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Smart Home

The Connected Home: Why We Need a Home Network

While traditional appliances are self-contained with all the components and the user controls in one cabinet, home systems are not. Components are located where optimal and interconnected electronically via a home network.

Home systems have been designed with customer features tailored to a range of use cases, including lighting, energy management, environmental comfort, entertainment, healthcare, and safety. Each application is organized around a controller that manages connected devices such as sensors, actuators (devices that operate switches), and user inputs. For example, a lighting controller is programmed to process user inputs from a keypad, touch screen, or smart speaker (voice control) to execute a sequence of actions such as turning lights on and off, and to coordinate a sequence of light levels among banks of fixtures in order to create a desired lighting scene for use cases such as entertaining, dining, working or reading.

Integration among applications is a relatively recent concept. The customer view of a fully integrated system is illustrated by the control panel. A growing number of companies have incorporated this integration function into a new category of consumer electronics called a home hub, or home controller. A smart home hub not only provides a common user interface, possibly through a smart phone app, but enables connections among the applications, which might use different networking technologies. Thus a home network may actually consist of multiple networks possibly interconnected.

Home automation promises interoperability and coordinated actions among applications. For example, if a safety system detects a fire in one part of a home, lights might start flashing a safe exit path (like on an airplane), the air conditioner would be stopped to avoid spreading smoke, entertainment equipment might be muted so smoke alarms are audible, and any automatic shades would be raised so the fire department can quickly spot the house. This coordinated action in a crisis is critically important. It depends on application controllers communicating via a home network.

This fire safety scenario is possible and could be implemented with mass market, self-installable hub systems or by a security system with smart home automation capabilities, or a high-end, pro-installed home control system. The successful operation of a hub requires that the hub monitor and control applications developed by other companies, which creates technical challenges. Furthermore, the hub needs to adapt as the customer installs new products or the manufacturer upgrades these products. All these systems are based on the installation of a home network infrastructure.

Working Definitions

A home network is a digital pathway for components such as sensors, actuators, user interfaces, and controllers to communicate. Most of these components include an electronic network interface that connects to a physical medium such as a wire or a radio for wireless communications.

Local area networks (LANs) were invented to interconnect computers, terminals, and related office equipment so they could interoperate even across brands within a local, or short-range, environment. Enterprise LANs were adapted and scaled for home automation networks. There are many choices in LAN protocols for home automation networks using wired and wireless media. LAN buses connect to a public network such as the Internet via a gateway. A gateway is an interface between networks running different protocols.

In Parks Associates’ taxonomy of connected devices, smart home devices refer to a range of home automation devices and appliances that are connected to the Internet and can be remotely accessed, monitored, or controlled using a smartphone, laptop, tablet, computer, or smart speaker. The most popular smart home devices include smart door locks. smart thermostats, networked cameras, video doorbells, and smart light bulbs.

Connected consumer electronics devices include smart TVs, streaming media players, gaming consoles, smart speakers, compute devices, routers, tablets and other networking devices. Finally, connected health devices include smart watches, fitness trackers, blood pressure cuffs, weight scales, and medical devices, such as glucometers.

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