Small-timers with big ideas can always make their way into the industry In recent years, home automation technology has given birth to the “Smart Home” in which internet-enabled and controlled devices are bringing a new level of comfort to the standard house. From locking doors to setting the temperature to opening the blinds for a view of the sunset, technology is transforming the home into something reminiscent of the now-quaint 1960s sci-fi cartoon, The Jetsons. Of course, we’re still waiting for our jet packs and flying cars, but the house itself is doing far more of the work than anyone thought possible just a few years ago. Future of the home automation sector? “We have seen a lot of consolidation over the last five to seven years, and a lot of it was because of the economy,” says Dave Pedigo, Senior Director of Learning & Emerging Technologies at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. “As much as you see the potential for consolidation, I also see a lot of potential for startup companies that have the ability to make products and are innovative, serve a purpose and can change the industry.” In an era of 3D printing, rapid prototyping and small companies powered by social media and crowd funding, small-timers with big ideas can always make their way into the industry, he adds. “It’s put us into what I think is the next industrial revolution,” says Pedigo. “While a lot of this is going to very large companies, at the same time I wouldn’t discount small or startup companies that offer goods that are unique and useful.” 4K: Opportunities and challenges "It’s put us into what I think is the next industrial revolution. While a lot of this is going to very large companies, at the same time I wouldn’t discount small or startup companies that offer goods that are unique and useful", says Dave Pedigo of CEDIA “Right now it seems like 4K video distribution will be the next big trend,” says Brad Hintze, Director of Product Marketing for Control4. “4K is the next step in high-resolution video and in our opinion it will not be like 3D. 4K will have staying power. It is for this reason that we came to market with our own suite of 4K video distribution equipment for the Control4 Smart Home.” He believes content is the main driver, both in adoption and hardware design. Network providers like Comcast and Dish Network, all have their own roll-out plans for 4K channels and content, which will eventually bleed into consumer adoption. “But from a hardware and automation perspective, it presents challenges because the industry standards for image display and copy protection are evolving rapidly,” explains Hintze. “Control4 recently released our fully HDCP 2.2 compliant 4K A/V Matrix switch products, which eliminates the black screen produced by playing copy-protected content from studios on non-compliant equipment. Being able to adapt to this wave is what will keep us ahead of the curve!” Intelligent sensors for smart home Industry experts predict that sensors in the home will reach a level of sophistication never considered in early versions of Smart Home. These devices will know when the house is empty and be able to shut off heating and cooling systems. Smart phone with geolocation will then tell it when the owner is on her way back so it can start adjusting the temperature to a comfortable level. “There will be an app on a phone that shows that you’re going to be home in a few minutes,” says Rawlson O’Neil King, Communications Director of the Continental Automated Buildings Association. “Then the house unlocks when you are at the door. The garage opens after detecting you’re close to the house. You have lights that turn on and off at certain times by detecting your presence.” Industry experts predict that sensors in the home will reach a level of sophistication never considered in early versions of Smart Home. These sensors will also end once and for all the question of “did I lock the door?” or “did I turn off the stove?” And, it won’t just be lights that turn on and off. Sensors in washing machines will know that clothes have been put inside and will start the cycle at a time when costs are at a lower level, he adds. These sensors will also end once and for all the question of “did I lock the door?” or “did I turn off the stove?” Home automation – a double edged sword With the move towards home automation, the coming years will see a greater emphasis on security as more and more devices become accessible – and hackable – on the web. As a security expert at the Federal Aviation Administration prior to joining Vivint as Chief Security Officer, Joe Albaugh saw attacks against critical infrastructure and industry. “The underlying theme was they are computer connected, the data is online and accessible and many of the attacks and threats are exactly the same,” he notes.
