Cities are getting smarter, creating an industry shift that could transform the way builders and integrators work within the smart home ecosystem.
Last September, the White House introduced a “Smart Cities” initiative, which will invest more than $160 million in federal research and technology collaborations. The goal is to “help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate and improving the delivery of city services,” according to the White House press release.
The move along with other initiatives across the country, such as the Green Building Initiative and Better Building Initiative, have the potential to completely change the way builders and integrators do business, and there are certainly pros and cons to be weighed.
“I’m always weary of government initiatives,” says integrator John Prince, of Atlantic Home Technologies. “I think our government is too intrusive already.”
Luxury builder Barry Hensley, president of NorthStar Luxury Homes, believes that his clientele is obviously interested in assurance that roads are maintained, water is provided to the home, electricity stays on and other citywide initiatives that technology could help maintain.
“However, I’m not quite sure how the ‘smart home’ fits into this discussion without risking some very intrusive decisions that homeowners will not appreciate,” says Hensley.
Execution Requires Demand
Prince believes that the “smart city” is currently a far-ranging, moving target that is largely driven by private business, and that it won’t be adapted on a wider scale until consumers begin demanding it.
“We want builders to put standard technology in their homes, but builders are not going to do that until prospective buyers are asking for it,” says Prince. “Similarly, smart cities will be driven by the buyer.”
Hensley states that, in the long run, these initiatives are more about collecting data than anything else. Consumers may very well demand it eventually, but if these initiatives aggressively aim to change homeowners’ habits, Hensley believes it will be “met with considerable resistance.”
Consumer Behavior and Presence Detection
Perhaps the best example of how to work around these initiatives in a way that pleases both the industry and its consumers comes to us from IOTAS, a smart home company that performs research as well as working directly with multifamily developers.
Currently, IOTAS is working closely with an undisclosed utility company to experiment smart cities technology such as presence detection and behavior learning. It’s figuring out how this can be used to manipulate outlets, thermostats and lights in units.
For instance, when renters leave for work in the morning, the thermostat can turn off only to be switched back on about an hour before they arrive home. This process can also discreetly shut off certain plug loads while others are being used, such as briefly turning off power in the kitchen while a movie is being watched in the living room.
“It’s interesting for one home, but imagine that for an entire building or several buildings,” says Sce Pike, CEO and president of IOTAS.
Pike notes that this method is promising in that it promotes energy efficiency and lifestyle changes without pestering the consumer or demanding they drastically modify their daily habits.
“For us, it’s just a byproduct of what we do. We just made it so it’s not annoying. Now, it’s just a natural and automated part of their daily life,” says Pike. “If you make it so easy that they don’t even need to think about it, you’re going to get better results.”
What the Future Holds
IOTAS’s work confirms John Prince’s belief that these types of smart cities initiatives are going to happen in communities first before going citywide, and it’s also a promising insight into what the future holds for builder and integrator business.
If handled correctly, smart cities aren’t necessarily a threat to the industry after all.
“Any specification that’s going to further increase technology in the home, the industry as a whole should view it as a positive,” says Prince.
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