Smart Living: Past, Present & Potential Future

Home appliances made some of the first steps towards easing and automating human labor in the home, paving the way to the smart living movement of today.

James Spangler created the first domestic vacuum cleaner in 1907 that Hoover later gained the rights to. In 1909, General Electric filed a patent for the first commercially successful toaster. The Walker brothers created the first electric dishwasher to go to market in 1913. The development of Freon 12 by Frigidaire in 1931 led to the first safe refrigerators and air conditioners. J. Ross Moore developed the first clothes dryer in 1935. Raytheon comes up with the first commercial microwave in 1947.

The first smart home became operational in April 1966. Westinghouse engineer Jim Sutherland made the ECHO IV Electronic Computing Home Operator for his family in less than a year. Weighing 800 pounds and taking up four basement cabinets, the computer was used by the whole family (including kids) to control the house’s clocks, stereo, thermostat, TV and the first home word processor.

The Sutherland family with ECHO-IV. Image Credit: Computer History Museum.

ECHO-IV system diagram. Image Credit: Computer History Museum.

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer, weighing in at 100 pounds and a $10,000 price tag, trailed after the ECHO IV in 1969 with limited sales.

MIT premiered its home of the future, the Monsanto House, in Disneyland in 1957 replete with house-controlling electronic devices and plastic.

The National Association of Homebuilders created a special interest group named “Smart House” in 1984 to push for the incorporation of technology in home design.

Electrolux created the first robotic vacuum cleaner Trilobite on the market in 2001, followed by iRobot’s Roomba in 2002.
Nest Labs came out with its learning thermostat in 2011. Startup SmartThings with its connected devices hub and cloud platform followed in 2012 with a $1.2 million launch on Kickstarter.

Belkin premiered its smartphone-controlled WeMo Light Switch in 2013.

The industry also began moving towards creating industry standards. In 2013, Microsoft launched its Lab of Things research platform for development of connected devices in the home. The Linux Foundation also launched the AllSeen Alliance, aiming to create a set of unifying IoT standards that would allow products from various brands to be compatible. One year later, Samsung, Dell and Intel started the Open Connectivity Foundation to. Five companies including Samsung, Nest and Qualcomm created the network protocol Thread in 2014 to allow IoT devices to safely connect to one another and the cloud wirelessly, later allowing for open source implementation in 2016. The AllSeen Alliance and the Open Connectivity Foundation later merged later merge in Oct. 2016 to better consolidate industry standards and interoperability under the AllJoyn software framework and certification.

Current players & potential future innovation

Samsung acquired SmartThings in 2014 for a reported $200 million. Its app allowed users to control Samsung home devices including refrigerators, ovens and washing machines. The app hit a snag in 2016 when it began encountering glitches that caused some smart device creators to withdraw from creating compatible apps.

In January, Samsung unveiled an IoT washer-dryer set. At CES 2017, Samsung unveiled its new transparent televisions, smart 2.0 Family Hub refrigerators and its new line of cooking appliances including ovens, cooktops and range hoods, showing its intentions for further expansion into new home areas.

Amazon launched its smart voice-controlled speaker/hub Amazon Echo in 2014 along with its assistant Alexa and accompanying connected devices in 2014. In Jan. 2016, Vivint launched an integration with Amazon Echo that allowed users to use voice commands to control lights, security systems, temperature and the garage door. At CES 2017, a wide array of companies including Belkin, Whirlpool, LG and Ford announced the release of Amazon-controllable products including TVs, DVRs and large scale home appliances. The span of its offerings and its Ford compatibility shows Amazon will continue to remain a heavy competitor with Google in the drive to win smart device consumers’ hearts and minds.

Started offering its take on IoT devices and management with HomeKit in 2014. It allowed for users to control alarms, sensors, temperature, lighting and video cameras. At CES 2017, Apple premiered the Chamberlain Smart Garage Hub to allow users to control their garages via phone. Honeywell also announced its Lyric Home Security and Control System would be controllable by Homekit, showing Apple is pushing for a broader range of functionality for HomeKit in an attempt to make gains on Amazon and Google.

