Automation era: The rise of the smart home and city

by | May 3, 2022

You awake in your temperature-controlled bedroom, notified by an app that your coffee will be ready in five minutes and traffic in your preferred route to work is lighter than usual. The proliferation of the Internet of Things has brought ever closer the dreams of science fiction writers for decades – the automated home.

While HAL 9000 won’t be folding your laundry anytime soon, almost every other household task has an automated assistant ready to be introduced to your home. Coupled with the aspirations of imaginative urban planners, cities and homes could be communicating with each other to assist in everyday tasks. Unthinkable, or at the very least impractical, even a decade ago the automated home is already a reality in many respects.

The ubiquity of the Internet of Things, unlimited WIFI, and ‘digital assistants’ have already transformed our homes and towns. Now, the opportunity lies in integrating these technologies in urban planning and homebuilding. What is the major breakthrough that makes smart homes possible?

“In a word, fibre,” says Cian O’Mahony, Head of Operations at SIRO. “There has been a fibre broadband revolution in Ireland over the last five years, with companies like SIRO, rolling out fibre networks across Ireland.

“Fibre broadband is recognised as the most reliable and future-proofed connectivity technology available,” he says. “It uses fibre optic cables to bring internet connectivity to the heart of the home and is far superior to outdated copper and cable connections.”

That extra reliability and speed of fibre cables will be key to a successful smart home, as the data demands of a growing list of devices need to be connected in order to really work. O’Mahony explains how, “smart home devices require fast and reliable broadband, and increased use of these devices is intrinsically linked to the evergrowing reach of fibre networks across Ireland.”

“The industry now needs to fully embrace smart tech into homebuilding”, he says. “We are living more connected lives than ever before. Smart devices, underpinned by high quality fibre broadband, is the direct expression of that.”

Smart tech is so much more than fancy gadgets

It goes beyond something of a luxury, or a gadget that exists purely for its own sake, O’Mahony explains. “Smart tech is not fancy gadgets but it is becoming an essential feature of Irish homes. Smart devices in the home will become key to meeting climate change targets, reducing energy and heating costs and a key part of how we use our homes whether working from home, connecting with others or for entertainment and leisure.”

The need for smart-home conscious developments is becoming ever more important. Research conducted by SIRO, O’Mahony shares, shows that “two thirds of Irish homes, 67 per cent, already have smart devices in their home.”

Speaking of the future he adds: “We expect the extent and range of smart tech to grow by double digits.” Notwithstanding the general trends in smart devices in the home, Covid-19 too has had an impact and demonstrated just how prevalent the demand for smart enabled homes is. “Demand for smart homes is growing significantly,” O’Mahony says. “Covid-19, particularly with the explosion in working from home, accelerated demand for smart tech in the home.”

The consideration for home builders is to incorporate smart technology, or at least the capability for smart devices, in the design stage. “The foundation of smart features is broadband connectivity,” says O’Mahony. “A broadband connection to any new development site, and thereafter into the home, is an essential utility. Just like water or electricity supply, broadband must be factored in from the outset.

“This means broadband connectivity must be a feature at design stage of any home or MDU, not an afterthought.” The technology isn’t limited to homes either, “governments around the world are seeking to adopt smart and disruptive technologies,” says Kevin Curran, Professor of Cyber Security at Ulster University. The motivation he says is, “to enable innovators to deploy new technologies and innovations at scale within a city’s ecosystem. Ultimately, they aim to transform the delivery of public services through a citizen centric approach resulting in greater efficiencies and more responsive services that can drive inclusive growth.”

“While a truly smart city is designed from the ground up,” says Professor Curran, “many cities are now integrating technologies that operate over the Internet of Things to improve public services.” He cites traffic management as an obvious utility of smart cities, but also, water conservation and a host of other quality of life implementations.

“Sensor-enabled Internet of Things devices deployed in smart cities can also help to monitor the environmental impact of cities, collecting details about sewers, air quality, rubbish and energy consumption,” he says. At this moment smart cities are still a project for the future. “The reason no city can claim to be smart yet is because there is too much legacy infrastructure,” according to Professor Curran.

But the future is not too far off, as technology becomes more embedded in our everyday lives. “Smart cities will happen as the potential of assistive technologies is too tempting to ignore. Pilots in many aspects of smart cities are being rolled out around the world,” he adds. “No one city can claim to be smart but pockets of many cities’ infrastructure are becoming smart.”

On a note of warning for urban planners, city officials, and the contractors delivering smart city projects Professor Curran says: “It is crucial that information security, privacy and data protection be addressed comprehensively at the design phase.”

This, he says, is due to the strength of anti-malware capabilities of smart devices, which are typically less robust than traditional computers or other cyber infrastructure. Meanwhile there is important work to do to in the realm of policy for the development of smart homes.

“We need a greater synch between housing development and the roll-out of fibre broadband networks, like SIRO’s, as part of our planning and building regulations,” says Cian O’Mahony. “Specifically, we need a national standardisation of broadband connections in new developments, to ensure that developers and homeowners are assured of high quality and long-term future proofed fibre broadband connections.”

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