What is a Smart Home?
A smart home is a house which is equipped with connected devices that can be programmed and controlled remotely via a smartphone or computer. For example, a smart home enables remote control of lighting, temperature, multi-media, security, window and doors, and many other functions.
The most common smart devices include:
- Power controls (switches and smart plugs)
- Energy monitors
- Security (locks and cameras)
- Home entertainment systems
All you need is a smartphone, a reliable internet connection and some smart devices, and you can start to automate tasks and use your voice to control your home, even when you’re not there.
In 2003, the UK Department of Trade and Industry defined a smart home as:
A dwelling incorporating a communications network that connects the key electrical appliances and services, and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored or accessed.
What does a Smart Homes do?
Smart homes use home automation technologies to provide home owners with feedback and information by monitoring aspects of the home and providing smart, programmable controls. For example, a smart refrigerator may be able to catalogue its contents, suggest menus, recommend healthy alternatives, and order replacements as food is used up. Smart devices can even take care of feeding the cat and watering the plants, even when the owner is not at home.
Smart technologies offer opportunities to improve the way we live and work, and to increase energy saving at the same time. You can check who’s at the front door, close the windows, operate lights and curtains and monitor how much energy your home is using – and generating – through your smart phone, from anywhere in the world.
Benefits of smart home technology
- Remote monitoring – Smart devices enable real-time monitoring when you’re away from home, providing useful data and increased security.
- Interconnectivity – linking devices can improve their functionality and enable them to work together to deliver coordinated results.
- Safety – Smart devices can trigger alerts when certain events happen, improving the safety of the home.
- Fault detection – Smart devices can monitor your home for leaks and flooding and provide real-time alerts to avoid costly damage.
- Motion detection – By activating only when motion is detected, this technology saves time, battery life, memory, storage, and energy.
- Security – By linking motion detection, cameras, alarms and security services smart technology provides increased home security.
- Energy saving – Smart devices can educate users about the home’s energy consumption and production from renewables, helping to increase efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and costs.
- Customisation – Smart devices can be programmed to the home owners preferences so that a range of settings can be activated by a single tap on a phone.
- Intelligent controls – As well as being able to control devices with your voice, some devices can be triggered by specific conditions, avoiding the need for user input. For example, the amount of sunlight can effect a plant or lawn watering schedule.
- Well being – Adding cameras, alert buttons and communication technologies can make homes safer for elderly people and providing support easier for others.
How does a Smart Home work?
Smart homes used to require dedicated wiring but these days everything is wireless, and most smart devices can be connected directly over WiFi.
Until recently, the most common protocols were Z-Wave and Zigbee but the proliferation of WiFi, and cloud-based computing power – to access features like voice control – has made smart technology available to the mass market.
However, WiFi is not without it’s limitations and connoisseurs prefer the features of dedicated communications protocols such as Z-Wave, Zigbee (60 ft range) or Z-Wave (500 ft range), Thread and the soon-to-be-released, Matter.
It may not quite be a household name yet but Thread is starting to gain momentum with companies like Apple, Google, Nanoleaf and Eve. Thread’s technology isn’t reliant on a home internet connection or WiFi – it provides its own dedicated mesh network. So, instead of every device connecting with one access point, each Thread-enabled device acts as a mini-hub.
Thread offers a number of benefits including faster response times, improved reliability and better security – all while consuming less power because Thread takes advantage of the efficient IEEE 802.15.4 MAC/PHY protocol, which is more efficient than WiFi.
More and more devices are incorporating Thread capabilities including the Apple HomePod Mini, Google Nest Hub Max, the Eve Energy and Eve Aqua.
Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth have all tried and failed to become the primary protocol of the smart home. But none have gained enough traction or offered enough flexibility to win – and this is where Matter come in.
Matter is an open-source connectivity standard, created by over 400 companies, that connects Thread, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ethernet to allow all your devices to communicate with each other locally, without the need for a cloud. Matter is being coordinated by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly the Zigbee Alliance), which includes Amazon, Apple, Google / Nest, Samsung, Wyze, iRobot, Signify (Philips Hue), Ecobee, and hundreds of other technology brands. Hopefully, it will bring an end to the ‘protocol wars’ that have plagued smart home interoperability and improve usability and accessibility for everyone – making all our homes smarter.