In 1941, the classic film How Green Was My Valley hit the silver screen. In 2022, the classic in the residential market seems to be How Green Is My Home? And how soon? Green houses are smart houses, and smart houses better be green.
The combination of technologies for monitoring and controlling the systems that constitute a smart house can also improve the environmental aspects of that building. In response to COVID-19, smart houses—especially new construction—should also be healthy houses. Innovations are showing a strong influence of the pandemic on smart home technology.
The “new normal” way of living focuses more on security, cleanliness, and health and it is most likely that potential homebuyers will also prioritize these same aspects with an emphasis on air and water purity, cleanliness, and safety. The modern smart home should also have areas that can be easily converted to a workspace, classroom, or other remote activity facility, if another pandemic lockdown hits.
Breaking down the smart part, home automation and smart homes are two ambiguous terms used in reference to a wide range of monitoring solutions, controlling, and automating functions in a home. Unlike simple home automation solutions (which could range from motor-operated garage doors to automated security systems), according to Mordor Intelligence, smart-home systems require a web portal or a smartphone application as a user interface to interact with an automated system.
The basic architecture of the smart home consists of three elements: sensors, controllers, and actuators. Combining the three allows the scheduling of tasks via programming the devices that control the activities desired and determining the triggers that will set the control in motion.
For example, sensors can detect changes in daylight, temperature, or movement. Controllers, which can be a mobile phone application, desktop software, or any web interface, then communicate with the device by using the internet.
Actuators can be light switches, motorized valves, or any function of the home automation system.
The most popular features in a smart house include:
- Voice-activated control
- Keyless entry
- Realtime text and email alerts
- Smart-alarm systems
- Connected lighting
- Advanced security system
- Remotely appliances control
- Fire and carbon monoxide monitoring
Looking at its report, Mordor Intelligence reveals the global smart-homes market was valued at $79.13 billion in 2021, and it is expected to soar to $313.95 billion by 2027. The increasing importance of security is anticipated to fuel the demand for smart and connected homes along with innovative wireless technologies, including security and access regulators, entertainment controls, and HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) controllers.
However, Harbor Research states that the platforms that are intended to inform ecosystems for the smart home are, in their words, “still a kludgy collection of yesterday’s architectures that do not address the most basic development challenges.” Although stories about connected homes are common, today’s fragmented collection of incomplete platforms, narrow point-solutions, and software incompatibility belies that scenario.
The first step toward the smart home, therefore, should be on the path to open systems. Since the earliest connecting protocol, X10 developed in the mid-1970s, smart-home technology has evolved into thousands of smart home devices, apps, and services that can cover every inch of a house. Appliances, door locks, security systems, even shower heads and beds can be integrated, and voice activated.
In a rare show of unity, Amazon, Google, Apple, Comcast, and Samsung teamed up with the Connectivity Standards Alliance to establish Matter, a group focused on creating and delivering an open, interoperable, secure connectivity standard for the IoT (Internet of Things) and smart-home technologies.
The Matter standard is trying to make sure devices from disparate companies using differing technologies (like Wi-Fi or Zigbee) could reliably work together using a royalty-free standard that makes it compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit, and Google’s Weave protocols. The final feature set and supported use cases (including smart light bulbs, video doorbells, door locks, smart speakers, and more) have been ratified by the Matter Working Group with software development kits expected in the market in 2022.
Still months from its completion, the Matter smart-home specification is already driving new products and strategies across the smart home market, reports ABI Research. With a host of major players, technology suppliers, and partners already pledged to delivering Matter compliant offerings, the specification could dominate the smart home landscape within five years.
This year more than one hundred million devices will ship supporting the specification and within five years more than half of the world’s key smart home devices will ship supporting Matter. Between 2022 and the end of the decade, more than 5.5 billion Matter compliant smart home devices will ship, according to ABI Research.
However, the specification sets a host of new demands across connectivity, interoperability, security, and marketing. Some aspects are already detailed while others remain in development. Smart home hardware vendors must assess the value and investment that Matter compliance requires, as well as the strategic impact on their place in the market.
During the last few years, the smart-home concept has become dominated by hubs such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit with other technology suppliers trying to either break up or break into these partnerships and ecosystems. To reach its full potential, there must be a shift from these “hub and spoke” ecosystems, with new devices randomly proliferating and connected to these hubs, to a more logical and orderly smart foundation organized around specific domains, applications, and use cases.
