Summary:

Ahead of our Mobilize event Oct. 16 and 17, we asked experts how 50 billion connected devices and 6 billion people change their industries. In this essay SmartThings’ Alex Hawkinson details the programmable home of the future.

SmartThings CEO and co-founder Alex Hawkinson
photo: SmartThings

In the near future, it will be possible to communicate with nearly every device in your home. More importantly the value people will get from communicating with these previously dumb, lifeless things will far outweigh the costs of learning their language. They will be able to capture data, communicate vital information to us that we wouldn’t otherwise know and even act when different events take place.

And when enough of these devices are connected to the Internet, we will be able to choreograph them to work together based on our specific needs. While many people have labeled this forthcoming revolution the “internet of things,” a more accurate description is the “programmable world.”

Connected HomeThis wave of technology will wash over us and have an impact on every object that is tied to security, safety, energy use and convenience. Your home will start thinking and be able to detect the presence of people, pets, cars, smoke, humidity, moisture, lighting, temperature, vibration, angle, and movement. Objects will get to know you and start learning your habits.

The programmable world is in its very early stages but it’s gathering strength. Its inevitability is being driven by three complementary trends: first and foremost, the smartphone revolution; second, improved standards for low-power, inexpensive and highly reliable wireless communications; and finally, ever-decreasing barriers to invention due to increased automation of manufacturing technologies.

These three forces are converging to create a tipping point that will lead to mass penetration of connected devices in homes during the next ten years.

Building homes aware of their owners

Many of the secondary implications of massive technology waves are unpredictable, but we are able to see the core impact of the programmable world will have on our homes and lives.

mobilize-2013-essayFirst, we will have total knowledge and control of our homes in the palms of our hands – anywhere in the world. Just as we now check our email on our phones, we will soon be able to use our smartphones or tablets to control all of the lights, appliances, locks, and thermostats in our homes. We will know who is home, what’s happening in certain rooms and whether there are potential dangers like unexpected movement when we’re not there. This last point is a big one.

Consider that, according to a recent Forbes article , only 16 percent of households have a security system despite 85 percent of consumers wanting one. Making it easier for anyone to monitor and control their homes from a distance will have massive implications. Future home monitoring technologies will not only be more reasonably priced and more compatible with other platforms than today’s security systems; they will also be able to prevent potential risks from becoming disasters – both in and outside our homes.

Shop-SmartThings-List-OnScreenSmart systems will be able to automatically call the police when intruders are detected. They could also send you immediate alerts when leaks are detected, when valuable items move, or when the kids try to access off-limits cabinets or areas of the house. The programmable world won’t just make our homes smarter; it will make them more secure.

Second, the everyday objects and things we know so well will get to know us, too. Lights will know just how bright you like our bedroom when you’re waking up. The coffee maker will know when you’re in the shower so it can start brewing your morning cup just the way you like it. And the dog’s collar won’t just know what time you leave for work each day, but also it could remind you to feed Barkley if you reach for the door before filling his bowl.

Programmable houses create greener worlds

The intuitive, intelligent home has led many to equate the programmable world as offering a sort of Jetsons-style convenience, but it also offers a far more meaningful possibility: widespread energy conservation.

It’s long been established we can reduce up to 30 percent of energy emissions simply by turning household electronics, appliances, and heating and cooling systems on when we need them and off when we’re finished with them. While energy conservation has been championed for more than 20 years now, there’s a disconnect between knowledge and action – bad habits are simply hard to break.

EnergyHubthermostat

We could clone dozens of miniature Al Gores and install them inside our homes’ electrical wiring to remind us to save the planet and conserve money on our energy bills. Or we could create a smarter energy environment. For instance, outlets automatically could power down when the iPhone is fully charged. Rooms could adjust their temperature when we leave the house, lights could shut themselves off when we move to the next room, and appliances could go to sleep when they’re not in use.

In addition to facilitating green living, smart homes will also develop a sixth sense that allows them to nudge us when routine home repairs are needed. In doing so, it will transform much of the service industry from one previously responding to damage to one based on prevention. Excess water in the basement will trigger an alert with a list of local plumbers who can arrive in time to prevent a flood. The HVAC system will let us know when it’s due for a checkup. After a heavy storm our roof might alert us that the 15 inches of snow that just got dumped on it needs to be cleared now.

Home security versus online privacy

Connecting more everyday devices to the internet and making them programmable will significantly increase the amount of private information that is online. The idea of a home that can know who is around and who isn’t, that can learn your habits and can unlock your doors, may lead many people to be concerned about the privacy implications of the programmable world.

But the security rewards will outweigh the security risks as long as the companies and regulatory bodies involved accept, promote and enforce the following three tenets.

  • First, all of the data coming from, or derived in any way, from the connected devices in your life should be your data. You, as a consumer, should be in control of it, able to delete it, back it up, or control access to it.
  • Second, since that data is yours, you have the option of sharing it – and sharing it needs to be done very explicitly, for a specific purpose and in a specific context. This kind of contextual sharing will be key to the success of the programmable world because it will define an enforceable contract that says exactly what a third-party can or cannot do with your data.
  • Third, we need to apply industry standards and best practices with respect to security. That means things like requiring in-transit encryption on all data, in-place encryption on all Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and ensuring best-practice approaches to identification, authorization and a whole host of other functional areas that will collaborate to ensure data security and privacy.

We need enough regulatory oversight to ensure minimum protections are met, but not so much as to stifle innovation in an industry that is still nascent.

Smart homes can be fun homes, too

Finally, just as the smartphone revolution brought us GIFs, Amazon.com and flashmobs, this latest revolution is destined to inspire us to create a mixture of practical, genius and fun. We already have reminders that can save lives by alerting senior citizens to take vital medicine if they’ve forgotten to do so, and we could build bartending creations that automatically pour us a shot of Jim Beam when we get home from work.

SmartHomeThe same user who finds value in knowing exactly when his child arrives home from school each day may also love it when his home’s lights flash whenever he gets a new Twitter follower. Your home doesn’t just have to send you a generic alert when the Redskins game is about to start – it could blast the theme song to Madden NFL through your stereo 10 minutes before kickoff.

The positive commercial and social potential of the programmable world is simply too widespread to ignore. More secure homes could lead to overall crime reduction in cities. Improved technology and automation has historically yielded greater efficiency. Lower energy usage reduces our carbon footprint and helps fight climate change. Better care of kids and senior citizens results in their greater overall independence and a higher quality of life.

The world is finally starting to wake up, and this revolution is starting inside our homes.

Alex Hawkinson is co-founder and CEO of SmartThings, a company connecting our homes and surroundings to the internet of things. Hawkinson will be making his case for a programmable world at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco Oct. 16.

Connected home graphic courtesy of Shutterstock user alexmillos; Winter home image courtesy of  Flickr user Moyan_Brenn

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