Enhancing the everyday through home automation

14/09/2016

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With a growing awareness amongst consumers around smart home technology, the time is right for the electrical industry to get on board and understand its true potential. The recent augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm, has demonstrated the potential of technology to consumers – paving the way for other smart technologies to enter our homes and businesses.

Richard Hayward, lead marketing manager for Legrand’s wiring devices business, reflects on the changing needs and demands of consumers throughout the home and the role that technology can play in its future.

The well-known phrase ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ has never been truer than in today’s society. The phrase is actually rooted in history dating back to the 16th Century and while its meaning is varied, it is ultimately a dictate that means no-one can enter, unless they are invited. This is an interesting concept in the smart world, where information and data form an integral part in the way our homes operate, with the potential for information sharing beyond our own walls.

For smart home automation and ‘smart technology’ more generally, the issue of security is an important one for many consumers, but in truth many will look to the technology as a means of enhancing their lives and building experiences. For many years, the technology has been viewed as exclusive and only for the wealthy, yet our smart phones have opened a window into a brand new world of interconnectivity – making smart living a possibility.

Familiarity with smart technology makes the integration into our homes much simpler, we already understand how to operate and download apps and this is exactly the same with smart home technology.  Other new entry level systems such as HIVE and NEST have also paved the way for smarter home automation technology with the ability to control everything from the blinds, to the audio and visual system to the heating via a Home Interface Unit.

Experience is a key part of this user-engagement. Consider services like UBER who have used smart technology to their advantage. Customers can not only book a taxi quickly and simply, but they can also track its progress, see who their driver is and pay remotely. Its simplicity is genius, and it works because the consumer becomes part of an experience and they are buying into that.

Framed in this way, smart technology is not so complex. Something as simple as lighting control in a home can be easily automated and then controlled by a single home interface. Depending on the homeowner’s choosing, this could be a smart phone or a dedicated control panel or a Home Interface Unit - or a combination of these things, such as is offered by Legrand’s Vantage system. Either way, the end user is presented with a high level of functionality with tailored control to create the ultimate personalised environment. What’s more, Legrand’s home automation systems are designed to be easy to install and easy to use – making the complex simple. The cabling is all behind the scenes, hidden behind the walls, ceilings and flooring - much like our wiring is today. The only difference being that these new cables also carry data and this is an important differentiator.

Data is key. A smart home does not just enable the homeowner to turn the lighting on from an app, or widget as they are known in smart technology spheres, it also learns as it goes to enhance everyday living for the homeowner. So for example, if you return home every day from work at 5pm, turn the lights on to a certain luminance, the thermostat to a certain temperature, the radio to your favourite station and lower the blinds or close the curtains, a smart home can learn this and adjust your programmed settings accordingly. Within no time, a home can add to your daily experience so that when you turn the key in the lock, your home comes alive and is pre-set to your needs.  

When viewed as a series of simple connections, the idea of the smart home becomes a reality. For many it may be that the temperature and room settings required in the kitchen are very different to those in the bathroom or the bedroom and your home can tune into these changes and make the necessary adjustments whatever they may be to become an integral part of a homeowner’s lifestyle. 

When it comes to security, cameras and alarm systems can be easily programmed and connected to a smart phone or tablet, so if during a holiday your home alarm alerts you to an intruder, you can check and view the cameras via your portable device and even reset the alarm if there are no problems. Furthermore, door entry systems are incredibly popular in single residences and in-line with the growing trend for multi-dwelling properties – ensuring privacy and security. No longer is the technology limited to simply answering the door, with systems such as Legrand’s Bticino range, offering the ability to answer the intercom remotely via a smart device; providing greater control over who can enter the property and peace of mind that it is secure whether you are home or away.

In reality, the smart home is more than a gimmicky fridge that can order more milk when it senses the bottle is nearly empty, or turns over the TV channel when you’re lounging on the sofa. Beyond providing a luxurious experience, smart technology has the potential to integrate functions such as heating, cooling, lighting, AV, and even blind control to enhance a property’s energy efficiency and enable the occupier to tailor the space to suit their lifestyle. Of course every person’s home is their castle and what they need and want to help improve their lives is relative, but with so much potential at our disposal – we literally have the connected world at our fingertips. We aren’t talking about a revolution here, more an evolution of technology and we needn’t wait for it, it’s here now and is accessible to all.

For electricians, while this type of technology isn’t hugely complex, there are a lot of skills involved in the planning and installation of a system, in order to make the best use of it. The recommended route would be to seek out training with some of the leading manufacturers and take it from there.

Experiences sell, so if a customer loves how they can interact with the technology and the notion of it learning and adapting to change, it offers a real growth potential for the market. The key to choosing the right system is understanding what your customers want and desire, and then keeping it simple.  Very few people will want to understand what’s going on behind their walls, but they will want to see how it could look, what it can do and even potentially if it can help save them money.

Without a doubt, the smart home is here and the question now must be whether you choose to embrace it or not. As we enter the government’s national smart meter roll-out, the potential for smart homes will continue to grow along with consumer awareness of the potential smart technology can bring to their lives and in helping people to live life better.  

Crucially, if a product looks good, improves the way we use pivotal rooms in our homes, and the way we interact with it, while saving us money and energy in the longer term – why would you not consider it?