Connected devices are disrupting every facet of today’s home – from entertainment, to access control, to daily tasks, and more, with the U.S. market seeing 29 million of its homes growing even smarter by the day.
While consumers are easily captivated by the amazing features and efficiencies these products offer to their household, it’s important that engineers also keep in mind the physical interface. The look and feel of a device dictates a product’s price and has long-standing effects on customer satisfaction. For IoT device engineers, this means one thing: you have to sweat the details. Every component choice matters, particularly given most IoT products' small size.
Switches and buttons are the unsung “heroes” responsible for driving the smart home tech movement. There are six important reasons why they shouldn’t be an afterthought in a smart home product engineer’s designs.
Hardware ranging from the switches, sensors and screens used on smart televisions, connected door locks, smart thermostat controls, etc. – play a critical role in the proliferation of a smart home’s connected devices. Humans are tactile creatures so the way a product feels is a critical part of a user’s overall satisfaction.
“On/off” switches are generally the only product control feature a user physically touches; in fact, many times the switch is a customer’s first interaction with a product. It is critical that switches create a delightful experience or else consumers will search out another product that better meets their needs.
Internet Protocol (IP) cameras are a common feature in many smart homes, and it’s no wonder why: According to an iControl Networks study, a burglary takes place every 14.1 seconds in the United States. IP cameras allow a person to monitor what’s going on at home from their laptop, smartphone, or any other smart device from anywhere in the world. IP cameras also act as a deterrent to crime, help police apprehend criminals and simply provide piece of mind to a homeowner.
But these valiant efforts in protection will go to waste without the right switch powering the smart cameras. For these types of applications, a miniature tactile switch's small size is perfect for meeting the needs of shrinking form factors – such as smaller lens displays – but are also robust enough to prevent an intruder from breaking the camera, rendering it useless.
IP cameras only capture images of people who are not supposed to enter your home. Access control provides an additional level of security for the 90 percent of consumers concerned with personal and family security when it comes to smart home adoption, again according to iControl Networks.
Internet doorbells with built-in cameras can show you who is at the front door, while smart door locks allow you to unlock the door remotely. These devices can come in handy to unlock your house for the babysitter or forgetful teenagers who left their keys at school.
Most smart locks utilize some type of miniature tactile switch to set or reset the lock. These switches need to be small, have long life and be able to deal with harsh conditions like rain and humidity. Switches used on Internet doorbells also require high cycle life and the ability to accommodate over-travel and over-force conditions (e.g., kids, delivery persons and neighbors who pound on the doorbell repeatedly).
Almost half (41.5 percent) of residential energy consumption in the United States is due to heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is why many consumers are installing smart thermostat systems into their homes that automatically regulate heat and air conditioning systems that help cut energy costs.
Many smart thermostats use touch screens for the operator interface; however, many companies use standard switches as a low-cost solution. The best type of switches to use are small, electro-mechanical and navigation switches that provide a customized sound and feel that denotes quality. These switches can also be used for reset functions to protect against power surges that can make a product inoperable.
Heating and Cooling
Smart thermostats can help consumers save on heating and cooling costs, but they do little to warn when a larger building’s HVAC system will break down.
Sensors align the different components of a smart HVAC system to alert building owners to any abnormal activity or when it’s time for a repair. But, these sensors would be useless if the proper switches weren’t in place to power the system in the first place.
Because HVAC equipment and controllers are commonly located in utility rooms, basements, and other dirty environments, these products’ switches must be able to accommodate harsh conditions. Corrosion resistance is a key factor to maintain reliable electrical signals in the presence of dust or moisture. With thermostats and commercial room controllers, cycle life is also an important consideration as these products are generally built to last up to ten years.
Modern Smart Lighting
Lighting represents 19 percent of global electricity consumption and 23 percent of electricity consumption in the United States. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), one of the simplest ways to reduce a building’s carbon footprint is to retrofit lighting.
For improved smart lighting efficiency, one of the most common products is the occupancy, or motion sensor. These products can be mounted in a corner of the room or be part of a wall light switch. The device typically incorporates a passive infrared (PIR) sensor to determine movement, but many of these sensors require the use of a DIP switch to adjust sensitivity and timing settings, or else the system won’t function properly. The DIP switches are generally required to have low-profile miniature footprints and have a contact system that can resist corrosion and provide reliable switching at low current levels.
A typical U.S. home could contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022 according to research firm Gartner. However, hardware still plays an important role in these products. The simple tact, pushbutton, and DIP switches – generally the last components to be added to the design and one of the lowest cost items on the bill of materials – are typically the only part of the end product the consumer actually touches. When they work, they go unnoticed. But when they don’t, the results can be expensive and frustrating.
Mike Bolduc is Global Marketing Manager at C&K, where he is responsible for leading market strategy and global growth efforts for the industrial and medical business segments. Mike has an engineering and business background and over 25 years of diversified experience in the automotive, semiconductor, HVAC, aerospace, industrial, and medical industries working for large global corporations such as Texas Instruments and Stanley Black & Decker.