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The Once and Future Smart Home: Get Ready for Technology at Your Fingertips

It’s Not Disney’s Smart House Anymore—It’s Your Smart Home!



Remember the 1999 Disney movie Smart House, about a computerized home designed for the specific purpose of making life easier for a family? Everyone knows the mishaps that follow the Cooper Family—until “Pat” the Smart House is reprogrammed to discharge her original responsibilities.


Fast forward to 2015, and the Disney comedy is not quite so unreal any more, as the “smart home” has transcended just being a trend. It is now here to stay. 



Say Hello to the Smart Home and Its Integrated Systems


Very popular by 1998, home automation became trendy as more people learned about new technologies and began to understand their nuances. With more affordable prices for new gadgets, a smart home became a viable option. 


A luxurious two-story, three-bedroom contemporary-style home is wired for home automation technology. (Plan # 153-1808)  



Smart Home Integration


If you have or want a smart home, the objective is a connected and interactive place—so cue in the integrated security and audio-visual sound systems, wireless telecommunications and data systems, automated lights and electrical systems, and remote smartphone controls and video surveillance. The most current smart-home trend is to control appliances—refrigerators, washers/dryers, dishwashers, televisions, electronics—remotely or centrally from one device.  


Some new homes have also installed energy-monitoring equipment to track the amount of energy used in the home. Other high-tech features of a smart home may include room-to-room audio-video communication, smart locks, and smart thermostats. Much of this capability is made possible by a concept called “The Internet of Things,” and technology companies like Apple and Google are fueling the developments through research and development as well as acquisitions of existing technology companies.



The Internet of Things


The term “Internet of Things” was Coined by Kevin Ashton, a British high-tech entrepreneur who co-founded the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Auto-ID Center created, among other things, a global standard system for RFID (radio-frequency identification) and other sensors. The Internet of Things refers to the connectivity of devices, services, and systems through communicating data between the manufacturer, the user, and other connected devices. The “things” in relation to the home that can be controlled though the internet include smart locks, smart thermostat systems, washers and dryers, and other appliances and devices that use Wi-Fi for remote monitoring, including eventually complete home automation (used to control lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, appliances, and entertainment and security systems). For more on home security, click here.


Smart Locks


With almost everything inside the home controlled from an electronic device or a smartphone, why not the front and back doors as well? While most Americans still use the traditional locks to secure their homes, the smart-lock market is gaining momentum. And experts predict that by 2019 the global smart-lock market will grow from $261 million to $3.6 billion.


Automated door locks can be controlled with a smartphone or other electronic device. Most technology-savvy people are opting for smart locks that can be operated via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. These locks are easily installed on the inside of the door—unseen by visitors or idle passersby.


As of now, the smart-lock technology needs more refining, and security issues have to be resolved. But experts and proponents are optimistic that smart locks will eventually replace keys on key rings/chains and deadbolts. 


An automated smart lock can be installed inside the door of this two-story modern Florida-style house plan—and access is liely to be via a smartphone (Plan # 107-1015).



Smart Thermostats


As energy costs continue to soar and more homeowners are eager to curb their energy use, the production and sale of programmable thermostats has also seen an increase. With the smart thermostats, they can control temperatures in the home from any location using a smartphone. In addition to programmable thermostats, there are also zone-based ones that help conserve energy and save money. These smart thermostats use motion detectors and adjust temperatures as people enter and leave rooms. Much like the smart lock, the smart thermostat is another big step toward the development of a connected and interactive home.



With a zone-based thermostat, you can control the heat in the home office of this four-bedroom contemporary home from any location through a smartphone (Plan # 107-1015).



Nest, a start-up acquired by Google for approximately $3.2 billion in 2014, is a leader in smart thermostats deftly combining high tech with simplicity of use. This is part of Google’s strategy for gaining a foothold in the smart-home market: acquisitions. By acquiring start-ups that Google feels can play a important role in the marketplace with their products and/or technology, the company can have a presence in diverse areas without investing a fortune in research and development. The technology Google is focusing on is Wi-Fi. One of Google’s largest competitors, Apple, is taking a similar tack by acquiring start-ups it sees as attractive. In addition to Wi-Fi, Apple is focusing on Bluetooth as its technology of choice (for communication between Apple products in an interconnected “smart home”), setting up a classic battle between Google and Apple similar to the Sony Betamax versus JVC VHS showdown in the late-1970s war of video technology.



Early Domestic Technology


Think back to the early 1900s when the first electric appliances and the telephone were introduced in the American home. Dishwashers, ovens, washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, and other electric-powered gadgets were installed to assist with the work around the house and give the family more leisure time.


Then, as now, these household machines were most likely met with trepidation and skepticism; but eventually, they were embraced and appreciated. 


Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone (left), makes the first call to his assistant on March 10, 1876. On the right is the first dial telephone—the Strowger 11 digit Potbelly Dial Candlestick—invented by Almon Strowger of Kansas City. Strowger developed the first automated telephone switch out of electromagnets and hat pins. 


A photo of a 1914 kitchen (left) with the first electric appliances, including an electric water heater. On the right is one of the “slim angle TVs” from 1960.



On display is one of the earliest computer models



ECHO IV: The First Smart Machine


In 1966, an experimental computer for future home use was developed. Called ECHO IV (Electronic Computing Home Operator), this computer could store recipes, compute shopping lists, control the home’s temperature, and turn appliances on and off. It was considered the first smart machine—but was never marketed.


As advanced technology produced better and more sophisticated home gadgets, it was just a matter of time before the fantasies of a smart home became reality.



What’s Next?


The smart home is not only about high-tech gadgets and security. It is also about energy efficiency and a cleaner footprint. Equipped with tools that monitor energy and water consumption, the smart home provides opportunities for environmental responsibility.

And with other developments on the horizon, we can expect exciting things like smart tools for the kitchen, the tool shed, the laundry room, and every room in the house.  



Not exactly a James Bond gadget, this high-tech digital cutting board comes with a flat panel display with cooking instructions. Other models have built-in scales for healthy portion controls.



Yes, it’s a smart home—and while technology can be cold and robotic, don’t sacrifice style and appeal. Make your gadgets pleasing and attractive. After all, it’s your home!


Footnote: The lead image (upper) in this article is a two-story, four-bedroom modern house plan. For more details, view: (Plan # 116-1081)






June 17, 2015

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