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What is a Smart Home?

A smart home is one in which the appliances and many other features are networked, usually via the internet, to allow them to be linked, automated and/or controlled remotely. There are few limits to what can be included in this network, but examples include refrigerators, ovens, blinds, thermostats and other environmental control devices, kettles and crock-pots, lighting, intercoms, home theatres, security systems, entry systems, video and audio baby monitoring, water systems, and more.

History of the Smart Home

The early 1900s saw a shift toward efficiency and automation of devices in the home. Some experts see the automatic washing machine as the one device that has had the greatest impact on domestic life, as it saved the average homemaker many hours per week in difficult labour. Electric power distribution throughout the home allowed for other appliances to be installed and used as well, including ovens, irons, refrigerators, toasters and more. Hot water heaters removed the need for constant boiling of water, and filtration brought drinking water to the home at the turn of a tap.

By about 1975, some automation of appliances became widely possible, and innovation and forward-thinking designs began to proliferate, reaching about 1.5 million home automation systems in the US alone, by 2012.

Now we are seeing another boom, with smart technologies linking and automating appliances with non-smart items (like groceries), allowing ordering and delivery of groceries and household items without the need of homeowner effort, and with efficiency gains in a number of areas of the process. Homes, too, are using energy more efficiently, despite more devices being added to most homes.

Applications and technologies

The most common applications include heating and air conditioning (HVAC) automation, lighting control for ambiance and efficiency, occupancy awareness (allowing the home to adjust to the presence or absence of people in each room), appliance control and integration with power sources (like increasing consumption during peak solar power provision times), robot use (like automatic roaming vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers), security monitoring, recording and alerts, detection of damage (water leaks, fire and smoke, CO, gas leaks), assistive technology and devices for the elderly and disabled, pet and baby monitoring and safety, and the list continues to grow.

Criticism and controversies

Not all feedback is positive, however. Some users have expressed concerns over growing complexity with regard to setting up the apps and inputting the desired parameters and settings. Platform fragmentation can be a positive, in that it protects from a whole system becoming obsolete due to the advancement of a single component, but it can also mean increased complexity and, in some cases, non-compatibility between devices or segments of a system. Customer support can also be complicated in instances when more than one company is involved in a system that is not functioning as expected or promised. Updating such systems with security or function patches is also less efficient, as updates may not make it to all components of a system.

There have also been negative incidents and concerns over hacking dangers. A weak security protocol in one device may allow hackers to access more advanced devices in the network, like phones and laptops.

The possibility of technology becoming obsolete at a much faster rate than in the past is a real concern, especially for early adopters and those investing in expensive integrated systems.

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