In the last five to ten years, the life of society has changed radically when it comes to the interconnection and use of digital content. Just as the topics of information technology and telecommunication have grown ever closer together, so has a mixing, overlapping and integration of smart topics taken place.
No matter if it is AAL (ambient-assisted living), telemedicine, consumer electronics (CE), building automation, smart grid + metering, SmartHome etc.; the contents are becoming more multi-faceted and more complex. On the one hand there are tremendous opportunities and on the other hand great pressure is the basis for the connection of these related topic areas. The two main challenges are demographic change and the lasting change in energy behaviour.
The consequences affect everyone and, in fact, the lower income groups in a special way. Electricity and heating will not get cheaper in the foreseeable future and the health care situation will likely worsen rather than improve.
Demographic change and SmartHome? What do they have in common? The number of people who are of working age is steadily decreasing. People who are no longer or not yet in employment will represent the majority. In addition, the average life expectancy has risen. Another fact: older people need more medical treatment, more care and – this is where SmartHome comes into play – more assistance.
Our current care methods are very personnel-intensive. In part due to the demographic change, the required caregivers will no longer be available and older people will have to perform parts of care themselves. Technical assistants can and will help them. They support and assist with the “self-care”.
Research has focussed on technical assistant systems for many years. There were and are prototypes or pilot installations and their results are always the same: yes, it works. Yes, many of the affected people accept the help.
Rising energy prices, energy transition and SmartHome. Just like the consequences of the demographic change, the rising energy prices and costs cannot be ignored. In light of the fact that in the coming years more financial means for care and its accompanying symptoms will have to be raised by private households and the state, it seems logical to think about potential cost-saving opportunities elsewhere. Energy in the form of electricity, gas and/or oil is omnipresent in our lives as a comfort feature and “cost item”. Besides many smaller cost adjusting screws, the usually comparatively large “energy” cost block also offers remarkable cost-saving opportunities, including the use of smart applications.
Possibilities of and with SmartHome. No matter how SmartHome is defined – one thing is sure. The technologies that are available and(!) functioning today can in the general sense support and delight us in normal everyday life in terms of comfort, energy monitoring and management, safety and entertainment. The technical possibilities also offer great potential in overcoming the aforementioned challenges; a potential we can and have to activate in connection with clear requirements from the respective professional side (health, care and security services, boiler manufacturers, manufacturers of renewable energy sources, building design, data privacy and security, legal experts for newly emerging business models etc.) in the coming years.
Especially in the last four to five years, much has changed on the technical side in regard to a realistic distribution of SmartHome, respectively assistance systems, thanks to products that are innovative and affordable for the mass market. The products and often versatile solutions predominantly come from small and medium-sized companies in the German-speaking regions (for example, take a look at http://www.smarthome-deutschland.de/smarthome-award) The offers are usually dedicated to one topic area, but due to the good product design, they can be combined to solutions that are holistic and correspond to the respective stage of life via broadened interfaces and so-called gateways. Initiatives such as the “SmartHome + Building Certification Programme” by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) ensure that future generations of hardware and software are as interoperable as possible. Due to the interoperability of partial solutions, appealing, useful and energy-efficient overall systems can be created, depending on budget, requirement(s), customer wishes and(!) experience of the service provider. Along with keeping an eye on the budget, it is very important to apply the technology to the concept and not the concept to technology. One key to a successful SmartHome project is the understanding that technology is only the means to an end. Strictly speaking, almost everything is possible nowadays from a technical point of view. For this, however, an intelligent planning which considers and realises the available means/devices, the desired solutions and even a sustainable concept is required – unfortunately many still need to do their “homework” here.
SmartHome and SmartLiving – the future of living. The change to SmartLiving is already in full swing, many areas “get smart” day by day. A new operating system here, a new useful app there; a little bit of data in the cloud, a song from the online store. But many more years will pass until our houses and flats will be truly “smart”. The pressure to act is still not significant enough, trades are busy with orders and the standards in the minds in relation to electro installations is still “standardised” to standard cables.
However, since 2013, the market feels a growing interest in smart solutions, usually driven by the desire to save energy. Others take pleasure in operating different things via tablet computer or smartphone and do not want a makeshift solution, but real system solutions. Customers have started to specifically query trade and commerce and increasingly have the courage to ask “a different craftsman”. This creates impetus for changes that will change the market. However, „the“ SmartHome will not exist in the foreseeable future, because every request is different and most notably corresponds to a maximum budget and individual wishes.
Nobody has to be afraid of the SmartHome that will suddenly lead a life of its own. This would be imaginable, but it would also be prohibitively expensive – one has to be able to afford so much intelligence…
Alexander Schaper is a full-time senior consultant for innovation and strategy issues at I-MA Consulting GmbH and is co-founder and managing director of the SmartHome Initiative Deutschland. He has been focussing on interconnected buildings and trades since the mid-1990s. His main focus lies in the strategic and sustainable business development relating to SmartBuildings and their “smart” accompanying symptoms.