Why affordability and scalability is key to smart home success - Embedded.com

Why affordability and scalability is key to smart home success

Smart homes can potentially offer many benefits for their owners. However, cost is a key concern and homeowners still need to understand fully the value added to daily life and the extent of the possibilities. To encourage consumers to take the plunge and continue investing, equipment vendors must offer products that allow affordable entry and simple installation with easy, flexible scalability.


Figure 1. Pyroelectric sensing modules provide effective proximity detection and simplify design.

To come to life and react autonomously to ensure comfort and energy efficiency, smart homes will be sensor-rich to monitor not only ambient light and temperature but also the presence of occupants and their proximity to smart devices and appliances throughout the home. Infrared sensing provides a simple and effective way to detect presence and proximity, allowing devices to wake only when needed thereby saving power as well as permitting an enhanced user experience. The Kemet SS series of infrared sensors and plug-and-sense modules (figure 1) uses proprietary material technologies to detect human presence through solid plastics or glass, and so can be almost invisible when designed-in. The sensors can be used up to two meters without a lens, or five meters with a lens. Short-range sensors are also available, for distances up to 20cm.

Since many people spend a great deal of time in the kitchen preparing meals, making drinks, fixing snacks, and cleaning up, it makes sense that innovators should create smart appliances such as connected refrigerators and connected cookers to take even more of the stress out of modern life.

However, the market for connected refrigerators is quite small, about $2.5 billion globally. Shipments are predicted to increase to two million units by 2026. This suggests that consumers have not yet seen the value of an appliance that, with multiple internal cameras and sensors, can help them assess the quantity and condition of food remotely using a smartphone while out shopping, for example, or to find out if there is enough food for an extra dinner guest.

Analysis indicates the market for connected cookers is about one-tenth that for refrigerators. Perhaps even fewer can perceive value in connecting remotely to this type of appliance. On the other hand, infusing AI could help busy or inexperienced cooks by autonomously identifying the dish and optimizing the temperature profile to be ready at the desired time.

Outside the home, smart devices let homeowners proactively ensure the security of their property. Electric door locks have been proposed, which allow users to grant access privileges through a smartphone app. Although this provides flexibility – tradespeople or others can be allowed temporary access, without sharing a key, and family members can enjoy protection against the risk of becoming locked out – homeowners may fear the potential for hacking, or simple user error, that could create opportunities for intruders. Affordable wireless cameras, on the other hand, deliver benefits that are easier to appreciate. Permanently connected to the Internet, their ability to send captured images instantly to the cloud is a clear deterrent; destroying the evidence is impossible, so it’s game over as soon as the intruder is caught on camera.

At the connection between the smart home and the utility provider, smart meters are already helping to simplify meter reading and allow dynamic tariffing to encourage more manageable consumption patterns. This is particularly valuable in the context of smart grids, helping ensure stability as the energy supply continues to move away from traditional fossil fuels to renewable sources.


Figure 2. KEMET developed metal-composite power inductors for small size and low energy loss. (https://ec.kemet.com/metcom/)

Kemet develops component materials to ease the deployment of smart meters and minimize their energy consumption. These include METCOM metal-composite power inductors (figure 2), which have low DC resistance and low losses at high frequencies, and polymer capacitors that combine the high volumetric efficiency of tantalum with low equivalent series resistance (ESR) and durability. In addition, Kemet’s HV series supercapacitors are leading the emergence of this type of device, often used for a power boost in battery-powered smart meters such as gas or water meters that cannot be connected to mains electricity.

Smart homes for good

Smart technologies also bring the potential for more and better products and services to care for the elderly and vulnerable, such as improving the quality of assisted living. People are still not yet living with humanoid helpers that do the dishes and answer the door. Cost is certainly a barrier to this, and some may say a proliferation of robot carers would highlight a society that in fact does not care. On the other hand, as the aging population could live independently and lead more enjoyable lives for longer if certain tasks could be offloaded to an affordable and practicable robot assistant. Multi-axis cobots have proved successful in industrial markets, so why not apply them to domestic roles that require strength or dexterity that an elderly person may have lost, such as on the kitchen-worktop or to help with washing or dressing?

A more social connection with smart home technologies could be helpful. We are all learning to interact with home digital assistants, so conversing with AIs may soon be a natural aspect of daily life. With extra skills, these devices could become part of a companionship “mix” that could help alleviate feelings of isolation and provide support in between visits by carers and/or relatives.

While we contemplate opportunities to leverage smart home technologies to improve quality of life, it is worth considering that many people in the world are living with no access to electricity to power basic amenities such as lighting. The United Nations estimates some 1.3 billion people are in this position, forced to use light sources such as candles, wood fires, and kerosene lamps. Such poor lighting, for activities such as reading, causes deteriorating eyesight and combustion particulates present a threat to health. In conjunction with improvements in electricity supply, such as widespread deployment of local solar microgenerators, smart technologies could help to deal with lighting poverty by enhancing efficiency to help the captured energy go further.

Conclusion

A smart home should take better care for its occupants than they can manage on their own. However, the concept is unfamiliar to many, and companies are still trying to discover consumers’ true desires. Equipment vendors can encourage adoption by creating offers that are both flexible and scalable. In the future, more of the potential may be realized as today’s young technophiles acquire their own homes and seek improvements in energy efficiency, running costs, and comfort.

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times Europe.


David Adeeb is senior technical marketing engineer at Kemet Corp.

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