage cans were smart before the company added Wi-Fi to them, as they are solar powered, have sensors to detect how full and smelly they are, notify trash collectors when it’s time to empty them, and some can automatically compact trash when the cans become too full. Now, with enough bandwidth to run a small business, upload 200 pictures in 27 seconds, or download an HD movie in 9 minutes, these garbage cans are becoming even smarter—and more valuable. While the Wi-Fi upgrade is certainly a big benefit, these IoT containers can provide priceless waste management and operations data, or even display public service announcement and alerts.

More to the Market

Bigbelly is not the only company expanding the IoT into public spaces and garbage cans. The city of Santander, Spain, with a population of 185,000 people, participated in a pilot project sponsored by the European Union to test sensor network technologies and other aspects of the IoT on a city scale. Over the course of the project, roughly 12,000 sensors were deployed around the city, measuring parking spaces, the amount of trash in garbage cans, traffic flow, carbon monoxide levels, and pedestrian traffic. The $9.6 million project resulted in a 25% cut in energy costs and a 20% reduction in garbage pickup costs, effectively helping the city of Santander manage some of its expenses.

In Panama City, an advertising agency partnered with Telemetro, a local news agency, to enable potholes across the city to tweet to the government for maintenance. El Hueco Twitero (The Tweeting Pothole) has Tweeted messages like, “I feel horrible, I just caused tire damage to an old lady’s car. @MOPDePanama [the Twitter account for Panama’s Ministry of Public Works], See what you made me do.” This strategy effectively annoyed the city government until it began fixing potholes.

While the IoT is still a relatively new concept for consumers that is still working to gain traction, it is beginning to have a farther reach. From residential thermostats and commercial lighting to potholes in Panama and garbage cans in New York City, this can only leave me wondering where to next.

 

Google Enters IoT World, Again

— June 18, 2015

The Internet of Things (IoT)—a much hyped, though somewhat ambiguous, concept about interconnecting devices to create a system of systems for user convenience and detailed in Navigant Research’s IoT (Internet of Things) for Residential Customers report—is not a new concept.

For years, IoT products have been available to consumers, including smart thermostats, smart meters, connected LED bulbs, and more. Today, the IoT is being implemented by big names like AT&T, ADT, and Apple. Finally, one of the largest and most well-known multinational technology companies in the world is joining the race—Google.

In late May, Google unveiled its new IoT platform, Brillo, at the company’s annual developer event, Google I/O. Brillo is an operating system that manages connected devices, streamlined specifically for use in objects other than smartphones and tablets, which allows the user to create a true IoT smart home.

Brillo is based on Google’s existing Android operating system, which is important for integration with already existing Google technologies, like Google Now voice recognition. Brillo will be paired with Google’s newly created IoT language called Weave. Weave is a communications layer, enabling devices to talk with each other, the cloud, and Android-based smartphones. Google will make Brillo available to developers in 3Q 2015.

The Second Attempt

Brillo is not Google’s first attempt at entering the IoT world. In 2011, Google introduced Android@Home, a service designed to turn the user’s home into a network of Android accessories, using Android as the home’s operating system. Similar to Brillo, Android@Home was announced at a Google annual developer event 4 years ago. However, the Android@Home concept disappeared almost as quickly as it was introduced. Today, the digital landscape is much different, and consumers and developers more readily accept the concept of a connected lifestyle.

With a vast expanse of competition for creating interoperability in devices, it is unclear how Google’s Brillo and Weave will fair. Google has the kind of brand-name recognition that could turn this small, new concept into something very big—the kind of big that exists in nearly every home in America. The fact that Google is leveraging its Android platform also means immediate scalability, so many device manufacturers can use Brillo.

Challenges Ahead

However, there are already standard, protocol, and communication layers out there, and it is unclear how Brillo will interact with these. Take, for example, ZigBee. ZigBee is a communications standard operating on IEEE 802.15.4 that has been around for over a decade. ZigBee already exists in millions of connected products, such as sensors and lights, and the next version (ZigBee 3.0, set to be released in 4Q 2015) is designed to unify and make an entire system of connected devices easier to use. This means that consumers may end up with Brillo/Weave devices and ZigBee devices that cannot communicate—a problem that will likely take some time to resolve. Regardless, Google and its entry into the IoT world is something to keep an eye on for years to come.

 

The Information Reality behind the Intelligent Building

— June 9, 2015

Big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the buzz when it comes to intelligent buildings. A slew of vendors are tagging their solutions and coming to market with a message of cost-effective intelligence that will redefine how we live and work in buildings.  But are we ready?

In mid-May, I attended Haystack Connect, an event that brought together a vibrant vendor community tackling the reality of the development of the intelligent building.  The panels and conversations circled on a vision for open-source data modelling via Project Haystack. According to Project Haystack’s website, the project is an open source initiative to streamline working with data from the IoT and to standardize semantic data models and web services with the goal of making it easier to unlock value from the vast quantity of data being generated by the smart devices that permeate our homes, buildings, factories, and cities. The applications the project focuses on include automation, control, energy, HVAC, lighting, and other environmental systems.

Two lessons learned: First off, big data is a marketing tagline, but building owners want to know what it does for them. Second, the IoT can generate a whole lot of information, but the key is accuracy and action.

Big Data: More Isn’t Necessarily Better

The demand for intelligence is ubiquitous, from smartphones to smart watches, and the notion of data-driven decision-making is helping to accelerate customer demand for smart buildings. Getting the data from large existing buildings and making sense of what it means across an enterprise is no small feat. As one speaker put it, “This problem is not the domain of the data scientist.”  In other words, there is building technology and engineering expertise that has to be a part of the equation. In the Project Haystack world, this is about cleaning and processing system information with consistent approaches via tags that speak the same language. Without common naming, analytics can hit a wall.

The Promise of Data Granularity

The trajectory for device connectivity is impressive, and underlying the evolution in technology adoption is the maturation of cost-effective tools that make actionable building intelligence accessible to an ever-growing audience.  Wireless sensors and controllers can not only add granularity to the assessment of building performance, but also open the door to smaller facilities that have been out of reach for the legacy building controls industry.  The exposure of new applications to a wider audience is a critical step in the process of market maturation for smart buildings. As these solutions become adopted across customer segments, market awareness and business value will only increase.

 

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