The Connected Home Disconnect: The Hurdles of Having a Truly Smart Home

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I am supportive of and genuinely excited about the potential for Connected Homes. I own a number of connected devices including Nest, both the thermostat and the smoke detector, Philips Hue light bulbs, Belkin WeMo switches and a number of devices from SmartThings. But there are some fundamental challenges that could delay the widespread adoption of the smart home for some people.

Sensory Overload and Over Budget

As with most new technologies, the cost of individual sensors is still relatively high, but what makes the cost of the smart home beyond most people’s reach is, to truly have a connected home, one requires a large number and variety of sensors. These may include the following sensors: open/close, motion, cameras, outlets/plugs or switches, water/humidity, temperature, smoke, and may also include things like smart appliances and water shut off valves. A minimal set up could be accomplished for $300-$400, but full coverage in a modest sized home could run $1,000-$3,000.

Set Up: Potential DIY Disaster

For most people, setting up multiple connected home devices is not a do-it-yourself project. Double sided sticky tape might make some of the installation straight forward, but the real challenge is in setting up the sensors to actually do something meaningful, which requires coordination across both hardware and software. For example, informing the consumer that their garage door is open has limited value. Closing the garage door automatically because the system knows that all residents of the home are not present may add more value, but requires coordination between multiple sensors and a smart app.

Lack of Interconnectivity

While there are many smart devices on the market today, and more entering the fray every day, most have their own mobile app or smart hub and are not able to connect to other unrelated devices. While ZigBee and Z-Wave are two standard protocols for connecting low power devices, many devices still act independently rather than as a network. Not only is it inconvenient to have to switch between applications to control multiple devices, their inability to communicate with each other severely limits the intelligence of the system as a whole.

Battery Barriers

While many sensors can be hard wired or plugged into the home, others are designed to be battery powered. Although some batteries may last many months, given the potential number and location of sensors, the task of continual battery replacement can become tiresome and inconvenient. Until sensors become ultra-low power, battery life increases exponentially, or an alternative arises to power or recharge the system, battery life will continue to be a drawback.

As an enthusiast of all things connected, I will continue to purchase, install and muddle through the maintenance of my smart devices, but I am optimistic that one day my devices will be affordable, seamlessly connected and easy to set up and maintain. I long for the George Jetson lifestyle!

Matt Manzella is a director of technology and operations at Allstate.

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