As the home automation industry has expanded with an ever growing number of devices and services, companies are placing bets on which wireless protocols will dominate. The past few years the leaders have been Z-Wave and ZigBee. Companies are also using a variety of other standards including Crestron’s Infinet, Insteon, and proprietary technologies such as Lutron’s ClearConnect. Next-generation protocols: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi “Right now companies are releasing really interesting and cool products, but they typically operate within a proprietary ecosystem”, says Rawlson O’Neil King, Communications Director of the CABA A few players have also started looking at Bluetooth and Wi-Fi now that low-power variations of these standards are being developed. Some companies have sought to hedge their bets out of a desire to be more ‘manufacturer agnostic.’ “We maintain interoperability with devices that use all of the major forms of control protocol,” says Brad Hintze, Director of Product Marketing for Control4. These include: Wired IP, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave (through third party converter), Bluetooth, Infrared, RS232 (serial) among others. “Being able to work with all of these protocols and their various associated devices, has given us the benefit of widespread adoption amongst over 180,000 homes globally,” he explains. “In addition this is what also maintains the ‘scalability’ of our system, meaning you can get started with a couple of devices in one-room like your entertainment room (using infrared control), but then adapt to future needs with other devices working on newer, more versatile control protocols like Wi-Fi and Zigbee.” “You can get started with a couple of devices in one-room like your entertainment room (using infrared control), but then adapt to future needs with other devices working on newer, more versatile control protocols like Wi-Fi and Zigbee”, says Brad Hintze, Director of Product Marketing for Control4 ZigBee and Z-Wave The popular ZigBee and Z-Wave short-range wireless technologies have proven ideal for the kinds of home-area networks that are becoming prevalent. Based on the IEEE’s 802.15.4 personal-area network radio standard, ZigBee is an open wireless standard. Z-Wave was developed by Zensys (later acquired by Sigma Designs) as a proprietary wireless standard. It’s estimated that more than 500 consumer home control products are sold at Home Depot and Lowes. Rob Puric, Director of Product Management for Honeywell’s Connected Home solution, says “We chose Z-Wave because of the number of manufacturers that were developing products that were based on this protocol. Because it is a mesh network, the more devices that are added in the home the better the connectivity.” Z-Wave’s wireless mesh networking technology allows nodes to communicate with each other directly or indirectly through available relays if they’re within range. Out of range nodes can link with each other to access and exchange information. A Z-Wave network can have up to 232 nodes. At present the industry is locked in a struggle to determine which standards and protocols will become the dominate choice for companies with offerings in the home automation space Promoting interoperability “We’re at the early days of the deployment of these technologies and their popularity,” explains Rawlson O’Neil King, Communications Director of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). “So right now there are a number of different vendors who are emerging and obviously the vendors want you be locked into their particular product ecosystem.” Associations such as CABA are pushing for interoperability so that all devices can work together. “Right now companies are releasing really interesting and cool products, but they typically operate within a proprietary ecosystem,” explains King. “That causes an issue when the goal of a lot of consumers is to have one single app on their phone that allows them to control all of their appliances or their lighting or their heating or their air condition.” Discovering dominant network At present the industry is locked in a struggle to determine which standards and protocols will become the dominate choice for companies with offerings in the home automation space. “Consumers want products that work,” says King. “The reality is a lot of the companies, their technical staff and management are embracing a particular technology in almost an ideological way. The dominate standards and protocols will ultimately have be addressable by most devices on some level.”
Many security dealers and installers are expanding their offerings to include home automation equipment The growth of home automation and “smart home” technology has created a unique opportunity for security companies of all kinds. With security systems already in about 20 percent of American homes, many security dealers and installers are expanding their offerings to include home automation equipment. Internet connected devices After all, why just offer monitoring and alarms when you can also enhance the customer’s home experience with HVAC regulation, light controls, door locks and a host of other mechanical – and internet addressable – offerings? “You’ve got the traditional players who have been in the residential security business for a long period of time,” says Alper Cetingok, Managing Director, Head of Security, Defense & Government Services with Raymond James, a financial company. “And, literally every alarm monitoring company or residential security company has some sort of smart home offering. Some are rudimentary, but they have one.” Cybersecurity risks These companies’ experience in security comes in handy when dealing with the downside of home automation – cybersecurity. Network-controlled home automation devices can lack basic security controls, enabling hackers to access sensitive functions such as door locks and even mundane appliances such as toasters. Security focused products Having the ability to keep tabs on your home, who is there, who has come and gone, are advantages of smart home systems One of the prime assets offered by security firms is just that – security experience. “We take security very seriously in the design of all of our products, and especially in the design of our architecture and device communications internal and external to a customer’s system,” argues Brad Hintze, Director of Product Marketing for Control4. “We see a lot of start-up companies releasing DIY (do it yourself) smart home products that may or may not have that very same focus on security for their customers, and often can be overlooked in the rush to market. We address some of these security concerns by way of regular communications on ‘best practices’ for securing your smart home, on our blog and to our dealer network.” Customer relationship Even smaller security installers can capitalise on the same strategy practiced by a giant like Comcast. A company that is already in a customer’s home with a technology solution has an advantage over an outsider. Just as Xfinity Home builds on customer relationships acquired through cable and security monitoring, companies are looking first to existing customers to add value. Network-controlled home automation devices can lack basic security controls, enabling hackers to access sensitive functions such as door locks and even mundane appliances such as toasters “We see customers’ entry point into home automation come from a variety of perspectives,” says Hintze. “A lot of times it can be regional too. Certainly home audio/video systems are one of the original points of entry, but now home safety and security is a big player for us as well. Having the ability to keep tabs on your home, who is there, who has come and gone, what time family members came home, that status of your alarm, if there are any leaks, are just some of the advantages present with a Control4 Smart Home system. Energy Savings is a hot topic and pain-point as well, but in all fairness you have to have good reporting to quantify. But anecdotally, everyone can see the advantages there, especially when you combine things like motion sensors with lighting and climate control.” Security companies can also provide extra value by steering customers to devices and solutions that not only work together, but offer the right level of security. “From my perspective, our goal is making sure that those devices we offer are built securely and operates securely together,” explains Joe Albaugh, Vivint’s Chief Security Officer. “Many of the devices (in the market) are built with either little or no security in them or with configurations that are default and not changed. One of the reasons we built solutions designed to work together so that we can ensure the security of those devices.”