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The unwired smart home

One of the funny things about the smart home is that it’s giving rise to hundreds of new consumer electronics devices after a decade of seeing the number of gadgets get smaller. Remember when you needed a pedometer, camera, flashlight, travel alarm clock, eReader, portable DVD player/display, etc? Oh right, now all those things are on your phone. What do they sell at Brookstone these days?

But when it comes to the home, building hardware gadgets is the new black. Want to connect a door lock or a thermostat or a camera? Many startups are now happy to do all that for you in stand alone smart devices. And one of the issues involved with all of these devices is power. In fact, one could say that an overarching issue with all of IoT is how to find a low power way to not just connect devices but sensors.

Gigaom’s Signe Brewster reports from Highway1 Demo Day in which the focus was on devices that didn’t need to plug in. There were connected home devices that tracked water usage, snapped photos whenever someone rings your front door, and a water monitor for fish tanks. All required recharging every 6 to 12 months, which is the average time I’m seeing product developers eye as acceptable to consumers (most of the smart locks hitting the market right now all require recharging about every year or sooner).

In terms of energy usage, no factor has been more important than power drain in communications chips and wireless networking. The smart home is giving Bluetooth a renaissance as Bluetooth Low Energy has proved an unexpected hit because of its low power characteristics. On the flip side WiFi is proving untenable in the home (and probably the broader IoT) as its power hungry ways won’t cut it. Though before you count WiFi out consider that Low-power WiFi will make a play sooner rather than later.

So we’re going to get more connected gadgets that will need to be streamlined and well integrated onto existing mobile platforms, not to mention that they’ll need to figure out ways to last for years between charges or become wired into the home. Now for that battery break through.