The invisible revolution: smart homes and smart offices need hardly any switches any more.

The Smart Revolution

Products for the smart home have never been cheaper, safer, more efficient and reliable. 2017 might just turn out to be the year in which the technological upgrading of private homes prevails on the market and some new standards are set.
by Florian Heilmeyer | 1/12/2017

The dream of the smart home goes as follows: While I am still asleep, my house is already slowly preparing for the day. It heats up the floors and the water before gently waking me up with soft music from the surround speakers installed in my bedroom and quietly raising the blinds to let in the morning sun. While I wash and get dressed, my home reads me the latest information: news from across the world published by my favored media outlets, the most recent comments left by my friends on social media as well as the current weather report. When I walk into the kitchen my favorite coffee is already freshly brewed and my fridge has finished preparing the shopping list, which I merely have to confirm. As I leave the house, the doors open and close of their own accord, my home’s camera eyes follow me with a soft hum – my home might even breathe a gentle “so long!” on my parting, before the vacuuming robots and the automatic irrigation system in the garden begin their work.

All smart home functions can be controlled directly from a Touchscreen.

This sounds great and indeed smart home technology promises nothing less than a revolution in home living: more comfort, more safety, more fun and maybe even a certain sense of luxury. Yet the technological innovations have long since left the luxury segment of the market behind. Indeed, many smart home solutions are now being offered for mid-level and small budgets and are geared in particular at smaller properties such as simple one-family homes, retail stores or smaller offices. At BAU 2017 in Munich, the “world’s leading trade fair” for the “future of building,” which will open its gates from January 16 through to 21, 2017, the smart home will be one of the key topics in the single-family homes section in particular.

As attractive as the dream of comfortable “new living” supported by technology sounds, the sales figures consistently lag behind the expectations of manufacturers and industry. Dr. Wolfgang Neubarth, responsible for consumer research at market research institute GfK, provided an assessment: “Smart home technology is not selling anywhere near as well as it could be, despite technical standards having been established and consumer-relevant products being on the market. There is great potential, but there is a catch somewhere.” A great deal of interest did exist, as the number of inquiries showed, but in the end this interest very seldom led to actual acquisitions. While smart systems have been adopted for larger properties, office and factory complexes for a fairly long time now, the target group of private home builders thus far remains somewhat skeptical.

New standards, new prices

Up until now, this was due on the one hand to the purchase costs of such systems. These have only recently fallen far enough for there to be a range of suitable system solutions and building blocks for an incremental introduction to the smart home. Then the private home no longer has to do everything straight away, but can instead be gradually updated according to its inhabitant’s individual needs. If the users are then satisfied that they can trust their automatic heating and ventilation management (and even save energy costs when it is in operation) they might be ready for the next steps: an automatic irrigation system for the garden, pre-programmed room atmospheres, presence simulation for the next vacation or access control that can also be operated whilst on the go, by smartphone. The many building blocks for smart home solutions and the competition between manufacturers have now made many solutions reliable and easy to implement.

This is also helped by the fact that the KNX standard has become widely accepted by the market in recent years. Over 400 firms worldwide now equip their products with this open standard, allowing for the synchronization of diverse devices and applications to be carried out even across brands with hardly any problems. This means that smart home owners are no longer tied to individual manufacturers’ systems, but are instead able to choose more freely and combine modules according to their own needs.

In the bathroom, you can program different scenarios: light, music and the shower change at the press of a button.

The new wealth of products and possible choices has led to a new trend in the server and system solutions offered, namely towards simplification and reduction. The modular expandability and the combination of a variety of systems had led to a continually growing number of functions available for many control centers and their user interfaces, and in turn also to a complexity in terms of the possible programs and applications that was difficult for users to manage, and even for many expert planners and electricians. This is why for some time now many products have been created that offer easy-to-understand solutions that are both attractive and comprehensible in their use of illustrations and which allow all KNX devices to be combined with relative ease, offering a range of intelligent routines and scenarios.

Facing the skepticism of potential buyers is a further important matter. Along with ease of use when it comes to the technologically comfort-enhanced private home, this concerns primarily the security of both private data and the users’ property. As recently as November 2016, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung carried out extensive research and found that many webcams in offices, stores or even private living rooms and bedrooms, as well as numerous smart home and smart office systems were simply too easy to manipulate. Journalists without in-depth background knowledge were able to access data, image transmission and systems, most often directly via the Internet.

Using and programming the smart home functions is kept as simple and direct as possible, improving safety into the bargain.

The concern that smart homes might also offer new job opportunities for smart robbers is then certainly not unfounded. However, many suppliers had already reacted to these risks before the Süddeutsche Zeitung report was published, fitting out their systems with the kinds of security and ciphering systems that many skeptics have long since accepted as secure data transmission methods for online banking or Internet shopping.

And so 2017 could indeed turn into a good year for the smart home technologies, which evidently have, for the most part, left their infancy and the experimental stage of early adopters behind. In 2017 a smart home is neither science fiction nor a dream attainable only by the affluent or those who have enough technical knowhow to install and program the technological equipment in their private homes entirely by themselves, if need be. Instead, it is slowly turning into a more affordable, more secure and more comfortable standard – which just might revolutionize the way in which our homes respond to us and our needs.