The Internet of Things Opens the Door to the Smart Home

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Imagine your refrigerator ordering food from a grocery store, which is then delivered to your doorstep. Or your washing machine choosing the most energy efficient time to run a load of laundry. What if your water heater could tell a maintenance company that it was time for servicing?

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s already a reality. Machines are communicating with one another, and then acting without human intervention.

This phenomenon, called the Internet of Things (IoT), describes systems that gather information directly from multiple devices, which can be almost anything with a sensor—including computers, vehicles, smartphones, appliances, building automation systems, and more.

Related: Understanding Internet of Things

These devices typically send data to other devices via a wireless network connection or a wired local area network (LAN). And that data can give consumers better insights into their home, how it’s working, and what they can do to make their lives more efficient.

The rapidly growing market for IoT devices will affect almost every aspect of our lives, from food supplies to utilities to healthcare. The only question is when you—and your community—will jump on the bandwagon.

Smart Homes Will Change the Way We Live

Some people have already started using the IoT, although they may not realize it. If you use anything with the word “smart” in it, you’re already using this type of technology. IoT applications are vast and you are already part of it.

Smart phones are the most common example. It’s not unusual for smart phones to monitor home security systems, interact with digital advertising as you are shopping at a store, and do much more.

The smart home is the next step, and one that is already available to purchase on the market. From TVs to dishwashers to thermostats, you only need to visit your nearest home improvement or electronics store to see these devices in action.

What Your Smart Home Will Look Like

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In general, a smart home with IoT devices will monitor human activity, thereby learning your schedules and preferences. Garage doors will automatically open when your car sends a notification that you are in the driveway. The front door will unlock automatically. You’ll walk into your home with the temperature and lighting set to your preferences. Your favorite music will be on the sound system, and your favorite hot beverage will be waiting for you.

It sounds like a scene from the Jetsons, but fiction has become reality. After a quick trip to the store, your home could operate like this scenario, and it’s going to become more and more common.

Smart Technology Will Flood the Marketplace

As technology becomes less expensive, while also getting more powerful, an explosion of smart home devices is set to flood the marketplace. Approximately 26 billion connected devices will be in place by 2020, according to Gartner, an increase of 30-fold over 2009.

Some of the smart devices you’ll find for sale today include…

  • Climate control systems
  • Locks
  • Audio and entertainment systems
  • Smoke detectors
  • Home security systems
  • Garage door systems
  • Lighting
  • Blinds and shades

And that’s just the beginning.

The growing demand for smart home devices is because of their ability to automate the little things, those tedious details of life. In some cases, this will lead to lower costs, such as when a utility company offers lower rates when appliances are used at off-peak times. Or when blinds automatically adjust themselves in response to the temperature of level of sunlight, thereby saving on electricity costs. In other cases, smart devices will contribute to our home’s comfort and security by controlling things like climate control systems and lighting. Your electric company can get a sense when houses need maintenance and automatically create a route for the maintenance team to visit. No calls required, the company will probably know this before you even sense there is a problem and with their optimized route, they will be at your doorstep on time, making you a very happy customer.

Smart Technology Comes with Risks

Because smart technology is so new, all the risks are still unknown. Like any networked device—the biggest concern is it could get hacked.

In October 2016, major portions of the internet shut down after cyber attackers seized control of internet-connected devices that were used to overwhelm networks with junk traffic. These hackers accessed IoT devices that weren’t properly password protected—some with no password at all and others with a factory-default password.

While hardware and software manufacturers bear some responsibility for these issues, it’s important that users take steps to prevent hackers from using their connected devices for nefarious purposes.

Other big issues related to smart home technology involve privacy and data ownership. For example, who owns the information gathered by your thermostat—you or the electric company? And how is that information being protected or used? Who will pay for mistakes made by technology? Federal regulations provide some guidelines, but the industry is still in its infancy. It’s hard to regulate something so new.

As we forge ahead in this brave new world, many of these issues will be resolved as the industry grows. Because as your home becomes smarter, it also will be able to tell the difference between its owner and an unwelcome hacker.

And that would be smart indeed.