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Automating households remains a challenge

Although smart home is one of the most promising applications of the Internet of Things, the adoption rate of smart homes is still low. With some improvements and adjustments, home automation technology holds a crucial role in the near future.

Today’s consumer has a sophisticated perception of what living in a connected world means, and smart internet services have become far more mature than what was offered in first-generation connected appliances. Consumer expectations present an interesting challenge to the manufacturers and retailers of smart home appliances, pushing them to innovate new capabilities and services.

All major appliance makers are gearing up to embrace the challenge and bring next-gen domestic digitalization to market. Internet and connectivity are no longer just add-on features; they are now at the very core of product positioning and brand extension to bundled services people had not even imagined a few years back.

The technologies in smart appliance systems market have undergone significant change in recent years, with traditional control to IoT-enabled appliances. The rising wave of wireless technology are creating significant potential for advanced smart appliances in kitchen and home applications, and driving the demand for smart appliances.

In the smart appliances market, various technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC are used in smart appliances for control and monitoring. Increasing awareness on energy efficiency among consumers, increasing purchasing power, and changing lifestyles are creating new opportunities for various smart appliances technologies.

Opportunities and challenges
The global smart homes market is expected to reach USD 113 billion by 2024 with a CAGR of 9 percent 2019 to 2024. Wireless technology is largest segment of the smart home market and is growing at above average growth. In terms of data transfer and bandwidth, Wi-Fi is much faster than other technologies.

The growth of the market is driven by many factors like an increasing number of internet users, increasing disposable income of people in developing economies, the rising importance of home monitoring in remote locations, and the growing need for energy-saving and low carbon emission-oriented solutions. Moreover, the rapid proliferation of smartphones and smart gadgets, expansion of smart home product portfolio by a large number of players, growing concern about safety, security, and convenience among the general population will fuel the demand for smart home solutions.

Emerging technology trends, which have a direct impact on the dynamics of the industry, include development of voice assistant technology for high-end automated household appliances, emergence of air quality sensor devices that measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and growing adoption of video enabled drones.

The smart speakers market is likely to grow at a high rate. The growth of the smart speakers market is driven primarily by the increasing adoption of smart homes, high disposable income, the popular trend of personalization, and the rapid proliferation of multi-functional devices. Factors like increasing focus of companies on enhancing customer experience and consumer preference for technologically advanced products over traditional products are expected to provide opportunities to smart speaker providers. Further, recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to enhance voice recognition capabilities have increased the overall demand for smart speakers in smart homes.

Proactive type software and services facilitate the transmission of data, along with the best possible solutions, to end-users for actions to be taken after receiving the information. The proactive type enables the transfer of a larger volume of data than the behavioral type; it can provide inputs to end-users regarding effective energy usage and required actions on the physical parameters to reduce energy consumption.

The proactive type software and services segment is gaining traction. Proactive solutions are more beneficial than the behavioral type as they can also send recommendation signals to end-users to take necessary actions to reduce energy consumption. Moreover, based on the user’s actions, measures to control electronic devices can be implemented. On the back of these advantages, the market for proactive type software and services is expected to grow at a higher rate.

Innovation plays a big role in the growth of connected appliances, with this sector achieving a market share of up to 3 percent in Europe (about USD 1 billion annually), and more than 5 percent in Asia (about USD 3 billion annually). The rising stars are smart washing machines and refrigerators, where connectivity is a value feature, adding an average 50 percent to the price tag compared with conventional household appliances.

Eco-friendliness also supports market growth. Political regulations to control energy consumption significantly impact the market for domestic appliances. The introduction of energy labels, like the ISEER for air conditioners in India, has increased sales of higher classified appliances, and direct or indirect subsidy programs, like those in Croatia and Hungary in 2015, have triggered early replacement purchases.

Although smart home is one of the most promising applications of the Internet of Things, the adoption rate of smart homes is still low. One of the largest barriers is technological fragmentation within the smart home ecosystem. Currently, there are many protocols used in a connected home, increasing the confusion of consumers when choosing a product for their house. One possible solution for this fragmentation is to make a gateway to handle the diverse protocols as a central hub in the home. However, this solution brings about another issue for manufacturers: compatibility. Because of the various smart devices on the market, supporting all possible devices in one gateway is also an enormous challenge.

Consumers expect smart services too
Cloud connectivity. Makes it possible to control appliances from outside of a residence. One example is the ability to review a real-time feed about room temperature in a house and switch on the air conditioner when one leaves the office.

