With the addition of smart technology to our clothes, lightbulbs, and cars, it isn’t difficult to imagine the day when smart homes will be the norm. Simply put, smart homes are houses that incorporate automated or remote-controlled technology to improve the quality of life for the residents. Home automation, also known as domotics, encompasses everything from home security to entertainment and from lighting to heating.

The first smart homes were developed in the late 1970’s with the advent of X10, a communication protocol that sends bursts of digital information broadcast over a 120 kHz radio frequency into a home’s existing wiring. X10 sends commands to programmable outlets and switches, controlling which devices turn on and when. While smart homes are not necessarily a new technology, the development of 4G and the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) have exponentially increased the number and variety of devices that can be programmed or controlled remotely.

The current wave of smart technologies can be loosely seen as beginning in 2010 with the founding of Nest Labs, the company that developed the first smart thermostat. These devices connect to the home’s wifi network and provide functions such as scheduled heating/cooling routines, energy use reports, safety warnings and cleaning reminders. The Nest system is also self-learning, meaning that it tracks patterns and user habits for added autonomy. Smart home technology doesn’t begin and end with the thermostat, however. 

Smart light bulbs can be programmed to turn on or off at certain times, can be set to filter how much daylight is available and adjust accordingly, or sense when a room is occupied, both of which add convenience as well as offer energy saving capabilities. Smart locks can be enabled or disabled remotely, notify the residents if anyone approaches the door, or even use facial recognition to automatically open when residents arrive home. Smart security systems are able to differentiate between human and animal motion, as well as identify potential burglars based on body language and behavior. Surveillance systems could also be used by the elderly to ensure safety, notifying emergency responders if a resident has been injured or fallen unconscious. 

Smart homes are often touted as providing convenience, which they undoubtedly do; however, more broad reaching impacts include reducing energy waste and conserving natural resources. Smart lawn systems monitor the condition of the yard, only watering when necessary and with the required amount of water. Instead of leaving ACs running all day, smart homes can turn devices on later, ensuring that the home is appropriately cooled when residents return home, but without excess energy use. 

With smart home devices becoming more and more affordable, the last hurdles for the industry to overcome are interoperability — the ability of smart devices made by different manufacturers to communicate with one another — and cybersecurity. Interoperability is crucial for the industry to truly take off because users will be slow to adopt such technology if products from only one brand can be connected. Security threats are also one of the highest cited reasons users are reticent to incorporate these technologies more widely. 

If you’re able to control every facet of your home remotely, then hackers would also be able to gain complete control. Beyond the ability to easily facilitate burglary, security threats also include access to private data. Smart devices that track patterns could allow companies or hackers to determine your precise schedule, to monitor in real time when residents are asleep, or even information recorded from private conversations and picked up by smart speakers.