Is Elon building a smart home?

Elon Musk et al. at the Gigafactory construction site. Image: Flickr, Steve Jurvetson.

So last week Elon revealed that SolarCity / Tesla Motors began working on a standalone solar-panel roof. Apparently 5 million roofs get replaced each year in the US alone. Clearly, it makes business sense in its own right. But there could be more to this.

I’m thinking smart, autonomous homes.

Here is why:

1. First principles. What lead Elon to building space rockets at SpaceX was the realization that raw materials are far cheaper than the total cost of a finished rocket. If you could find a better, more efficient way of putting these raw materials together, he reckoned, you could substantially decrease the manufacturing cost. It cannot be much different for homes: the fundamental cost of building a house cannot be that high and the inefficiencies of the supply chain / the construction process probably account for the bulk of that cost.

2. Gigafactory. It’s unlike any factory ever built in part because it was conceived as one giant integrated machine, not merely a building. In other words, Elon et al. view the Gigafactory as a product itself, no different than the Model S, economically speaking.

Following this train of thought, it is easy to think of homes in a similar way. Namely, not as mere repositories of stuff and people but as tightly integrated machines. Machines that provide storage, housing and work facilities to owners and their guests. Autonomous homes, if you will.

3. Construction industry. Similar to the automotive and aerospace industries construction is highly regulated, resource intensive and, ehm, sluggish. Crucially, the industry doesn’t make advanced, high-quality, yet affordable homes. What it does make is either expensive and mediocre or extravagant and beyond reach. This makes the industry ripe for disruption. And SolarCity / Tesla have already gained a foothold in the adjacent home appliance industry. Over time they could develop more comprehensive solutions, eventually offering a complete, off-the-shelf smart-home (and probably a garage to match 😄).

It’s impossible to tell for sure if Elon intends to disrupt yet another industry. The man has enough on his plate as it is. But judging by his first principles way of thinking, the philosophy behind the Gigafactory and his inroads into home appliances he must have at least thought about it.

Elon might not be building a smart home yet. But the foundations are certainly in place.