What will the connected home connect to?

The concept of connected homes is all the rage these days. Home appliances of all sorts are reaching the market that can be controlled from the homeowner’s smartphone and are giving homeowners mobile control of electrical outlets, thermostats, lights and much more.

Before we even know it, there will be little in the home that cannot be controlled from our smartphones, if in fact we want to. However, interestingly, much less attention has looked at how a connected home can connect to other things. 

Connectivity goes in two directions. Systems that enable us to connect to our homes can also be programmed to proactively connect to other things, in specific circumstances, to query things that are useful. So while we’re busy connecting to our homes, we should also start thinking about, what can our homes connect to? One thing that a connected home may link to, which itself is becoming connected much as homes are, is a car. The simplest reason that a connected home may communicate with a car is to check when the connected car is expected to arrive home. This can be used for smart thermostats, connected coffee machines, and the like. 

There is a lot more, however, that a connected home can do when communicating with a connected car. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Jaguar showed their vision of a connected home communicating with a connected car to notify the driver that he forgot his briefcase in the house. This could also happen in reverse, with the car notifying the homeowner that he left his briefcase in the car, or worse, on the roof of the car or on the ground next to the car. Communication between a connected home and car can also enable the car’s infotainment system to stream the same music that was played at home, mimic the temperature control in the home, set the home electronics to “away mode,” and much more.

Another thing that a connected home can connect to is the connected objects within the home. Many companies have predicted that homes would have tens or hundreds of connected objects inside them by the year 2020. A connected home can keep inventory of the things in the home, communicate with all the things to confirm their wellbeing, and determine whether changes in the things in the house and their exact locations is significant enough to notify the homeowner. If, for instance, something belonging to the homeowner is left outside by the door, presumably the homeowner wants to bring it in.

Several of these scenarios can also be used for security. For example, a house alarm can check whether the homeowner is near the house when someone is entering the alarm code or an alarm can also ask for an additional code in the event that a homeowner’s car is not in the driveway. One of the common elements of the above examples, however, is also a big challenge: Many of the communication tasks between connected homes and connected cars or other connected objects involve location positioning. In order for a car to know whether a briefcase is inside it, on its roof, or on the ground outside it, the car needs technology that can determine the briefcase’s relative location very precisely. If the connected home wants to know when an object is right outside the door, it must be able to determine accurately where the briefcase is, and distinguish whether it is right outside the front door or right inside the door. 

There are many technologies on the market for measuring location indoors (and in cars), and most of them use standard wireless frequencies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi based location positioning tends to be inaccurate by 2-5 meters, which makes it impossible to distinguish between an object in and out of a house door, in a car or on the roof of the car, etc.

A new radio technology has reached market over the past year that solves this problem. Ultra-Wideband (UWB) is a radio standard that supports location positioning with accuracy up to 10cm. UWB transmits in short pulses, instead of the long radio waves used in narrowband systems such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. These short impulses make UWB work better when there are signal reflections, multi-path effects and solid objects along the path of the radio waves. Best of all, UWB is available in chip and PCB form, for easy integration into electronic products. UWB chips are now integrated into tags on keychains that their owners need to find, cameras that automatically photograph an athlete moving around the court by following the athlete’s location, shopping carts in stores, hospital equipment that needs to be found quickly, and much more.

UWB is bringing precise location positioning to connected homes and connected cars, just as it has to other electronic devices. As we mentioned in the examples above, with UWB, connected homes can determine whether a handbag was left outside the door or inside and whether a person is standing near a living room wall or outside in the yard on the other side of the same wall. With UWB, connected cars can determine whether a package is on the roof of the car, inside the car or on the ground next to the car. 

Once connected homes are location aware, they will have a lot more to communicate about with cars, other connected objects and, of course, connected people. The same technologies described above can also enable a connected home’s entertainment system to adjust the music in a room to fit the musical interests of the people in the room, and a thermostat to match the preferences of the people in the room.

Features such as these require precise location of people as they move around the house, again enabled by precise location awareness. With location awareness, connected homes will truly have something to connect to.

So while a lot of the focus in the connected home space has been centered around appliances and what homeowners can control and connect to, as we move into the future, we will see more ways that our actual homes can start to make these connections as well.

 Mickael Viot, vice president of marketing at DecaWave

Photo Credit: bergserg/ Shutterstock