Making High-Tech “Smart Homes” Even Smarter

by Published On: Apr 13, 2012

Being "smart" may not be enough for the high-tech home of the future. In order to meet its full potential, says Diane Cook, an engineer at Washington State University, smart homes will need to start thinking and making decisions for themselves. 

Smart homes won't be taking over the world anytime soon, says Cook. But, they will need the ability to learn the habits and preferences of their inhabitants and to make decisions without human input. 

That’s because the average human simply won’t be able to program and manage the increasingly complex software that smart homes are likely to feature.

Cook runs 25 test smart homes, including some “smart” assisted living apartments, throughout the Pacific Northwest. In an interview posted by Life Science, Cook described her dream home as one that can continually monitor its inhabitants’ activities in order to catch emerging health conditions early enough to allow for timely interventions. 

The home will also be ready to serve its residents in a variety of ways, either by preparing a bath just when it’s needed, feeding the dog, fine-tuning interior temperatures, or deciding when to water the grass. 

Most importantly, the home will keep an eye on itself in order to prevent system malfunctions like the front door opening in the middle of the night.

Smart home reality check

Some researchers are making progress in designing the systems that can power the smart home that Cook envisions. But 2 major barriers still stand in the way:

  • It’s still not easy for homes to make decisions on its own. Cook has succeeded in teaching her smart homes how to learn the habits and preferences of a single occupant who has a regular routine. But it’s much more difficult for home technology systems to learn the irregular schedules of many family members. It’s even harder for that system to mine and make sense of data without input from people.
  • Consumers are not on board. Privacy concerns are a major barrier to acceptance of smart home technology. Cook suggests, however, that those concerns could diminish in the years ahead if smart homes can be marketed to younger consumers who are already accustomed to having their personal data tracked by electronic devices. Technology vendors could sell these younger consumers a smart home system that saves energy or provides enhanced home security. Down the line, these consumers may be open to letting the home monitor their activities as well.

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