What is a smart home?

18 November 2016 by Massimo Mazza

We have been speaking about ‘smart homes’ for several years now, but it’s only recently that this concept of living seems to have finally found its way into concrete development.

What is a smart home? A smart home is a home that incorporates advanced automation systems in order to offer to those who live inside the ability to monitor and control various functions. For example, temperature control, opening and closing of doors and windows or even interaction with appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, TVs; all without the need to physically operate devices. Instead the ability to interact with them is controlled remotely through a wireless connection.

How does a smart home work?

The operation of a smart home is based on the use of a home network. Generally, it’s a wireless network (WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID) that allows multiple devices to be connected to each other and an appropriate app (developed and made available by manufacturers of smart devices) that works as an administrative console. In this way, from anywhere in your home or office or anywhere else, you can (thanks to your smartphone or tablet) switch on the washing machine, adjust the heating or even monitor video feeds from home surveillance cameras.

Obviously, a smart home has to be equipped with intelligent devices; you’ll need to purchase appliances and installations (e.g. heating, lighting and irrigation systems) suitable for remote control via app.

What awaits us in the next 5 years

Deloitte in a recent study has estimated that by 2022 there could be nearly 500 smart devices that can be connected to a smart home, from coffee machines to lawn irrigation sensors. An important contribution to this development will be offered by IoT (Internet of Things), which is the ability of physical objects to use the Internet to communicate with each other, share information about their condition and process real-time data collected by sensors to perform "smart" actions.

According to the research company Berg Insight when it comes to smart homes it is necessary to distinguish between the differing North American and European markets. In 2015 the US had about 13 million smart homes compared with about 5 million in Europe; a total of 18 million homes that already use connected devices to process data. However, the number of smart homes is expected to grow further and by 2020 it is expected 46.2 million homes in the US and 44.9 million in Europe will be classed as smart homes.

Alongside the implementation of smart thermostats, security systems and remote controlled lighting and entertainment systems, a real smart home must also be aligned to everyday appliances such as cookers, refrigerators and washing machines. This new generation of equipment, according to the promises of the manufacturers, doesn’t stop at remote management via app, but also will have the ability to generate cost savings. Let’s take a couple of examples; a smart fridge will optimise the consumption of food (for example, letting you know if anything is near its expiration date), washing machines and dishwashers will get the best washing results with the minimum use of water, your hob (thanks to sensors that monitor the characteristics and the temperature of a pan) will be able to adjust power, reducing energy consumption and the risk of burning the food if you forget about it!

How much does a smart home cost?

This is the ‘million dollar’ question. One of the main obstacles at the moment in the development of the smart homes seems to be the cost of smart devices. In a recent survey by Deloitte  48% of respondents said that the cost of smart devices is still too high, while 26% said that current technology needs to evolve further before considering the purchase of a smart device.

For obvious reasons, there’s no doubt that the cost of an intelligent appliance is higher than the cost of a traditional one (aside from the fact that they make you feel like a wizard). On average, those who want to make their home ‘smart’ must be ready to pay for the privilege; intelligent refrigerators or washing machines are at least twice the price of ‘non-smart’ ones, which makes them somewhat of a superfluous, out-of-reach purchase for the majority of us.

Taking a quick trip back in time - Bill Gates completed his vision of a futuristic home just outside Seattle 20 years ago. How much did it cost? It seems $113 million, but bear in mind most of us don’t really need 7 bedrooms, 24 bathrooms and 6 kitchens!

Security risks with smart home devices

Even though a smart home can be a great way to improve the way we live in the future (or today, if you have the cash), there are still some problems to be solved. Since the first IoT devices came to market the security vulnerabilities have already surfaced. We’re not talking about someone hacking into your toaster here; it is now possible for professional hackers to gain access to an internet connected TV and spy on the occupants of the house. With this ability it is possible to create a motion profile and use this information to plan a burglary, or worse. One of the additional challenges of smart homes in their current form is that different manufacturers in the market use different protocols and standards that are not compatible. This is why you have to connect to different networks and use often different (and sometimes open and unprotected) protocols, which you as a user have to make secure.

If you are an early adopter and manage to bring together all your internet connected devices under one single interface you can face even more problems. A single and simple failure in one of the parts of a combined system, or a hacking attack, could make your life really miserable. In the worst case nothing would function and you may not even be able to enter your own house! Therefore data security is a very important matter to consider. To ensure that you are protecting your smart home and connected devices from unauthorised manipulation it is imperative to change passwords frequently and keep your networks secure.

Do you have smart devices in your home? Let us know your experiences with them by commenting below, or tweet @DrDataRecovery