Computers may make life easier, but they don't necessarily make things simpler or automatically safer.
This is very true for smart home technology or intelligent home automation which aims to combine internet-connected computers with every aspect of home life. According to Digital Journal, "the smart or automated home applies new technology to control and automate heating, ventilation, air conditioning and security, but can involve appliances as well such as refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers and many other items."
As Fall Home Shows start to roll out, expect to see familiar and new smart home technology showcased as the latest "must-haves."
According to Statista.com, smart home household penetration is 32.0% in 2018 and is expected to hit 53.1% by 2022. The global market is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 14.5% between 2017 and 2022 to reach $53.45 billion by 2022.
Smart, connected appliances and systems can make life easier and more convenient for families, but not automatically simpler or safer.
Each year, smart technology appears in more incarnations, but we are a long way from industry-wide standards with significant cross-compatibility, avid consumer adoption, and problem-free systems and technologies.
When you explore smart home potential at a Home Show or online, here are key issues to consider:
1. Hacker target : Instead of being locked out of your computer if you don't pay a cyber ransom, what if you were locked out of your smart house unless you paid up? Computers operating with out-dated software, like older versions of Microsoft's Windows Operating System, are easy targets for hackers. These problems are further complicated by interconnectivity: infection spreads quickly through computers and networks, locally and globally. How will you ensure the nasty things that hackers can make happen to your laptop or smartphone won't happen to the smart technology running heating, cooling, or security systems in your home—all of which
will probably be controlled by your laptop or smartphone?
2. Code flaws : The software driving smart home technology consists of millions of lines of code which, by their sheer number and complexity, are vulnerable to glitches and failures—many of which are hard to detect before significant damage occurs. Will software and system manufacturers take responsibility for ongoing investigation into glitches, correcting them, and providing online patches to reduce downtime and keep systems at top efficiency?
3. Multitasking systems : Before smart technology took hold, if the fridge died, you'd lose a tub or two of pistachio ice cream. As refrigerators become increasingly complex equipment—which may also monitor family wellness, check food inventory, pay bills, and fulfill other functions—cyber attacks may have even more impact on families. Back-up systems may be essential precautions. Home insurance will provide some security, but limitations will exist. Just as home policies may not pay on problems caused by poor maintenance or unlocked doors, out-of-date software may invalidate claims if home smart systems fail and cause damage.
4. Support failings : To reduce service costs, manufacturers rely on internet-connectivity for product maintenance, remote diagnostics, and online software updates. As the human-touch of tech support is replaced by AI (artificial intelligence), will homeowners receive the support they need to make living with smart home systems as effortless as expected? Privacy issues could be more far-reaching than those associated with laptops and smartphones since manufacturers value saleable user data. Subscription fees for apps and external monitoring may prove costly.
5. Equipment failure : Using a smartphone or iPad as a smart controller, homeowners can change room temperature, turn on the oven, or unlock the front door from miles away or as they pull into the driveway. However, if that mobile-computing device is lost, stolen, broken, or batteries die, there are two concerns: 1. could those and other essential smart-systems still be turned on or adjusted by the family, and 2. who else would have access to this information and your home? What back-ups are necessary when power fails? The other flaw in home security could be you. If you don't set alarms, manage passwords, review data about system efficiency, and carry out maintenance system-wide and with individual equipment, your failure may undermine the security and efficiency of the smart system.
6. Transaction precautions : When smart technology is included as part of a home purchase or rental agreement, a detailed inventory of this equipment is essential. Model numbers and age are among the details necessary for estimates of value. If you are selling your home with its smart technology intact, erase your user, security, and payment profiles from each appliance and system by restoring factory settings, so you leave no data trail.
Soon it will be hard to buy an appliance that doesn't incorporate smart technology, but integrating appliances and systems may remain a smart home challenge for a while.
Written by PJ Wade