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The smart home is a connected home

(Image credit: Photo Credit: bergserg/ Shutterstock)

Robot chefs, smart kitchen appliances, bath time alerts to save energy and digital personal assistants that understand our entertainment tastes – these are just some of the devices and services that smart homes promise will make our lives easier and our planet greener. 

Smart homes (opens in new tab) have already caught the interest of consumers. Analyst firm McKinsey believes that the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to create an 

economic impact of $200 billion to $350 billion annually in 2025. It sees uses ranging from chore automation, energy management, safety and security, usage-based design, pre-sales analytics to personal banking. Analysts are predicting the average smart home will include from 50 to 100 plus connected ‘things’, including appliances and lighting with a huge mesh of wireless sensors.  

The market is being driven by awareness amongst consumers about energy consumption, the growing aging population, rising disposable income in developing countries and government initiatives amongst others, according to Zion Marketing Research. A few developers are already ahead of the game. Every Brookfield Residential Home build at Delano, East Village, California, for example, is being built as a connected home, controlled by the Apple Home app. 

However, there is a long road to travel to deliver truly smart environments outside these isolated examples. At its most basic, a smart home has sensor-enabled ‘things’ as part of an Internet of Things (IoT) together with a way of using the data generated by the sensors. But in truth it is much more complex. A smart home is far more than a home that turns the heating on before you return from work.

A smart home uses different parts of the house to communicate to a central control system using different varieties of sensors and devices such as smart meters and cameras connected via a network, which is fundamentally an IoT infrastructure. It is here, using the IoT data that the sensors have generated, where the real brainpower starts. 

To make our home smart, all these devices and sensors need to interact seamlessly. How smart your home is depends on the level of data integration. This infrastructure connects many different devices that need to join the dots between the data being shared. When a new device or sensor comes online it needs to automatically find out exactly where it needs to listen to or share data. The ultimate level of integration is that offered by intelligent learning systems that can predict our preferences by using pattern matching of data, so you always get your coffee the way you like it in the morning and your shower is at your favoured temperature, for example. 

The big challenge is how to manage the complexity and enormity of these connections if we look at smart homes on a metropolitan scale. Handling these enormous quantities of data is a massive task alongside the complexities of connecting often diverse devices. To provide a solution we have to look back to the network, where ‘things’ talk to one another so they can interoperate both locally and globally via robust and secure connections. 

Telia Company: reaches out to graphs

Simple sets of smart home data could be compiled on a relational database, but they are not at all ideal as they represent data as tables, not networks. Queries put a huge burden on a data structure that has not been created for mapping connections. This is the reason why many are looking to the graph database as the answer to charting complex home networks. 

Take for example Nordic and Baltic telco leader Telia Company, which has just announced it is using graph technology software to power its smart homes initiative. 

Telia has developed a digital ecosystem and platform for broadband connections, called Telia Zone, which is already used by 1.2 million Swedish homes. Graph-powered smart home management is a key feature of the service. The platform provides the foundation to integrate different ‘things’, whilst providing a consistent user-centric interface for the consumer. 

Telia Zone provides the core and the infrastructure for Telia partners to develop innovative services. Telia Zone and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are open to developers. Without any extra installation Telia customers get access to these services, such as home security, entrainment etc. 

Telia Zone utilises graph technology as a key part of its backend management. The majority of APIs required are formed on relationships between different types of events or different types of data. Graph databases have been spotlighted as the best way to connect up these data nodes. Why? Because they provide a highly flexible and agile framework for storing, managing and querying highly connected data such as that generated by truly smart homes. 

Telia Company does not know exactly which APIs will go on into development, but graph has the power to create connections on the hoof and form new APIs out of any that may be coveted. Telia Company is also looking to explore the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning in the future and believes that graph is the best route to handling these new technologies. 

Graph has the power to handle big data

The total volume of the amount of data coming down the pipe is gargantuan. Cisco estimates it will hit 600 ZB by 2020, globally. To put that into perspective it is thirty nine times higher than projected data centre traffic. A chunk of this data will be accumulated from smart homes. 

Take Telia Zone, for example. The database is expected to have 13 million devices as individual nodes, with 20-30,000 events per second. Only the power of graph could come close to mapping this. 

The beauty of graph databases is that data can grow organically and quickly and easily connect with more and more ‘things’. It therefore makes perfect sense to consider graph technology for the complex data and many connections that the smart home needs to track to operate efficiently. 

Emil Eifrem, co-founder and CEO, Neo Technology (opens in new tab)
Photo Credit: bergserg/ Shutterstock

Emil Eifrem is co-founder and CEO of Neo Technology, the company behind the world’s leading graph database, Neo4j.