Designing an Invisible IoT
By Rich Bira
We talk a lot in the IoT industry about the interaction between product design and function—what does the device need to do and where will it live? For smart homes in particular, design isn’t just about the way a product looks and feels but about its usability in its environment. If a device requires users to change their behavior so drastically from their normal routine to utilize its function, will it survive? Practically speaking, probably not.
In the last five years, the concept of home automation and control have moved downstream, both in price and availability, and evolved into what we now call the smart home. But is it really smart? Devices might have connectivity inside that lets them communicate with each other and/or with the cloud, but how are they adding intelligence to our everyday lives?
The rise of the Amazon Echo and voice control as a point of command and control for our home’s devices have introduced an important concept in the way we think about design: frictionless and almost invisible technology. Consumers may have to bring the devices home and set them up, but then they’re able to interact with them without effort. These kinds of principles are what guide our design and manufacturing. In the last year, we’ve seen products that provides gesture control while being completely hidden under a table, counter, or even drywall, and a compact, easily mountable button that can be pressed to quickly turn on or control multiple devices simultaneously. Products like these offer customized, natural control, while disappearing into their environment.
Gesture control is another area that carries lots of potential. It’s currently transforming the healthcare industry in an effort to combat germ spread in places like hospitals. Or, imagine being able to walk into your kitchen and quickly swiping right or left to activate a “let’s cook” scene that brings up your lights, pre-heats your oven, and turns on your streaming music service as you get ready to prepare dinner. In another scenario, you’re heading to bed, and you swipe down on your nightstand to activate a “goodnight” scene that arms your home security system and turn the lights off on the first floor. Simple gestures begin to cue powerful automations that make living a little bit simpler. This technology moves the smart home behind the scenes, to where it’s mostly hidden and the modern conveniences and safety that it brings are the only things visible.
The other powerful way the IoT is being woven into our homes is via artificial intelligence; increasingly, platforms are adding functionality that learns consumer behaviors in the home and then adapts to make the home fit their needs and lifestyle without any user inputs. Applicable products lets users teach their devices behaviors and in turn the devices can make suggestions and provide alerts based on those behaviors. For example, Fibaro’s Motion Sensor recognizes when a room has inactivity and can send a notification to the user to ask if the lights should be turned off or the alarm set. It also has the ability to monitor temperature and make adjustments where it makes sense. A flood sensor can detect leaks and send an immediate alert to the user to minimize the risk of flooding and can even shut down connected devices that may be an electrical risk or a water shut-off valve to avoid disasters.
Today’s world is fast-moving and consumers don’t have the patience for any device that doesn’t remove a step or provide a substantial benefit. Companies moving towards machine learning and automation see value in designing an almost invisible IoT—one that delivers convenience, safety, and security without asking for too much in return. The technology that’s as intelligent as human instinct, responsive to behavior, and completely effortless to control will rule the smart home and will stand the test of time.