Too often, the fact that a technology merely exists drives the direction of implementation, rather than focusing on developing technologies in response to real and important human needs. This has often been the case for the “smart home” in its various stages of automation and intelligence. What would a “smarter home” look like if we more closely consider the interrelated nature of the technologies it requires versus looking at each in isolation? And what if we thought about those technologies in relationship to some of the most important social, economic and environmental needs of our time?
Three important categories of technology are deeply interconnected in creating the “smarter home” future. Each is connected to an important social trend.
Connectivity is the basic building block of the smarter home. It is what enables the home to become like an invisible and always-adapting computer linked to an increasingly valuable data- and energy-hungry ecosystem of smart devices. But not all communities have been treated equitably in the connectivity story to date. Some gaps result from infrastructure inefficiency that can be addressed by new technologies, such as 5G, while other inequities that originate in policies and attitudes, internet deserts, and data divides are real limitations to a future of equality and opportunity in smarter cities and homes.
5G can be a transformative technology for connecting the smarter home with fast bandwidth and reduced latency in a wire-free setting, with greater energy efficiency and ease and economy of installation. Wireless power is an important complementary technology to 5G because it removes the time, cost and location barriers of wired approaches. To solve the last 100 feet challenge of bandwidth distribution in a 5G network, outside access units or 5G base stations are deployed on utility poles or rooftops in close proximity to the passing fiber backhaul. This creates an area that can be covered by the network. Individual homes then use 5G customer premise equipment (similar to a cable modem) to connect online. Making these hardware devices as energy efficient as possible is important.
2. Increasingly Invisible And Intelligent Technology
• Intelligent access and interaction through AI, voice and other forms of recognition: We may soon be moving from an era of the smart home environment that has been primarily transactional (“order X”) to one driven by the fulfillment of deeper human needs around well-being, relevance and meaning. Much of this will be enabled by the marriage of advances in voice (and facial recognition) and AI, hardware advances in semiconductors that enable more accurate voice processing, and biometrics that serve as an automatic interface through human sensing and recognition. Attaching these increasingly intelligent and “invisible” devices to power will become more challenging than it already is. They will need to be placed in nontraditional locations (which may be far from power outlets) so the home can actually learn about its occupants and eventually even anticipate their needs.
• Power access and efficiency for devices: Smart devices have two needs in common: connectivity and power. Today, there are two limiting solutions to devices’ need for reliable power: disposable batteries that enable placement virtually anywhere but require frequent checking and replacement, and wired power that is reliable but limits placement and aesthetics. The real solution for a smarter home is wireless power. By sending power to a small receiver embedded in a device via a transmitter that can be plugged into a wall socket in another part of the room, devices in a wireless power environment receive the energy they need inside or outside the home.
3. Energy Access And Efficiency
Smarter homes and communities will have diminished value and relevance if the energy their devices require is unreliable and if its production results in electricity replacing fossil fuels as the new global polluter. Extreme weather, more frequent emergency conditions (wildfires) and questionable peak demand reliability during temperature extremes are driving individuals and neighborhoods to take increasing responsibility for power access and resiliency. Both distributed energy resource systems (DERs) for the generation and transmission of power, as well as new forms of energy storage systems (ESS), will be as important as the smart devices and networks they power.
DERs have been growing in popularity while their prices have been falling. More energy dense and less expensive batteries, along with hardware technology that enables efficiency gains, is resulting in the design of ESS with greater practical appeal.
The smarter ESSs and DERs of the near future will provide not only greater efficiency, but also intelligent energy management by using sensors and AI to regulate power storage and use. These systems will know when to use and when to be aggressive about saving energy.
Connecting Tech With Trends
Some of the important social, economic and environmental trends that should impact the way those in the technology industry think about the smarter home include:
• Housing: Disruptions to traditional means of employment impacting where we live and how a home is used, along with changes in affordability and availability in certain markets.
• Environment and energy: Impacts from energy demand in an increasingly “electrified” world colliding with climate change driving energy delivery disruptions.
• Healthcare: Increased interest and need for greater self-monitoring and less reliance on institutional solutions.
What does this mean for the smarter home? Reliable high-speed internet access and distribution throughout the home is a must have for work at home. Intelligent personal care/healthcare technology gains equal importance to voice-enabled speakers. And personal energy resiliency grows in importance, while increased demand for energy production cannot lead to increased CO2 levels.
The Case For The Smarter Home
Smarter homes and communities are being driven by technology advances in hardware and AI, as well as by significant environmental, social and economic changes at both individual and systemic levels. 5G networks, more intelligent and invisible devices, and new technologies of energy generation and efficiency will all need to work together to make the future of smarter homes one that is possible and accessible for all.