The Smart Home: How Tech is Changing Your Way of Life [NYC edition]


In the early 2000s, Disney released the feature film Smart House, in which a young boy and his family win a chance to live in a computerized “smart” house designed to make life easier. The house could cook for them, wake them up, and record their favorite television program. It catered to their every need, spoke them not unlike Siri. Then things took a sudden turn when the house created a hologram of itself into a woman and began controlling its inhabitants in an overly possessive manner. The movie ends with a familiar message: technology should be approached with caution.

This kind of house was once only a fantasy, something one would see in books and films like Smart House. Now, we can say it is a reality.

Homes are transfigured with thermostats that adjust the temperature according to the time of day and when you’re out, controlled via an app on your phone. Smart locks enable a homeowner to detect a security breach while at work, let friends in to the house remotely, among other things. Lamps, such as those powered by Phillip’s Hue, can now be dimmed according to one’s preference by the touch of an app. Your IPhone is now the remote to your life.

According to the website Smart Home USA,

“A Smart Home is one that provides its home owners comfort, security, energy efficiency (low operating costs) and convenience at all times, regardless of whether anyone is home.”

“Smart Home” is the term commonly used to define a residence that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio & video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or internet.”

There are a few top companies right now in the industry of smart home: Nest, the automated thermostat; Ringr, the app-controlled doorbell; August, the smart home security system. But the industry is going to grow more than ever before.

By 2020, the number of smart homes will more than double according to Forbes Magazine. 68 percent of Americans are confident smart homes will be as commonplace as smartphones with 10 years. The allure of smart homes is the promise to save time, energy, and money for homeowners. 45 percent of smart home product users say these products saved them $1,00 per year.

When internet of things first began to take shape, companies did not have to handle as much user data as they are privy to now. Apps are collecting more and more data on their user’s habits to then use the data to cater their services better to the user. This means better ways to construct apps and eventually even configure a way for two apps to converse with one another and share data in an effort to run a smoothly run home.

The necessity of managing the data has led to a surge in demand for data science and data analytics and machine learning.

Currently, a smart thermostat learns the user’s regular movements, so it turns off when the user is not home and makes sure the house is warm when the user returns home after work. But if the user unexpectedly arrive home around lunchtime, the house will be freezing. Future predictions for the Internet of things hope that he smart home would  share a channel with the user’s car or phone to track his or her movements and adjust preparations accordingly. Everything would seamlessly connect with one another.

But with more data comes more responsibility. Much of the information these apps collect are private. Many companies are now dealing with the fact that they must increase their security around data collection in order to gain the trust of consumers. Researchers at the University of Michigan hacked into the Samsung SmartThings platform and were able to control an entire home automation system. They even recorded the PIN code used for a new install.

“At least today, with the one public IoT software platform we looked at, which has been around for several years, there are significant design vulnerabilities from a security perspective,” said Atul Prakash, the University of Michigan professor of computer science and engineering. “I would say it’s okay to use as a hobby right now, but I wouldn’t use it where security is paramount.”

According to BI Intelligence, there will be 34 billion connected devices in the world by 2020, creating a $6 trillion industry. With the Internet of Things become a major player, there is now ample feeding ground for hackers. Experts say that the firmware in many connected devices are not updated frequently and this could cause a problem in the future. IoT’s simplicity and utility make it especially vulnerable. On the front-end, IoT offers  a simple user experience but they often share their wifi credentials. A hacker can discover the password of a wifi network a device is connected to, as has happened in an incident two years ago.

Dependency on these gadgets is starting to grow, as more businesses and consumers adopt connected devices. With high demand, security becomes a secondary concern.

Craig Young told CSO that many small IoT companies do not even have security professionals working for them. They use third-party electronics that may not have been tested or certified for security. Yong said that the market is so new that the main concern of companies is to get these gadgets to the market quickly.

Larger companies such as Belkin are beginning to address this problem. As more and more flaws are exposed in the security system, companies are responding to firmware problems quicker. However, with so many smaller IoT companies, this problem is not going to go away any time soon.

Baaria Chaudhary

Baaria is Staff Writer for Silicon NYC and brings her multicultural views and experience that spans the globe. She is here to guide readers as they discover and navigate complexity of ever changing NY tech scene.