Smart Home, or Dumb Home/Smart Cloud?

At the end of my street, tucked between some bushes and a tree in someone else’s garden, is a weathered beige box. I’d never noticed it before this week, but it’s become very important to me, because that dirty, unloved box is responsible for whether my smart home automation works, or not.

Yes, that beige box in someone else’s garden is where my home cable connects to the community coax network.

I’ve come to the realization that my smart home is actually pretty dumb on its own – without a connection to internet services, a lot of my clever rules and technology simply fail to work. My doorbell camera doesn’t send me video, my IFTTT rules to work the Hue Lights fail, and I can’t even open my Wink-connected door locks.

Amazon’s Echo is another victim of connectivity – it seems so clever, but when you step back and think about it – it only understands two words/four syllables – Ah-Mah-Zon and for the alternate name, Ah-Lex–Ah. All the other language processing is done in the cloud, so you can “turn off” my home voice recognition just by unplugging the coax in that anonymous roadside box.

We’ve come to rely on the “Cloud” for many things, and especially around IoT, offloading data processing and services to someone else’s computers drastically reduces the cost of devices, and enables companies to add features and value without having to worry about updating software on widely distributed gadgets.

But technologically, the link between act and actuator – touching the switch and the light turning on, really doesn’t benefit from cloud services – in fact all it does is slow things down.

Nicola De Carne of Wi-NEXT published some interesting thoughts on this problem, defining “Cloud-Centric”, “Gateway-Centric” and “Edge-Centric” data processing models, and though his post is mainly referring to industrial IOT, there are some technological takeaways we can apply to the smart home problem.

The challenge though is, It’s not Google’s Nest thermostat – it’s mine. It’s not Quirky’s door lock – it’s mine. And even though their may be huge benefits for the manufacturers of these gadgets to process the data coming from my devices in the cloud, unless it’s generating value for me – I’m not sure I want that?

You could argue that the only way home IoT devices can be affordable is if manufacturers offload processing to more efficient compute mechanisms – a doorbell camera for example would be 5x more expensive if it had local image processing and 30 days of SSD storage – but in the near future, when we have perhaps a dozen devices in our homes all connecting to cloud services, doesn’t it seem entirely reasonable that one in-home hub/gateway could be providing local compute, speech recognition, rules, automation and storage for them all to leverage?

We’re seeing the inception of this trend today with smart home companies such as SmartThings offering a hub with some local processing, but it’s still heavily dependent on a broadband connection – other ecosystems like ISY/Insteon are entirely local until you want to remotely control your home when away. Once you start relying on your smart home for more than the convenience of turning the lights on from your phone, realizing that your broadband connection is the weak link and manufacturers having to support your wired-in switches for the life of your home becomes concerning.

When you can’t turn the the bathroom light on in the middle of the night because your ISP’s performing a “system upgrade” – how much more money will you invest in that particular brand?

I want my home to be smart – even when it’s disconnected.

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