Intelligent assistance. Smart devices can have a say in how households are run by offering useful tips and helping consumers make informed decisions. For example, a connected refrigerator with freshness detection sensors inside its special compartments could indicate the freshness of the raw items stored in them. Using a relative freshness index and expected shelf-life of product, it could further guide users as to which items to use first. The fridge could also map food-to-use with recipes from partner websites and offer suggestions as to what to cook for dinner.

Ecosystem interoperability. An intranet of connected appliances together can form a cohesive ecosystem to build synergies between the appliances. For instance, once a user has chosen a recipe from the list suggested by the refrigerator, the refrigerator could notify the oven to set itself to the appropriate preheating conditions based on what’s about to be cooked.

Voice control. Voice controls like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are gaining popularity and acceptance, and are becoming widely used in kitchens.  Now, appliances can piggyback on these consumer electronics trends and enable seamless voice control. A user could, for instance, give voice instructions to the washing machine to start washing or the dryer to start drying.

Replenishing. Devices can automatically issue replenish orders to e-commerce portals. Amazon has proven this functionality with its Dash buttons, which allow users to easily order, say, a specific SKU of detergent. Now appliances like washing machines can embed replenishing capabilities. In addition, the appliance can track the usage statistics and automate ordering.

Energy savings. Appliances can leverage the connected ecosystem to use electricity intelligently and take advantage of the lower usage rates. For example, a clothes dryer can sync up with a Nest learning thermostat. Depending on a home and away modes, the dryer can then auto-delay laundry cycles until energy rush hours to optimize energy efficiency and rates.

Service and repairing. One of the more compelling reasons to add cloud connectivity is for all-time machine status monitoring, enabling access to configuration tables to diagnose problems when they occur. For instance, when an appliance service person arrives for a service call, he or she is already informed about the problem. This significantly improves repair time and effectiveness. It also makes possible remote fixing of software problems through over-the-air (OTA) firmware upgrades.

Digital abstraction. An important part of digitization design is adding a software abstraction layer to differentiate capabilities and offerings so that the same underlying hardware chassis can be used across a product line. Consider services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have changed how TV is watched. Viewers watch what they want, when they want. An extension of such pay for what you use services can be adopted in home appliances as well. For example, a consumer could upgrade from a simple wirelessly controlled oven to a voice-controlled version or even to one that can offer recipes ideas. Depending on the pricing policy, users could even downgrade services when they are out of the home on vacation. In this way, consumers would be able to dynamically choose and customize the feature set of their appliances. Customization would be enabled using over-the-air firmware (FW) upgrades, which works seamlessly with WLAN compared to Bluetooth—a much slower link.

The innovation challenge for developers is two-fold–obviously, making different services possible and getting them to market quickly is important. But equally important is delivering top-notch connectivity performance. This is because the benchmark consumers will compare against appliances against is their connectivity experience with high-end consumer devices like smartphones and tablets, devices whose BOM is arguably much greater than that of home appliances.

Many of the early connected appliances used Bluetooth (BT) or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate with smartphone and tablets. However, as the performance requirements increased, they soon migrated to WLAN, popularly called Wi-Fi. The reasons for this are clear: WLAN is ubiquitous, it forms the backbone of IoT infrastructure because of the widely installed router base at homes, and it provides the throughput and range for the need to implement Internet connectivity in the smart home.

Embracing the new (ab)normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the health of the world population while engulfing the global economies. This fight has exposed the system’s loopholes, demonstrating the need for normalization of technological perks in the industry. The myriad possibilities of home automation welcome a safer future. Home automation technology is projected to play a significant role in encompassing a contamination-free environment in residences. The home automation market of today is aiming at absolute touch-free functioning of day-to-day activities. This revolution brought a myriad of new trends, which includes automated domestic help, adjustable interior temperatures, facial, and voice recognition, among others.

Subsequently, lights that are programmed from a phone, automated window blinds, and video doorbells are all good as they help in creating a comfortable and safe home. But home devices or appliances do not become smart simply because they are plugged into the internet. The correct term for the technology would be connected home. This term is set to change over the coming years, as more and machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, and other technologies that are capable of thinking, learning, and making decisions will be directing the functionality of modern devices. There will be more refrigerators that use computer vision to view what is inside and machine learning algorithms to predict the quality and condition of the food products while maintaining hygiene.

Besides the automation that serves one’s routine, there is a rising need for integration of workspace at home. Fabricating an intact communication at home, the new trends offer at-home conference, control and contact of various devices, and automated communication systems for a company. The current developments give hope that the home appliances industry will recover somewhat faster than other industries. It is, therefore, all the more important for the companies to work together to offer consumers attractive incentives. With some improvements and adjustments, home automation technology holds a crucial role in the near future. TVJ Bureau

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