Not So Smart Home: The Unintended Consequences of the IoT

For those unfamiliar, the promise behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is to enable technology enhanced objects—such as appliances, light switches, door openers, printers, etc.—with connectivity, thereby allowing them to communicate with homeowners and in many cases each other. Smart home appliances and other gadgets already help consumers perform a number of tasks remotely, including changing the thermostat, unlocking doors, adjusting interior and exterior lights, monitoring webcams, and operating home appliances.

Meanwhile, a recent article by CNET, “Your smart-home network will be a mess,” explains that there are a number of daunting challenges that homeowners face by leveraging the IoT. In fact, homeowners eager to become early adopters may want to consider the unintended consequences that may arise from digitizing one’s home.

The Devil is in the Details

While smart light bulbs, home appliances, sprinklers, alarm systems, and door locks are widely available and aggressively marketed, having all of these smart devices communicate with each other is a challenge. For those who have had difficulty keeping a computer or tablet connected to their home WiFi network, it is easy to imagine the greater challenges of connecting disparate and critical home appliances with one another. After all, few homeowners can be expected to understand how to navigate the IoT’s several competing connection standards that must work together to avoid a communications conflict.

So, what is the result of smart devices that cannot communicate with each other? Consider a smoke detector that cannot shut off your oven, a car that is unable to open your garage door, or a hot tub thermostat that cannot send a signal to the hot water heater. Think dumb home, not smart home.

Proceed with Caution

Interviewed by CNET, Lee Ratliff, an analyst with IHS Technology, explains that early adopters will likely have to deal with the “wild west period of smarthome connectivity.” This could involve the need to install multiple network routers to bridge the different communications standards and replace some smart home devices that do not work together.

While industry insiders can foresee technologies will evolve to meet the current communications challenges, the future remains unclear. For those who remember the prolonged battle between Betamax and VHS, having competing technologies agree upon a common format will likely take a while.

Until a communications protocol is established that enables all smart devices to connect with one another, we recommend doing a lot of research before committing to a smart home, and we recommend starting with the article by CNET.