The smart home of 2031 & beyond

Over the last year and a half, the landscape for smart homes has changed dramatically since we were forced to spend more time in our homes. Amy Wallington looks at the future of the smart home and what it might look like in 10 years.

The smart home market is constantly changing and the last year and a half has set up big developments for the future of smart home technology, with mass adoption taking place from the high-end of the market through to the mid-to-low end.

Although smart home adoption was already increasing, the pandemic has acted as a springboard for further development. While people have been spending more time at home, they are realising the potential in investing in technology to enjoy their home and lives more. The industry we are in has never been so exciting as it is now, and this decade will bring some big developments that will change the way we live.

“I think that intelligent homes will become far more ubiquitous over the next 10 years, with new builds automatically being fitted out with smart home infrastructure in place,” says Jens Kastensson, CTO of ProKNX. “Retrofitting existing buildings will become easier, and therefore more commonly carried out as certain smart features become necessary for residents.”

Smart assistants and voice technology predicted to improve dramatically to enhance the smart home user experience over the next 10 years. Image: Andrey Popov / Shutterstock

Caring homes

Not only will adoption of smart homes grow, they will also play a huge part in people’s health and wellbeing too, as Paul Doyle, assistive technology consultant explains: “Smart homes will increasingly become caring homes. After the pandemic, we have seen that when people stay in their own homes, for example when self-isolating, ‘dumb’ houses can do little to help people who are ill or unable to help themselves. In the future, smart homes will help to monitor the health and wellbeing of individuals or loved ones as well as giving them a digital infrastructure that will make them physically accessible.”

The pandemic has made many people more aware of their health and wellbeing and this is a trend that goes hand in hand with the development of home automation and technology. “Consumers have new needs and concerns coming out of the pandemic and new use cases have earned some spotlight,” highlights Chris White, research analyst at Parks Associates. “For instance, consumers have new concerns about the health and safety of their home environments. Parks Associates research reveals that one in four US broadband households reported thinking about the air inside their homes or the quality of their water due to the pandemic. This opens up an opportunity for device manufacturers and service providers to help consumers make their home a smart home and a healthier home.

“You could say the smart home becomes an extension of yourself and almost a companion of sorts.”

“Air quality and water quality monitoring join a number of use cases that are even more compelling today than they were 12 to 18 months ago,” he continues. “Reliable, high-performing broadband and secure home networks that can keep up with new demands and that give consumers control over how and when their devices connect are more important than ever, and really are the foundation of the smart home experience.”

The future of smart homes will also begin to incorporate elderly and disabled care too, to help people live at home longer and take some pressure off carers.

“The pandemic has highlighted the desire for older adults to age well and safely in their environments, be it in their homes or a more communal setting like a retirement village,” highlights Phil Vlach, AdaptEco Associate, technology and digital. “They have recognised that to do so over a longer period, smart home technologies offer non-intrusive solutions to improve safety and comfort, and when needed, elements of care such as informing their family or doctor of their current physical and mental state to enable prediction and early intervention for better health. This helps to change the approach we take to ageing, from reactive responses to incidents that require acute care, to a much more proactive approach of overall wellness, leading to improved quality of life and health span.”

The level of control is increasing for aspects such as lighting to improve health and wellbeing. Image: Savant

AI at home

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a much bigger part in our lives nowadays and soon, it could be a common feature of the everyday home. This is perhaps where we will see the biggest jump in smart home development; a typical smart home of today requires human control, whereas the smart home of tomorrow will learn and adapt to the user’s needs and do everything automatically.

George Katsiris, vice president, product evangelist at Savant agrees: “AI will help the smart home industry shift its focus from control to automation, invisibly enhancing lifestyle in so many positive ways. A smart home will recognise its occupants through finger scans, facial recognition, and by other means in order to make life easier. As I approach my home with bags of groceries, AI will acknowledge that it’s me at the door and grant me access. Many of us saw a similar technology for the first time as Captain Kirk left the bridge of the Enterprise through an automated door. Now we see the same technology at nearly every grocery store and barely notice that it’s there. It has become a seamless, embedded part of our lifestyle.”

AI will not only get to know residents of the house, it will constantly be working in the background to do other things too. “Imagine applying that capability to other aspects of daily life,” he continues. “A system that recognises an approaching car and is able to respond accordingly, or that sees a child or pet near the edge of a swimming pool. Imagine a home that knows a storm is approaching and therefore begins charging the batteries to safeguard against a possible power outage with maximum back up power. There are countless ways that AI will be applied within the smart home domain to enhance safety, security, privacy and convenience.”

The development of AI with home automation naturally seems to be the next step for smart homes, which is something the Z-Wave Alliance has been preparing for. “We’ve known for quite some time that AI would become an impactful technology for the smart home,” says Mitch Klein, executive director, Z-Wave Alliance and director of strategic partnerships at Silicon Labs. “AI and context aware smart home technology streamline and personalise the user experience. For example, the lighting in a room will adjust based on the time of day and the person who enters the room. Outside data and sensors throughout the home allow smart home devices to make decisions based on user preference, proximity and room presence trends. AI will reduce the need to control or pre-program devices because outside information like the weather will allow devices to adjust lighting and heating or cooling, redefining the user experience.”

