Smart Homes – the Future of Urban Living

Smart Homes – the Future of Urban Living

Imagine you are late from work, on holiday, or away from home and you need to turn your lights on or water your plants.

Now imagine if you could access cameras to check if your home is safe, or your child is being cared for properly by the nanny, or get an alert through a smart fire alarm if there is a fire at your home.

Imagine if you could pull out your smartphone and do all of this instantly, from anywhere.

For most people, the phrase “smart home” instantly conjures up the image of a futuristic sci-fi movie, a residence with blinking lights that just automatically does things for you.

What is a smart home?

The basic ideas behind smart homes and integrated devices have been around in books and movies for a very long time. This is no longer a fictional scenario.

A smart home is simply a modern house that contains a communication network that connects different appliances and devices and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored and accessed from anywhere in the world.

Smart devices connect to the internet and many have smartphone apps allowing you to access and control them remotely over wi-fi.

Home automation, the principle behind smart homes, began with basic labour saving devices such as washing machines, refrigerators and sewing machines which are still widely used in homes – basically anything that allowed you to automate tedious tasks.

It has now evolved into so much more.

The Genesis Technology

Later, in the 1970s, a legacy technology called X10 was developed (which still remains prevalent due to it being easy to deploy and use, and low price) which allowed for remote control of home devices and appliances through home wiring.

This technology can be seen in things like home security systems where alarms and lights can be manipulated remotely either by a person or a server.

With the advent of the digital age, we gained access to technology that took automation to the next level by allowing even further hands-off operations. With smart homes, there are three generations of home automation that have come about as the technology has progressed.

The first generation allowed the remote control of devices to be achieved without wires and used a central computer to communicate with the various devices and systems via wireless technology. This still needed a degree of user involvement in terms of presetting scenarios.

The second generation, buoyed by the development of artificial intelligence (AI), allowed a further hands-off approach as the AI could now control electrical devices to both make minor decisions and allow non-specialist users to communicate what they required in a more interactive manner.

An example of this is Amazon Echo which has a virtual assistant called Alexa which you can interact with as you would an actual person, reducing the need for technical expertise.

The third generation, through robotics, extends this capability by allowing physical interaction with the devices which can move about autonomously.

The most commonly known example of this is the Roomba, a small robot vacuum cleaner that can clean a house floor without supervision and knows how to navigate basic terrain unattended.

How does a smart home benefit you?

For the general public, a smart home is most often used to do the following:

  • Automated climate control systems like air conditioning, heaters and ventilation.
  • Smart lighting systems that can adjust to the ambient light present as well as sync with music or movies that may be playing.
  • Environmental safety systems that can monitor for dangers like fire and toxic gases like carbon monoxide.
  • Security; a household security system integrated with a home automation system can provide additional services such as remote surveillance of security cameras over the Internet, or allow owners to lock and unlock doors and windows.
  • Basic operations like coffee making, instant pots and multi cookers can be automated and readied according to a schedule with a Smart Kitchen set up.
  • Embedded health systems integrate sensors and microprocessors in appliances, furniture, and clothing which collects data on your health which can be used to diagnose diseases and recognize risk patterns. A good example is the Fitbit device that tracks the number of steps a user has walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed, and other personal metrics. This is especially useful for the Elderly and Disabled works in order to maintain their independence and safety.

These are just some of the capabilities of smart homes and devices and as technology progresses we will see more functions in the household automated. Smart homes have become a massive global industry.

By 2012, 1.5 million home automation systems were installed in the US and towards the end of last year, the number of smart home devices installed was more than 45 million.

Fijians may be somewhat hesitant in adopting this fairly new technology, but considering the fast rate at which Fiji is growing technologically combined with the ease of accessibility, and the price of the smart devices dropping as manufacturing techniques and installation are refined and perfected, full and semi-smart home setups are becoming a practical solution.

This is supported by the Fijian Government’s initiatives to improve infrastructure for the general populace as well as leading ICT providers like Telecom making the move to unique communication technology like Gigabit internet. This means that services are faster, more reliable and more affordable than ever before in our history.

The day that Fijians own their own smart homes is less a sci-fi fantasy and more a likely eventuality. Look at the ubiquitous use of smartphones as an example of what can happen in just 5 years.

With the Fijian Government’s initiatives to move towards a more digital Fiji, we will see an increase in digital technology. Its implications for us are profound.

As young Fijians, we should look towards adopting future technology as a means to cement Fiji’s place in a global economy where geographical size no longer matters.

We have the opportunity to progress towards a digital mode of thinking, and to assimilate new forms of technology for the betterment of our nation.