Controlling the objects of our homes remotely via apps on the smartphone is already a widespread reality: they are intelligent and automated objects that can talk to each other and even make decisions by adapting their functioning by virtue of the surrounding environment and events. Among surveillance cameras, thermostats, boilers and washing machines, the use of IoT — Internet of Things — solutions proliferates in Italy for the Smart Home, whose national market reached 250 million euros in 2017, an increase of 35% compared to 2016.
Currently, 38% of Italians own at least one smart object at home: even though it may seem to be a percentage still not significant, this data lacks intelligent voice assistants (Smart Home speaker), a market on which the big Over The Top operators like Amazon, Google and Apple, are aiming significantly, starting from the US.
The IoT within the Smart Home, according to the research of The Internet of Things Observatory of the School of Management of the Polytechnic of Milan, reveals a high growth rate in 2017. In Italy it is a growth of 35% year on year with a total turnover of 250 million euros.
The IoT applications are designed for safety and protection, such as:
- sensors for doors and windows capable of detecting infringement attempts;
- intelligent surveillance cameras capable of transmitting real-time alerts on the landlord’s smartphone;
- locks and intercoms able to scan and recognize images.
The confirmation of a growing IoT scenario, thanks above all to the Smart Home, also comes from IoT Analytics, which in its recent analysis report on 450 technology platforms identifies as much as 21% with specialization on “smart homes” with greater focus on automation ( especially heating and lighting systems) and remote control and management of objects, in particular appliances.
Smart Home, the intelligent objects that change our life experience
Smart objects at home are finding more and more space inside homes. Here are some concrete examples:
- Nebia Shower: it seems a common shower head, in fact it is equipped with sensors and a special technology that atomizes the water in millions of drops creating a surface ten times greater than a normal showerhead but consuming as much as 70% in less than water;
- August Smart Lock: is a security device for doors that allows you to check, allow or block access via smartphone. The cell phone essentially becomes the key to entry but it is also the tool through which to lock or unlock the door (possibly seeing who rings the bell even remotely) also creating customized access codes for each family member or to allow temporary entry (for example to friends or couriers);
- Airmega: intelligent air purifier can capture 99.97% of particles in the air including pollen, hairs and other allergens. Through special pollution sensors measures the air quality and warns via smartphone app if something is wrong; it is also able to self-regulate by monitoring both the air and the degree of illumination;
- Nest Protect: rilevatore di fumo in grado di “sentire” anche il monossido di carbonio che può essere controllato tramite app su smartphone senza alcun hardware aggiuntivo da installare (è già tutto integrato nel rilevatore);
- Wally: water loss prevention system that alerts, via smartphone alerts, in case of problems/risks. It is a simple device (similar to a small wi-fi router) able to perceive changes in humidity and temperature through appropriate sensors, therefore useful where there are eg washing machine, dishwasher, air conditioning systems, toilets.
Towards Smart Home 2.0: turning on/off and checking objects is not enough
At this moment, at international level, the greatest interest of people is moving on to other systems, the so-called Smart Home Speakers that in Italy have not yet spread but on which there are already great expectations both by consumers and retailers and by whom develops services and applications based on speech recognition. In the United States there are already 35 million speakers sold by Amazon and Google, with shares of 55% for Amazon Echo and 45% for Google Home.
The interest in Smart Home Speakers should be read in the Smart Home 2.0 perspective: the “intelligent objects” inserted today in domestic environments are certainly useful but solve simple problems that generally concern small groups of people. For the adoption of IoT in the home to become truly disruptive it is necessary that “intelligence” goes beyond remote control from the app and instead solves everyday and real problems (and this is the “promise” of Smart Home speakers).
Waiting for the plumber for a repair can cost hours of work to a person: allow the plumber to enter the house with a temporary access key and make sure that the owner can verify the work remotely, without being present, perhaps paying in real-time in digital as soon as the plumber goes away, he solves everyday and concrete problems.
It is clear that a similar approach requires a very different effort from equipping objects and houses with sensors and alert systems: Smart Home 2.0 requires a total rethinking of the house itself, intrinsically connected and “intelligent”. An approach that requires a deep integration between people, processes and technologies: it is therefore necessary to re-imagine how the Smart Home interacts with its owners, guests, service providers. Smart Home 2.0 is proactive and adaptive and provides value to people that should be read as a lifestyle improvement (without interrupting it, for example).
Smart Home: the value is in the user’s service and experience
The international numbers show an Italy that, on the Smart Home speaker front, is not just following the US, undoubtedly the primary market of reference, but also other European countries such as Germany and England that can count on a volume of business already superior today to one billion euros.
