Smart Homes and Home automation have transpired to becoming highly sought-after commodities in today’s technologically advanced era. Both terms are used by content creators and sellers as synonyms in most instances. But are they really one and the same?
The concept of a smart home was initially limited and came into fruition in the 70s with the inception of the X-10 home automation standard and devices that adhered to it. The invention of the internet circa 1900 was one of the major facilitators of these services. The real push towards this vision came with the inception of wireless networks or Wi-Fi around 1999. The Smart Home, as we know it today, was in its infancy between 1999 and 2007. The advances during those years allowed the combined ability of computing, remote access (on the internet) and the creation of a wireless house network of few or many devices that possessed some form of intelligence.
The boom of ‘domotics’ or home automation came around when we witnessed the rise of complex electronic systems in the mid-80s that provided the ability to automate. The concept received much acclaim and popularity but failed to reach the masses. Both installation and maintenance were priced exorbitantly. Technology would remain incapable of bringing this to fruition for the next two decades.
Internet of Things or IoT
The term IoT was first coined by Kevin Ashton way back in 1999 during a presentation he delivered at P&G. He noticed how an extension of the internet was being developed which accommodated ‘Things’ or objects trying to connect to it and therefore called it the Internet of Things.
Since then, IoT has evolved into a technology paradigm by itself and given the world a host of new devices to fit into their everyday interactions with technology. Our devices, like computers, tablets, laptops and smartphones were able to connect to household objects and devices. IoT, in many ways, was the enabler of home automation and smart homes.
However technologically inept you might be, you are likely to be using at least one form of automation today. It may be anything from the timer on your toaster, coffee machine or microwave to the light that turns on in your car when you get in. However, when we venture into the world of home automation, the possibilities widen. Think of home automation as a conductor or manager, it receives feedback from all the individual ‘smart’ home appliances, issues commands and controls everything. Web-based home automation is centralised, essentially connecting several devices together and controlling all of them with a single app, interface or controller.
The advent of IoT has allowed home automation to take several strides ahead. It has allowed the development of easy-to-install, completely wireless home automation systems which can be managed from the other side of the world, by simply using your handheld device. The real game changer is that home automation technologies are finally affordable now, and the industry has seen major improvement since it is now available for the mass market.
Today’s smart home finds its roots in home automation, where home automation is essentially an enabler of smart homes. A smart home is a broader concept, it encompasses a wider variety of features, industries and technologies than home automation, and all of these components are related and connected to one another by IoT. A smart home comprises of a bunch of home appliance devices like televisions, computers, heating, lighting, security systems, entertainment systems and other electronic appliances. These devices are ‘smart’ and can be controlled remotely or independently through smartphone apps or the internet, however, the advances in home automation have allowed all the devices to be connected to each other, communicate and even exchange data with one another.
Smart Homes in today’s day and age provide valuable inter-connectedness between devices and truly make a home smart, instead of just having a bunch of isolated smart devices in one’s household. Smart Homes have also become increasingly affordable.
Home automation is just one of the features that a smart home has. Smart Homes have additional features, apart from devices being connected, like home security, remote healthcare for older relatives, saving energy and a plethora of features that make a house as independent as current technology permits it to be (and of course, depending on how much you have paid). The interconnectedness has opened up a world of unlimited possibilities. And most importantly, a smart home has decision-making abilities.
Home automation has allowed smart homes to evolve beyond what was previously considered possible.
Additionally, another feature that distinguishes a smart home and an automated home is the availability of a common interface to interact with. Smart homes of today can be completely connected to devices like a Google Home, an Amazon Alexa, a singular app on your phone or even a central control hub within the premises. All of these should be able to process composite instructions. For instance, you could tell the Google app on your phone that you’re heading home from the office. The app will inform the same to your Google Home, which, in turn, will use its interface with the smart devices in your home and external services to take action. This action can comprise of setting your thermostat temperature based on the external weather conditions, turning on the lights based on your ETA, firing up your TV and bringing up the football match that you had asked it to record etc. At this point, it is clear that smart homes are essentially smart because they can control the automation based on circumstance and external factors.
Other areas like security and energy savings are also capable of making decisions based on preset profiles and data gleaned from your behaviour. A smart security system will alert you if a stranger is seen persistently loitering around your house at odd hours. A smart energy system will inform you if your energy consumption on a particularly ordinary day is significantly above average.
To sum it up, home automation allows for an actual smart home, where devices are connected to each other and processes are expedited in this manner. A smart home, on the other hand, can refer to a collection of smart devices or gadgets, that may not be automated. The devices in this kind of smart home are usually connected to the internet which allows them to be ‘smart’.