Ever since the Jetsons conjured up a smart home utopia 60 years ago there has been hype around devices that can make our home lives easier. Today that hype is beginning to turn into consumer support with research recently commissioned by Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) showing that almost half (46%) of consumers believe smart home devices will become mainstream within five years. However, while consumer demand is strong there are still a number of obstacles that need to be overcome before these systems become common place in our homes.
Today’s smart home is a confusing place with many different networking technologies and protocols. Consumers want devices that are easy to set-up and use. And because, by definition, the smart home contains more than one smart device, they want their devices to work together. Devices that don’t ‘just work’ with others within the home, because they contain niche technologies, struggle to provide the simplicity and interoperability that consumers demand. The smart home should also be self-aware, providing true home automation, which many devices to date haven’t offered. Fully integrated smart home systems are also traditionally expensive to design, purchase and install, a major barrier for most consumers, says Martin Woolley, technical program manager, Bluetooth SIG (Martin WoolleySpecial Interest Group).
In short proprietary and closed solutions are making the smart home expensive, complicated and limiting for consumers. Changing these things is the only way of unlocking the true potential of the smart home, allowing it to meet the potential of predictions like those made by IHS Technology, who have stated that by 2018, 12% of homes will contain at least one smart home system.
To date Bluetooth® technology has offered a way to overcome many of these problems. It offers unrivalled scale and interoperability. Mobile devices and applications are how consumers interact with their connected world and according to IHS Technology, by 2017, 91% of handsets sold worldwide will be smartphones, and just about all of them will be Bluetooth Smart enabled because it’s supported by every mobile platform. This is particularly important as although using one device to control your home is not necessarily how it will always be, it gives consumers the power of huge application-based ecosystems at their fingertips. Smartphones also provide a simple, yet powerful means for the initial set-up and install of smart home devices and systems.
Bluetooth also offers smart home manufacturers a lot of flexibility, as they can use custom profiles to create whatever device they want and still have it work with the Bluetooth standard. Bluetooth Smart is also very cost effective, with the price of chips low and continuing to fall, ensuring manufacturers can offer consumers competitive pricing. Security is another important concern for consumers in a world filled with data privacy concerns. Bluetooth carries government-grade 128-bit data encryption and industry-leading privacy features.
The last major piece of the smart home puzzle is ensuring the wireless technology can cover the entire home, while maintaining the simplicity and security consumers demand. Mesh networking capability will be the answer to this issue by allowing Bluetooth Smart enabled devices to be networked together, ensuring blanket connectivity across the home. Early this year more than 100 Bluetooth SIG member companies volunteered to work with the SIG to create the Bluetooth architecture for standardised mesh networking capabilities, and their work is due to be complete in 2016.
Mesh capability is not solely about coverage and range however. When it comes to a smart home there is a gamut of ‘smartness’. At one end is being able to control a few discreet devices directly from a smartphone or tablet, which is useful but not particularly complex. At the other end is a home with a large number of wireless connected devices which contain sensors that can monitor and report on all aspects of your home, from the temperature through to security. And by building some intelligent software on top of that you have not only a self-aware home but one that can act on the information it gets to automate a huge variety of things. Adding mesh to Bluetooth Smart can do all that, enabling a truly smart home.
Imagine the first mesh application you implement in your home is lighting. Being able to control all the lights in your home is great but the exciting part is that the nodes in those light bulbs can provide other Bluetooth Smart enabled services. For example they could track individuals in the home using their wearable device or smartphone so that the air conditioning is turned on when they enter a certain room. Always losing your keys? By having an embedded beacon in your key ring the mesh network could track them and let you know where they are. Essentially the mesh becomes more than just something which provides a particular smart home service like lighting control. It has the potential to become smart home infrastructure which enables numerous services. And the best part is that the network works within the home itself with the consumer remaining completely in control—reducing their potential security or privacy concerns.
As Lee Ratcliff from IHS has said: “By adding mesh networking capability, Bluetooth will really be able to address nearly every application in the home.” While the use for mesh technology goes far beyond the smart home it really could be the key to making this market mainstream.
The author of this blog is Martin Woolley, technical program manager, Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group).
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