Our lives today have technology in every aspect, with the growing proliferation of internet and smartphones and, more recently, virtual personal assistants. Home automation or the smart home industry is taking its first steps in India. In simple terms, a smart home is a house featuring an "intelligent" technology enabled network of devices that communicate with each other, making our stay at home frictionless, convenient and pleasant.
The global smart home market is expected to reach a value of more than $40 billion by 2020. This is encouraging news for companies investing in further innovations in the smart home sector. Smart homes allow our devices to take care of the mundane repetitive everyday tasks, customised to the user. For instance, in the near future, our air conditioners will be able to map the temperature variations preferred by the user throughout the day and replicate the same with a simple command. Microwave ovens will have pre-settings for customised recipes, decreasing the time investment for the user. Refrigerators will share grocery shopping lists based on the user's consumption patterns.
Personal voice assistants form the foundation of the new age smart devices at our homes, and as they become easily accessible and available, so will smart devices with voice as an interface. The next generation might have an easy interactive projection screen. This may be followed by invention of devices with artificial intelligence capable of not only understanding complex voice commands but, based on analytics on users' behavioural patterns, also curate a customised user experience. This would help users set up routines to automate a series of customisable actions with a single voice command.
Smart devices are expected to help us cope with the abundance of data, information and options. The biggest value addition of the current technologies lies in the fact that they provide us with more mind space, which we can then deploy for more important tasks.
With regards to the level of consistency and reliability in performance expected, certain activities could be hand-picked for being automated, say, housekeeping or cooking, reducing the human error aspects. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning is an approach to increase efficiency.
Some of the upcoming technologies allow users to operate and monitor the machine from anywhere with their smartphones. Thanks to smart technologies, now a camera can connect to home networks, provide live feeds on smartphones and even alert users upon detecting motion in front of the camera. But the idea behind smart technologies is to minimise work for its users, which means the smart home should reduce the need of the user to interact with the devices and not just be confined to giving remote access. Hence, smart technologies enabling machine learning, which can capture user analytics and make decisions on behalf of the user, is the future of smart homes. That should be the focus of the players venturing into this market.
Smart homes are also making an impact in the real estate scenario. Given the interest in housing among the millennial and tech-savvy, the smart home concept is expected to find buyers. Currently, however, only a fraction of the Indian society is living in the comfort of smart homes and it will be some time before home automation becomes the norm in India.
This is because innovation comes with its own set of challenges.
Science fiction author William Gibson said: "The future has arrived - it's just not evenly distributed yet." Adoption of new technology comes with its own set of challenges, ranging from low levels of tech awareness, wariness, inertia in accepting something new to the commonest one of price points.
The market for newer technologies comprises of 'early adopters', who are always open to and excited about adopting these technologies; and 'early majors', who form the belly of the market but are sceptics. Smart devices are expected to penetrate the early adopter segment with relative ease. But early majors become users only when the solution is more holistic, interacting with the existing ecosystem rather than operating in a silo. It would also continue to be prohibitively expensive for a user to adopt new technologies unless market competition lowers the price points, which makes it a bit of chicken and egg scenario. This can be resolved only with a strong value proposition from smart automation and an interconnected ecosystem.
To make smart devices 'smart', an infrastructure has to be built to support such technologies. A lot of data has to be captured, managed and stored. Thus, either by building these capabilities in-house or collaborating with different cloud service providers (or a combination of both) such as AWS, Google or IBM offering different modules, can help in faster and more reliable deployment of smart technologies in our homes.
On the other hand, the rate of absorption will depend on consumers' perception. We need to see that the consumer doesn't feel overwhelmed, or worse threatened by the inclusion of technology. Trusting the technology will be a determining factor.
The writer is Business Head and Executive Vice President, Godrej Appliances