Smart Homes: A Millennial's View

Smart Homes: A Millennial’s View

A human hand holding a smartphone that controls all aspects and departments of the house.

In the midst of the smart home revolution, one Millennial asks how this technology can be improved.

Like many of my college-age peers, I find the idea of a smart home very appealing, even though I’m not yet in the peak age group for buying a home.

Part of that stems from my studies (I’m pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University) and part from my background. Growing up in the home of a founder of New Home Source (with a dad who’s also a technology expert and a builder), new homes and home technologies were all around me from an early age.

However, in practice, the application of smart home tech is not yet living up to all that I hoped for. Frankly, many smart home technologies (however cutting edge they claim to be) seem somewhat outdated in comparison to other digital systems that I rely on every day.

That’s despite the fact there’s no shortage of companies producing “smart” devices for our homes – quite the opposite. Spend a few minutes in the aisle at Home Depot or searching online and you’ll quickly find countless digitally enhanced products that allow you to control everything in your home: door locks, window shades, ceiling fans, security systems, lighting, thermostats and a whole lot more.

However, their bright promise fades a bit for me since most of these “smart” devices come with their own app, many of which proudly state that they’re programmable by the user. That’s not my idea of a “smart” device and having a lot of them does not make a smart home.

Programmable systems should really be labeled “extra setup time required,” because that’s exactly what it means. As an engineer-to-be, it seems to me that the whole promise of smart devices and smart homes is to allow the homeowner to focus their time and energy on living their life, while the “smart parts” take care of all of the mundane activities.

Speaking as a Millennial who has grown up in a digital first, mobile first world, I can say for certain that I don’t want to have a separate app for every smart device I install. And I definitely don’t want to have to sit down and program each device.

Ideally, smart homes would act much like the other digital products we use every day. We have news and social apps that integrate our feeds and intelligently filter and sort content. It seems this model would work for homes, as well.

Part of the challenge is the number and youth of the technologies jostling for our attention and our dollars. For example, I found this “simple” explanation of home automation standards at Best Buy’s website: 
http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/zigbee-vs-zwave-vs-insteon-home-automation-protocols-explained/. Clears the whole issue up, right?

While standards are still emerging, imagine a smart home with one app that acts as a hub for all smart devices within your home. Ideally, such a “hub” app would integrate with all devices and easily extend to new ones as they’re added.

As the brains of the home, a core app like this would monitor many systems and alert the homeowner only when situations require user input or attention, such as device failures, security breaches or replacing a set of back-up batteries.

With a “one-ring-to-rule-them-all” approach like this, these systems could move beyond discrete components to integrated smart systems that work in harmony with one another. A layer of intelligence would enable devices to learn, be predictive and take self-control.

While bridging several product categories may not be easy, the technology exists today. The Nest thermostat learns your desired home heating and cooling by observing changes you input. Your Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner is getting increasingly smarter, as well.

It’s not a leap to envision devices that monitor and store increasing amounts of data on the homeowner’s schedule and preferences, enabling automation of many mundane and repetitive tasks. This level of automation provides the homeowner with a new level of freedom, allowing them to focus their attention on more personally valuable activities.

The perfect smart device is one that requires the least amount of user input, one that works flawlessly in the background and one that communicates with all of the other smart devices. All of this in order to allow the user to use their precious time to focus on the better things in life such as family, friends and freedom. Hmmm, I’ll work on this in my spare time between classes. Maybe I’ll ask my Amazon Echo to schedule some time for me to do so.

Shane Costello attends Texas A&M University, where he is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. He was born and raised in Austin, Texas, in a family with deep roots in both technology and home building. Prior to college, Shane took part in lacrosse and robotics and took many computer science and engineering classes at Vandegrift High School

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