The Future of Home Automation

Updated July 21, 2016
automated TV room
Will all the homes of the future be able to anticipate our arrival and turn on the fireplace and TV before we ask it to do so? (La Scala Integrated Media received 2015 best integrated home for this project. Copyright CEDIA 2016. Used with permission.)

Where will smart technology take us?

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Unless you’re purposefully living off the grid, you likely own some type of smart technology. But how encompassing will this technology and home automation become in our lives? And are our expectations in line with what’s available?

Where home automation stands today

Today’s homeowners and builders integrate home automation at various levels, each with its own benefits and challenges.

The first is at an individual product level, where various items such as a smart thermostat or garage door opener are purchased from different manufacturers. These products are typically installed DIY and aren’t terribly expensive, but don’t work together as a cohesive automated unit.

The second level involves a light integration, where there’s some central control system or hub. All of the automated products are usually purchased from the same company and installed by a professional.

“You have one app instead of four or five apps,” says Tim Costello, CEO of Builder Homesite Inc., an Austin, Texas-based business that works with builders nationwide to develop technology solutions. “It allows you to create some level of coordination between the devices, and create ‘scenes’ which allow you to hit one button and all the lights turn off, the doors lock and the blinds close.”

The third level is one of true integration that is best achieved during the initial home construction. Everything from energy management to a variety of scene controls is built in and operated from different touch panels located throughout the house or via a smartphone. Cost is the biggest hurdle with fully integrated systems, as they’re usually found in homes with a price point starting at $750,000.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a starter home feature, but it’s creeping down from the luxury market into the mid-market,” Costello says.

Smart technology’s future

Despite all the gains we’ve made with home automation, everyone wants to know “What’s next?”

“The internet of things has exploded over the past three years,” says Tyler Reed, director of online marketing at Control4, a leading provider of home automation. “More and more devices are coming online. That’s great, it can bring some control and simplicity to a lifestyle, but it can be complicated.”

Reed says the biggest problem is many home automation products don’t work together, and emphasizes the need for a central hub system — like Control4 — that will integrate everything. A central hub’s software is designed to work with products from different manufacturers, and act as the singular touch point for all the automated devices in a home.

“We have 9,500 devices that we work with, and it’s growing all the time,” he says.  

Integration issues aside, Reed says he foresees smart technology being used in clothing and other home products.

“I definitely see it being a wide-scaled adopted product. Within the next five years, every device in a home will be connected to the internet,” he says.

Expectations vs. the experience

Bridging the gap of what technology can do today versus what consumers think it can do continues to be a challenge.

“People expect smart homes to take care of us, and for the homes to monitor us, remind us to take medication and call for help if we fall,” Costello says. “Someday that will probably all be possible. But you won’t be shopping for it this Christmas. We need to set our expectations to what we can experience today.”

Costello also points out that while these products may be convenient, they’re not inherently smart.

“They provide automation, but they don’t provide much intelligence,” he says. “I can use my phone as a mobile light switch, but it’s not intelligent. It’s no smarter than a wall switch. The wall switch knows what to do and does the same thing.”

Costello says the true definition of a smart home is one where there’s active intelligence and a coordination of actions by the various products.

“For instance, if the HVAC system senses a vibration every time the furnace turns on, it will diagnose it as a problem with the fan and call the HVAC guy to come fix it,” he says. “It’s intelligent because it’s using sensor technology with algorithms to determine the problem and how to solve it.”

But until we get to that point, it’s important for homeowners to keep in mind what’s realistically possible today.

“You can put a lock on your house and give service providers a one-time code that allows access — and that’s great,” Costello says. “If we stick with what the systems can do, and we’re clear on what it can do today, as long as those things are important to you, your expectations will be met.”

What sort of automation would you like to see happen in the future? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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