“This is already happening,” adds Casto Cañavate, marketing manager at KNX. “Today any smart home can log your habits and analyse and evaluate them according to timing, month, hours, season, etc. This will help to create a basic pattern with its own adaptations. Whenever your routine changes but still within the same habit, the system can adapt to it accordingly. Furter to this, when a user changes both the routine and the habit, new predictions will be made by the system automatically.”

Like Cañavate says, AI is already in the home, but it has a long way to develop to become fully automated with very little input from the residents in terms of control. Vlach also recognises this. “Today, smart homes are controlled by the homeowner, either through apps, voice commands, or actions, meaning the home reacts to those commands. Smart homes of the future will anticipate needs and desires by being able to infer intent or mood. AI power sensors and biometric scanners will be able to tell if you are getting ready for bed, exercise, to watch a movie, or cook dinner based on observed actions correlated with patterns of daily living. Similarly, the smart home will try to lift your spirits by playing your favourite music and setting the lighting scene when it senses the person’s mood may be low. You could say the smart home becomes an extension of yourself and almost a companion of sorts.”

Combining AI with home automation more will most certainly improve the user experience in the home. Cañavate adds: “I would not say AI simplifies the home; on the contrary, AI creates a more complex system as it is bringing a wider range of possibilities when actions are applied. But all of this happens in the background, the users don’t see it. And thus, AI helps to simplify the life of the user.”

The future of smart homes will see more and more around the house become smart

Walled garden

A limitation that is arguably holding the smart home industry back is the interoperability of devices. Although many manufacturers are working on open standards to ensure their products will work with third-party products, it’s still a challenge, especially in the mid-to-low end of the market.

“To continue to succeed in the next decade and beyond, the smart home market will require robust product ecosystems that can easily work together in a home system,” Klein states. “Despite smart home’s growth, there are still challenges. Consumer awareness of compatibility between brands and devices across wireless technologies is one of the most critical, as hubs, communication protocols, and smart assistants often operate only within their unique ecosystems. This ‘walled garden’ limitation that the smart home has faced since its inception brings devices that work only within a singular ecosystem and face compatibility end user issues – a commonly cited problem from consumers and even manufacturers – that are looking for greater interoperability.”

“There are countless ways that AI will be applied within the smart home domain to enhance safety, security, privacy and convenience.”

Initiatives such as Matter, formerly known as Project Connected Home over IP, led by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, will steer the industry in the direction towards more interoperability and thus create more demand for products.

AI can also help with this, as Kastensson points out: “By using AI, companies are able to make their smart devices far more intelligent and able to predict human behaviour in order to be more efficient and useful for the user. Interoperability is the key to making home automation systems that simplify appliance use in homes. This can only come about with the focus on AI being used to connect and share information intelligently between smart devices inside a home. This increased system intelligence will allow homeowners to create a bubble of smart home devices within their home that promotes the data privacy of each individual home.”

Image: Z-Wave Alliance

Voice makes a comeback

Voice control is not something that really took off in the higher end of the market. Smart assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are very popular in the mid-to-low end of the market but they still require a lot more development to improve the accuracy of the technology.

However, some believe that there is still a place for voice control in smart homes across the board. Doyle suggests: “Smart homes will look like traditional homes, but the artefacts within them will be augmented. Homes will not be laden with devices (phones, touchscreens, tablets, etc). Instead, voice control will be further integrated into home-based technologies (TV, white goods, vacuum cleaners, etc). Furthermore, passive devices will be augmented, chairs will know when they are sat in, taps will know when they are running, cutlery will know when it is being used. All of these devices will be gathering data to learn how the home is being used and AI will help to inform occupants about how they are living and, if desired, signpost changes to behaviours or improve an occupant’s wellbeing or reduce resource usage.”

Adding to this, Kastensson says: “Voice interaction with smart devices will become the preferred means of controlling the smart home. Using speech to manipulate our environment is far more intuitive and natural for the user. Of course, this also means that voice technology development will improve so that the smart devices understand the human voice with the same level of comprehension as you have in everyday human interaction.”

These changes in smart assistants and voice technology are already developing, as White points out: “Amazon Alexa can now make hunches at a potential action by smart home devices based on less direct user speech. For example, when a user says good night, Alexa can make a hunch that the user may want the lights turned off or direct other night time activities with supported smart home devices like adjusting the temperature on a smart thermostat, locking doors and turning off smart switches. Google’s Meena can now have more human-like conversations including some joking around.”

Mass market

We are in a decade of high importance for this industry, and accelerated by the pandemic, the smart home landscape could look very different in ten years. The high-end professionally installed market will always lead the way in this industry, as Elizabeth Parks, president at Parks Associates says: “In the long term, the high-end luxury home market will remain strong and revolves around professional installation and customised services that include whole home, personalised control systems that are complex and expensive.

“Getting to mass market with a unified smart home offering will take a long time,” she continues. “Affordability, simplicity, value, familiarity, privacy and security concerns, and product integrations are still barriers for adoption. Single point solutions will continue to be purchased, but achieving the full vision of the smart home requires many more developments from the industry. The whole home solutions at the mid-to-low end of the market will take years and years to happen.”

Main image: Savant has recently opened its new Las Vegas Experience Centre for virtual and in-person tours to show the possibilities for home automation now and in the future. Image: Savant