Wired, Wireless, or What?
As new homes start to take shape on CAD (computer-aided design) screens across the world, architects, designers, engineers, and contractors are wondering what technologies to use to make the result future proof. When smart buildings began to enter the market, the available choices were few and many of those buildings are now being retrofitted with newer technologies to replace or augment those that have been in use for 20-30 years.
It was about 30 years ago that KNX, a wired protocol for building automation, was considered the future-proof solution. KNX was widely used in building and home automation, especially in Europe. It has numerous applications for energy efficient networks in schools, houses, commercial buildings, stadiums, and more.
KNX is a mature open protocol operating on a variety of physical layers such as twisted pair, power line, and Ethernet. With a decentralized topology, the system does not operate from a central unit, which means every single unit hooked up to the KNX ecosystem is smart itself and doesn’t depend on other parts to function. A big advantage: if one unit fails, the others can still operate.
The major drawback to KNX or other wired communications systems for IoT (Internet of Things) devices in the smart building is that they require wiring. Pulling cable through conduit already in the walls isn’t easy and makes retrofitting an existing facility an expensive project. That’s why new buildings can benefit from adding the wiring in the plans even if the devices are not specified.
To take advantages of wired medium already in place, KNX can be used in conjunction with wireless technologies (Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc.) for home automation. A KNX-Zigbee Gateway, for example, does protocol conversion from KNX to Zigbee and vice versa. Wired devices of the home are taken care by KNX protocols and wireless devices by the Zigbee protocols.
Zigbee from the Connectivity Standards Alliance is a wireless protocol, which operates in a mesh network. It uses a device to relay a signal to other devices, strengthening and expanding the network. Zigbee can be implemented within dimmers, door locks, thermostats, and provide edge-level control.
Similar to Zigbee, Z-Wave is also an open-source mesh network protocol. The main difference between the two is the data throughput—Zigbee is roughly six times faster than Z-Wave. Z-Wave, however, requires less energy to cover the same range as Zigbee.
A hybrid system, using wire-in-the-wall for speed and bandwidth coupled with over-the-air wireless communications between devices where bandwidth and speed are not a concern—and interception isn’t a security problem—can provide a great deal of flexibility.
Low-powered devices, working off batteries instead of AC, are often picked for light and hat/AC control over a wireless network while the heavy work, like opening and closing heavy drapery, may require the power of electricity from the utility. Wireless technology changes frequently as new innovations appear on the market and new standards are developed and implemented. But replacing a router or mesh network is much easier than rewiring the whole house.
According to some technologists, the idea of a centralized portal hub being needed to control all the home’s functions is overkill. All you will need to wirelessly control everything in your house is your smartphone or tablet loaded with a specialized app. Music, HVAC, lighting, security, and any other remote access home technology will be controlled from your own personal devices, plus wall touch panels for local control.
While music and lighting controls are common, there are also Wi-Fi control options available on other household function. For example, many cooling and heating systems can be controlled remotely over the internet.
A significant change has been seen in recent decades with the adoption of solar panel electric generation. While a major focal point of the green movement, the market has not seen the kind of momentum needed to make smart home energy management widely adopted. What are the promising industry collaborations, business models, and strategic directions that could catalyze greater adoption of the true “managed energy home?” The CABA (Continental Automated Buildings Assn.) is starting an in-depth examination of the current evolution in the residential IoT energy landscape, where industry participants are retooling old business models to include more services and innovative products.
When combined with technology advances, these new market directions and offerings could offer the potential to address perceived high costs of installing or maintaining smart home energy systems, which remain a significant barrier to adoption. The current energy landscape could also offer the potential to monetize energy data and behavior—which can be provided to technology vendors and other services providers so that they can design innovations based on perceived acceptance from consumers. The resulting wave of applications will leverage AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) to automate basic tasks and bring forward key uses in the areas of maintenance, energy management, and financial analytics.
Throughout the discussion of the smart home two factors often go unaddressed: power and security. Energy to run the myriad of devices being installed and contemplated can come from the electric grid or from local sources such as solar panels. Utilities are stressed under certain weather conditions, forcing intentional and unintentional blackouts, while battery technology is still catching up to the demands on solar generating systems. Add into the mix a growing home electric vehicle charging system demand and the energy needed to maintain the home of the future might not be available until further in the future.
