29 March 2017

What are smart devices?

A 'smart' or 'intelligent' device is an electronic device that's typically connected to the internet (and potentially a network of other smart devices) offering the potential for remote control (typically via smartphone) or to automatically alter settings in response to environmental stimuli.

At the most basic level, a 'smart' heating system may allow a user to turn it on and off via a smartphone app which communicates with the system using the internet. Added smarts may allow your system to automatically adjust settings in response to data received from smart thermostats, internet weather reports or even by detecting who is present in a building (perhaps by pinging their smartphone to check its presence within a determined area).

See also: What is the Internet of Things and what does it mean for construction?

What is a smart home?

Smart homes, integrate 'smart' devices to make the home a better place to be in terms of comfort, safety, productivity or just general wellbeing.

A typical system will consist of a myriad of switches and sensors connected to a central hub which acts as a gateway to the internet and facilitates communication between your devices.

When it comes to controlling the network typically smartphones or tablets are used to change settings and perform tasks though smart devices themselves (a smart light switch, for example) may allow for more familiar modes of operation.

What opportunities do smart devices offer specifiers?

Specifiers have the opportunity to significantly improve the quality and usefulness of designed spaces - either by retrofitting smart tech or by designing building systems from scratch.

Typical applications include the control and automation of lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and air conditioning.

A new generation of home appliances (washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, fridges and televisions) also offer varying degrees of smart tech.

The smart device and smart home industry is still relatively young with competing vendors offering their own ecosystems and varying degrees of interoperability via communication standards like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE or X10.

For the specifier it's important to carefully research which ecosystems offer the functionality that best meets initial requirement and to make an assessment on how easily additional functionality could be added to the installation.

Lighting is a popular starting point for home automation. It takes little effort to swap out an existing bulb for a smarter one typically with no need to change fixtures or pendants.

Why is smart lighting so popular?

Lighting is a popular starting point for home automation. It takes little effort to swap out an existing bulb for a smarter one, typically with no need to change fixtures or pendants or switches  if you don't want to.

Philips launched its Hue range of colour-changing bulbs in 2012 offering control via smartphone apps and, earlier this week, IKEA announced they were set to launch their own play for the smart lighting market.

The Trådfri range will offer dimmable LED bulbs, light panels and even doors. A starter kit (offering two bulbs, remote and gateway) will cost £69. Those willing to do without net connection can opt for a handheld remote offering three dimming settings for just £30, or two settings for £15. A motion sensor is also available to work with the system (a kit will set you back £25), bulbs start at £9.


What about smart heating?

Heating control has proved to be another popular application of smart tech. Smart thermostats and heating timers offer users the opportunity to turn systems on and off from a far via a smartphone app. Some systems can also act on a growing pool of data to build a tailored heating schedule based on environmental conditions and/or user preferences.

See also: A warm reception for intelligent heating controls

How fast is the smart home market growing?

BSRIA is forecasting a total global growth of 20% in the smart home/light commercial market in 2017, with the largest growth being predicted for the UK market with a growth rate of 29%.

The trade body's latest study segments the market into stand-alone products and whole home products, and also analyses the value of system integration (value add) and service and maintenance.

The total value of the global market is forecast to be $15.8 billion in 2017; the US market remains the largest single market forecast at 29% of the total market value. Despite the maturity of the US market, the growth forecast is expected to be in line with the global increase in value of 20%, with stand-alone products being the segment showing the largest growth at 27%.

The study, which consists of individual country reports on China, France, Germany, Netherlands, North America and UK, is forecasting rapid growth in sales of both products and system integration but due to the infancy of the market a lower level of sales for service and maintenance.

The reports estimate that the total global market will be worth $29.8 billion by 2021.

“The sales of smart home products and the associated services are forecast to grow at high compound annual growth rate; this is, in part due to the infancy of certain markets, and in part due to the increased awareness and expectations on the end users. The key drivers for the growth are subtly different in each country, ranging from a drive to improve energy efficiency, to improved security, but a trend that is gaining momentum is the use of smart home equipment in light commercial applications and it is forecast that this trend will accelerate” said Zoltan Karpathy, Operations Manager, BSRIA Worldwide Market Intelligence division.