CES 2015: the home automation challenge

Technology should make our lives easier. But having a dozen of more apps competing for our attention does the reverse. Integration is key, and that is the big problem in the CES home automation sector.

Walking the halls of the emerging company sector at CES 2015 you'd think that the American home is craving automation. Numerous products promise an easier, more secure and more beautiful life. And there are good ideas, well-executed.

  • Insteon's Hub can control lamps, small appliances, lighting levels, schedules and alerts, as well as surveillance - all from your smartphone.
  • The iDevices Switch allows you to turn on lights from your smartphone.
  • The emberlight turns any light into a smart light.
  • Stack's Alba light builds the smarts into the bulb. It responds to ambient light, adjusts its color temperature and turns itself on and off in response to bluetooth presence.
  • Oort offers smart bulbs, switches, outlets, tags and a development kit with an application to control them all from anywhere in the world.
  • And LumiFioffers software that promises to expertly design lighting moods, enabling you to automate lighting - beautifully.

But there's more to your home's atmosphere than light. How about air?

  • The foobotwill monitor your indoor air quality for particulates, gases such as CO2, as well as temperature and humidity.
  • And what about the people at home? The netatmo camera can recognize members of your household and notify you when they're at home - and alerts you when new faces arrive as well.

Analysis

Microcontrollers and smartphones have driven major costs out of the home automation (HA) arena, but the lack of a single connecting protocol dooms today's HA products to niche status. No single company is going to produce a system to everyone's tastes, so a common, open protocol is essential to spur product development and customer interest.

But there is no open HA protocol, so you buy a product and you take your chances. Well-heeled early adopters may be fine with that, but to cross the chasm HA needs the simplicity of home Wi-fi.

That said, the iDevices and Oort product sets are moving in the right direction by offering an easier way for other vendors to develop smart products.

The LumiFi and foobot products are help make good light and clean air - major objectives of 19th century public health reformers - practical for 21st century homebodies. While they might benefit by a common HA protocol, they don't need it.

I'd like to see a consortium of HA companies come together to support a single protocol. They may dream individually of dominating the HA market, but would far wiser to get a piece of a much larger market. And make the next CES much more exciting.

Comments welcome, as always.

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