One of the possible brakes could be identified in the lack, or at least in the rarity, of services related to smart objects that create value and experience in people. Services such as cloud data management or automated notification sending, or the development of add-ons for remote management and control of connected objects in the Smart Home.
As mentioned, the Smart Home itself, considered today as a “niche” of the broader IoT market, could in fact, alone, generate a series of important repercussions on “parallel” markets, starting from the value for the user: just think telecommunications services or the insurance sector. However, in Italy the sales of insurance, telco services and utilities related to the Smart Home are still very limited as they contribute only for 8% of the market.
The downside lies in the fact that there is still a great business potential, confirmed by the numbers that bear witness to the direct interest of consumers (the panel examined by the Polytechnic Observatory is based on a sample of 1,000 individuals aged between 18 and 74 years representative of the Italian population — ed): 38% have at least one connected object in their own home and a good 32% have made the purchase in 2017.
However, what most stimulates people to buy connected objects and systems for their home is still unexplored. As mentioned, for now the smart objects solve some small problem but do not affect the lifestyle of people solving larger problems of everyday life. The idea of smart meters, for example, has proved to be winning in our country more as an element to save on bills than as a smart system for reducing harmful emissions.
This is precisely because there are no “contour” services that allow people to perceive a higher value but, above all, to live an integrated experience. What would change if, through the analysis of the data of the smart meter, we offered services, discounts, promotions, gifts to the most virtuous citizens who consume less or change their lifestyle to reduce waste?
Artificial Intelligence will make our homes smarter
Smart Home speakers have yet to make their official entry into Italy, but there is no doubt that the interface with which people will soon manage their Smart Home will be the voice. Touch displays, smartphones and apps will continue to play an important role, but in the future we will move from “simple” speech recognition to the more evolved “context aware” that allows us to predict, customize and configure the use of the home, services connected to it, of the objects contained in it or with which it dialogues on the basis of personal preferences and habits.
Artificial Intelligence could, to tend, be that disruptive element that will open the way of Smart Home 2.0 and that will overcome many of the barriers to the adoption and diffusion of the IoT and Smart Home. How? On the one hand, simplifying (if not even completely automating) the management of connected devices and, secondly, improving the management of products and services offered by different companies, with a more integrated, simplified user experience and value for people.
Virtual assistants, integrated with speech recognition and natural language comprehension, will be the real elements on which to model the Smart Home with a view on people’s experience and on improving their lives.
Let’s think about some simple cases and see how the artificial intelligence integrated into the domestic environment can really make the house smart, especially with the use of Smart Home speakers:
- Service Calls: the virtual home assistant receiving the data of some sensors detects a change of humidity in the laundry; connects to the online plumber’s online booking system and fixes an appointment for a day job; sees from the family calendar that none of the family members can be present then issues an access key to deactivate the alarm and open the door. During the intervention, the voice assistant will then activate the cameras and connect the speakers to allow the owner to dialogue with the plumber;
- Travel Planning: the smart home speaker connected to the internet reveals a serious accident on the traditional travel route that travels the owner from home to work; sends a signal to the smartphone or smart alarm to wake people 20 minutes ahead of schedule, in the meantime calculate the new route and send it to the connected car or smartphone of the owner;
- Call Routing: while a couple is engaged outside the home, the virtual home assistant receives a call from the school of one of the children; records the call and recognizes from the analysis of the natural language that the intervention of the parents is needed; check the appointments and see that one of the two parents is in a business meeting and then re-direct the call to the other’s mobile phone in real-time.
The voice will be the safest password to authenticate
What emerges from the examples is that Artificial Intelligence and vocal biometrics will be at the center of the Smart Home experience of the future, also as security systems.
Voice recognition lends itself to be a biometric identification system that allows people to authenticate themselves in a simple and natural way (without having to type in any password or remember a pin).
According to Opus Research, by 2020 there will be more than half a billion “voice timbres” authorized through multiple applications that will allow the use of speech recognition in a variety of ways, including the Smart Home.
According to the American research firm, vocal biometrics and Artificial Intelligence will be the two “killer applications” that will facilitate and simplify the level and methods of interaction between the Smart Home systems and its users. This not only from a security point of view but also, remaining in terms of experience, in the personalization of services that the Smart Home, through its intelligent connected objects, will guarantee to the people who live there: the new technologies will allow smart devices to collect data relating to family habits with the advantage of being able to then predict, customize and configure the personal preferences of each individual family member (who obviously has a unique vocal timbre) in specific situations (soft lights when waking up for Mario, temperature of a certain degree in the bathroom for Lisa, full light in the kitchen for Andrea, etc.).
A future that may not be so far away and we will begin to see some applications already in 2018.
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