The speed at which digital technology is becoming embedded in our homes is not only gathering pace but the range of applications it offers is proliferating. Increasingly, it is the way in which these smart, sensor-enabled devices interact with one another – the internet of things – and the services such interactions can give rise to, that is moving into focus.
“The things that you have to do but that you don’t want to do, we can take them off your hands and make life that little bit easier for you,” says Peter Wadsworth, innovations manager at BSH Home Appliances.
Already its brands, Bosch and Siemens, make smart dishwashers that collaborate with Amazon Dash Replenishment, ordering your dishwasher tablets for you before you run out.
“It’s not the appliances themselves that offer the most opportunity now, the really interesting and exciting stuff is what the connected appliances allow you do outside of them,” he says.
For example, it can help a customer with a hearing impairment devise a solution whereby the lights flash in a room when their machines has finished its cycle. For a visually impaired customer, it helped her use a combination of Alexa and screen-reading software to devise a solution.
Smart homes solutions will soon be offering you recipes based on the ingredients in your fridge, perhaps with particular emphasis on foods that are close to their eat-by date.
“It can even bring together all the elements of a dinner party, helping you to choose a recipe, checking you have the right ingredients and ordering the ones you don’t have,” says Wadsworth.
When you're cooking, systems such as Amazon Echo or Google Home will send instructions to your smart oven and notify you on your phone when things are ready. "It means half way through your dinner party conversation, you don't have to run off to lower the heat, just use your phone to change the settings so that it's ready when you are."
The connection between your appliances, and the app on your mobile phone, will help unlock much of the very clever technology that’s already in them, but which we never use. “Often, people don’t know a lot of the functions they have.”
Bosch’s Smart Home and EasyStart technologies allow a machine to decide the best amount of water, heat or detergent for a wash, and then tell the tumble dryer too. With cookers, it means ovens that can detect when your food is cooked and turning itself off, notify your phone.
“It’s a dual-pronged approach, it’s not just about having all these cool features, it’s about making them more accessible too, via an app,” says Wadsworth.
The aim is not just to make the appliance better, but the user’s life. “If you’re in the pub on a Sunday afternoon, for example, and you want to stay longer, you can delay the start of your oven. I did just that recently, putting a pizza in before I left home and it was ready when I walked in the door. It meant I didn’t have to say ‘sorry, I’ve got to leave the pub, my pizza is ready’. The technology in your life should fit into your life, not the other way around.”
The concept of the connected home has changed the way we engage with people, products and services, says Colin Bebbington, retail director with Bord Gáis Energy. He believes the energy industry should be no different. Indeed, smart thermostat systems such as Nest and Hive were many people's first introduction to smart homes.
“As energy suppliers, we have a number of key responsibilities, not only to drive value for customers and reward them for their loyalty, but also to deliver great service and provide new ways to better manage and control energy,” he says.
“We offer an unrivalled suite of smart energy solutions through our Hive products and are constantly looking at new products and propositions that can help our customers reduce their energy consumption, save money and ultimately lower their carbon footprint.”
As a “helpful energy company”, it is focusing its efforts on keeping prices affordable and sustainable in the long term for customers, he says, “while also assisting them to use their energy systems more efficiently. This allows them to make informed choices on their ongoing consumption, ultimately reducing their bills, as well as their carbon footprint.”
Increasingly, we will see smart home applications relating to health, according to Dr Jonathan Synnott of the School of Computing at Ulster University.
Connected health refers to the use of technology to facilitate remote delivery of healthcare, through the connection of the service user – or patient – with the healthcare professional.
It brings benefits to both, helping to drive down the cost of healthcare delivery, while at the same time offering the prospect of boosting quality and efficiency.
For the patient, connected health has the power to provide early detection and intervention, preventing something seemingly innocuous from turning into a long-term chronic condition requiring long-term care.
It has the power to do this without major capital investment in high-tech kit too. It could even be something as simple as the lowly toothbrush.
“I see a move to disposable, recyclable internet of things toothbrushes, in which smart capabilities are embedded within lower-cost devices,” says Synnott.
"Imagine buying a toothbrush in Tesco which can provide a mini check-up as you brush your teeth, collecting information such as plaque amount and blood amount. Such information could be sent to your dentist, who will be alerted if any readings are recorded which indicate a problem. Your dentist could then contact you to arrange an appointment, which allows the problem to be solved early, before it becomes troublesome or painful."