> FOCUS BY CHUCK ROSS
OUR HOUSES—or, at least, the houses
of the tech-savviest among us—are getting closer to running
autonomously. Now, it’s not just that you can open your garage door or turn on
your living room lights from a smartphone app. Today, many home devices actually are
beginning to communicate with each other. Lock the door on your way out and your thermostat
shuts off. Or, if you come home and open the garage door, the kitchen lights turn on and the clothes dryer
turns up its heat to dewrinkle the clothes that you left in there.
Welcome to the brave new world of
the Internet of Things (Io T). Though still
in its infancy—some of the developments
described above only just debuted at January’s Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)
Show—the potential effect on energy efficiency,
home security and automation is enormous.
It is a potentially lucrative market for electrical
contractors willing to put a little effort into training. Not all of the technology is wireless, and
even the devices that run on Wi-Fi can be confusing for inexperienced homeowners to install.
While the term “smart” has become a common
reference to a range of nifty gadgets, experts prefer a
more specific description when discussing Io T devices.
Specifically, according to Tom Kerber, research director
of Parks Associates’ Home Systems and Energy Management
practice, an Io T device is represented virtually on a remote
cloud server, with that server understanding the device’s state
at all times.
“If it were a garage door, [the server] would know if it were
up or down,” Kerber said.
For Parks Associates and other market researchers, these
devices fall into a category called “smart home.”
Lighting, locks (or, more generally, security-related systems)
and thermostats lead the category, Kerber said, but smoke
detectors are coming on strong. Traditional security providers
have been the initial beneficiaries of most consumer
spending, he added, because they are already work-
ing with sensors throughout a residence. Not so long
ago, such companies as ADT were facing declining
revenues as do-it-yourselfers began balking at
monthly service fees. Now their business is
resurging, as homeowners see new value in
getting independent devices to communi-
cate with each other.
“The security channel has been able to add
home controls onto their system platform and
be very successful,” Kerber said.
As one example of the growth potential, Kerber cited a recent Parks Associates’
At this point, the market for smart home devices is relatively
small. Kerber said that 60 percent of Parks Associates survey
respondents didn’t know the category even exists. However,
manufacturers already are onto the second or third generation
of products, and bigger players are beginning to see value in
acquiring startups and niche companies. For example, Google
bought Nest Labs a year ago, and now the “Works With Nest”
Internet of Everything