But even now, the second factor, security, is coming into focus as a serious problem. In this case, the security refers to the security of the systems, not just the security cameras and sensors around the house itself. If the smart home is the connected home, the connecting element is usually the internet. And as we see almost daily, the internet is not the safest place to be. Cybersecurity is a growing concern, not just for computers but for everything connected to the web.
The CHC (Connected Home Council), a core working council of CABA, commissioned Frost & Sullivan to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the cyber risks and susceptibilities associated with connected-home technologies. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are aggravated with IoT and connected devices becoming more ubiquitous. It is critical to explore the potential risks of cyber breaches and infringement on consumer privacy and the long-term consequences.
The connected home represents a communication-rich living space, including energy management, interactive home devices, connected appliances, integrated entertainment, and real-time security solutions. It is an environment that also allows for unprecedented access to a variety of service providers and their networks, and the infiltration of pervasive technologies. Connected homes function via an internal and an external communication network, enabled by IoT, which helps activate various life- style-supporting functions.
This characteristic is the basis for cybersecurity and privacy infringements and vulnerabilities as it gives technology and service providers direct access to systems and devices within the home. The systems installed to provide security and comfort can also lead to serious breaches of consumer privacy, service disruptions, theft of personal information, and threats to anonymity. Unless the issue of cybersecurity and privacy is dealt with comprehensively, market prospects for connected-home solutions will be negatively affected.
As IoT devices increase, from refrigerators that can reorder food as the stock gets low to door locks that open when a sensor acknowledges an authorized person is approaching, the manufacturers of IoT devices are under a lot of pressure. If a hacker gets access, neither the occupants nor their valuables are safe. Access to a heating or lighting system can easily give away when people are gone from home, according to its usage.
As UL (the former Underwriters Laboratory) notes, when an IoT device is compromised, cyber criminals have access to a wide range of intellectual property that can include software and firmware that could give them control over a home’s security and entertainment systems as well as other electronic devices. While not all IoT devices are vulnerable, recent stories of security breaches involving IoT devices highlight the need to bolster security in smart homes.
In the case of IoT, the compromise allows cyber criminals to access and control systems that communicate with the home’s HVAC system. In other cases, the hackers gain access to basic configuration information that enables them to bypass standard protocols and gain unauthorized access to smart homes.
Dataquest reports approximately 80% of IoT devices are vulnerable to a variety of attacks. Connecting conventionally standalone smart devices like lights, appliances, and locks clearly brings a slew of cybersecurity concerns. Even connected baby monitors are vulnerable to digital intruders, as parents realized too late when hackers communicated with their young children through hijacked equipment.
Until AI (artificial intelligence) can replace the “dumb” smart devices we are using today, cybersecurity will remain a concern. Energy management, energy supply, and cybersecurity are keys to the continued growth of the smart-home concept.
Cyber Threats to Our Devices
The bad guys are always trying to find their way into our devices. The following are some of the most common cybersecurity threats and attacks against smart-home devices:
- PDoS (permanent denial of service): A PDoS attack, often referred as phlashing, is a threat that destroys a device to the point that it needs to be replaced or reinstalled. BrickerBot is an example of a bot designed to exploit hard-coded passwords in IoT devices and cause a permanent denial of service. Fake data might also be given to thermostats causing irreversible damage through severe overheating.
- Device Hijacking: It occurs when an attacker takes over control of a device and, because the attacker does not alter the device’s essential functionality, these attacks are difficult to detect. One device then has the potential to infect all smart devices in the home. An attacker who compromises a thermostat, for example, might hypothetically get access to a complete network and remotely unlock a door or change the keypad PIN code to prevent entry.
- Man-in-the-middle: An attacker breaches, disrupts, or spoofs communications between two systems as a man-in-the-middle attack. Temperature data provided by an environmental monitoring device, for example, can be faked and sent to the cloud. Similarly, during a heat wave, an attacker can stop vulnerable HVAC systems, resulting in a disaster for service providers using impacted models.
- Identity theft: Smart appliances and wearables are prime targets for accessing private details and can be used for data and identity theft.
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