The concept of a Smart Home began its journey with the idea of the personal computer for every household introduced by Apple in the late 70s, along with the advent of the X-10 home automation standard. The invention of the internet circa 1990 obviously pushed this along but the real driver began with the wireless age of WiFi in 1999. The Smart Home, as we know it today, had its real infancy in the period between 1999 and 2007 with the combined ability of computing, remote access (over the internet), and the ability to create a wireless home network of devices with some form of intelligence.
General public –and some industry experts, too- tend to use the terms ‘home automation’ and ‘smart home’ indistinctly, as if they were interchangeable. There is, however, a fundamental difference between them that should be clarified, in order to understand both concepts.
Home automation was a term first used in the mid 80s, during the boom of ‘domotics’, when we witnessed the emergence of complex electronic systems that allowed to automate –hence the name- certain home features. The concept, however popular, never reached the mass market, mainly for economical reasons, since both installation and maintenance were very expensive. More than two decades have had to go by before technology could finally catch up with the idea and make it a reality.
Today’s home automation, however, has little to do with its predecessor. It came to life in the wake of another revolutionary concept: the ‘Internet of Things’, which signaled the beginning of a new age in technology. The arrival of the Internet of Things –or IoT- has allowed the development of very easy to install, completely wireless home automation systems that can be managed from the other side of the world just using a smartphone, something which was unthinkable back in the early years of domotics. But the real game-changer for the industry is that now those technologies are finally affordable, and thus available for the mass market.
Then, what is a smart home? The term ‘smart home‘ has its roots in home automation, but it is a much broader concept that encompasses a larger range of features, technologies and industries, all of them connected and related to each other through the IoT. We can therefore say that modern home automation is the enabler of the smart home, a new full connected-living concept that not only allows users to monitor and control their houses from a mobile app, but also manage their home security, provide remote healthcare for elder relatives or even save energy, and that is to mention only a few features, since when speaking of smart home technologies, where everything’s interconnected, the possibilities are unlimited.
Today, owning a smart home is not an extravagant luxury, but a reality available for the mass market as are tablets, computers or digital cameras. The problem is that consumers still do not really know what home automation is or what could a smart home do to improve their lives. They don’t understand either concept or its value, and that is the barrier we must overcome in order for the smart home to finally take off.