Google acquired Nest Labs in 2014 in its initial steps of entering the smart home arena. It has made its open source compatibility a major foundation of its appeal, capable of controlling a wide range of devices from numerous home product companies. It created its Google Home, a smart speaker paired with its Google Assistant in Nov. 2016. Several companies including TV and light switch producers announced their launch of Google-compatible smart home products at CES 2017. Hyundai and Chrysler announced their compatibility with Google Assistant, allowing them connect with the home, share information and control via voice commands, showing Google’s continued growth into the overlapping areas of smart homes and smart and autonomous vehicles.


Standardization of protocols and internet connectivity
As is the case with a lot of technology, its development often outpaces the law. Many smart home product producers have widely varying technological protocols and data protections for their product.

Some have called for governments to implement regulation and standards, while some smart living panelists at CES 2016 postulated the companies with the best –selling products will ultimately dictate the industry standard.

Expanding internet connectivity in homes around the world is also considered a major necessity, particularly for IoT devices. Some industry leaders have likened the effort to bring internet and IoT devices into homes to plumbing and electricity, necessitating new housing design before it can be utilized by average consumers.

IoT insecurity & privacy
Another reason many tech observers are calling for government regulation is the potential for IoT devices to be used maliciously.

The Dyn DDOS attack that prevented access to numerous popular websites was driven primarily by hacked IoT devices, creating fierce debate about the lack of security protections in smart devices.

Many called for greater government regulation of IoT to protect against producer negligence that enabled massive abuse.

In an interview with Business Insider, Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for F-Secure, said that smart device companies would likely not implement greater security until pushed by the government, because consumers often aren’t concerned about IoT security that doesn’t directly impact them. 50 percent of respondents to an Oct. 2016 survey from ESET and the National Cyber Security Alliance said they had been discouraged from purchasing an IoT device due to concerns about cyber security.

“I’m really divided on what I think about regulation, but if it’s needed somewhere, this might be it…we’re regulating things on appliances anyway,” he said. “They should not be able to give you an electric shock, they should not catch fire, they should not leak your WiFi password either — I think that would be a good thing.”

Following the Dyn attack, U.S. Senators introduced the The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act of 2016 and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources began holding hearings on the legislation in July 2016, proposing additional efforts to secure and regulate U.S. energy networks.

While industry and government leaders are taking steps to make IoT more secure, hackers will continue to act quickly.The Atlantic reporter Andrew McGill showed that it only takes 41 minutes for a hacker to find and commandeer a smart device.

Traditional ideas in futuristic packaging
While one of the purported goals of smart living is to make life easier, safer and more convenient for its occupants, the vision portrayed by male designers and marketing have often not been as forward-thinking as these futuristic houses seem.

In Changing Media, Homes and Households: Cultures , Technologies and Meanings, Deborah Chambers describes how smart homes over time have typically been pitched primarily to wealthier, tech-oriented men as sterile, futuristic bachelor pads.

Smart home advertising often portrays women as multitasking, engaging in both paid and unpaid home labor (such as completing office calls and work while juggling children), she writes. Meanwhile, men are frequently portrayed alone in home offices apart from their families and focused on their work, or engaging in leisure activities in the home with their children rather than care-giving. Chambers notes many ads have a subtext of new technology undoing the harms done to families by women’s liberation and their entrance into the workforce.

Smart homes, their features and their targeting also tend to neglect the populations who potentially have the most to gain from smart home assistance, Chambers states.

“We might assume futuristic home design to have particular significance for the elderly, disabled persons and children,” she writes.”Yet these social groups have been demoted as secondary concerns within the commercially led home agenda.”

Some smart home device developers have begun taking steps to make features and services to cater to those in most need of it, but this area still has significant potential for expansion and development.

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