The smart home market may be reaching a critical juncture, judging by the acquisition of Nest by Google (News - Alert).
Cees Links, founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, would likely agree there is progress toward smart homes – a term he much prefers over connected home, noting that our homes have long been connected, but they have hardly become smarter as a result – despite the ZigBee (News - Alert) chip in the Nest remaining dormant thus far. So, until the entire home becomes connected internally, that external capability has limited value.
As a manufacturer of ultra-low-power silicon for the purpose of enabling communication and control between wireless devices, and competitor to the likes of TI, Atmel, Freescale (News - Alert) and others, GreenPeak certainly would benefit from an increase in ZigBee market penetration. While it is not the most recognized chipmaker, Links says its quality and cost combination are second to none, and one of the reasons it takes only orders of a million chips or more.
Is there merit to his claim? His client list boasts names like Comcast (News - Alert), DirecTV, Cisco, Sony, Philips, Arris, Samsung, NTT, Time Warner Cable, and many more. The cableco relationships are significant because, as Links points out, the set-top box is rapidly becoming the hub of home automation and connectivity and will likely serve as the gateway to the smart home. Most recently, GreenPeak signed a deal with Bosch, announcing certification of its chips for Bosch motion sensors. Currently, the deal doesn’t extend to other Bosch lines, but Links is confident this is only the beginning.
There’s little doubt ZigBee will be the wireless technology of choice, given its low power consumption and NLOS technology that is ideal for smart home applications. In fact, Links says many devices with GreenPeak chips never need a battery replacement. When you consider the number of devices that will eventually be connected, that’s quite a savings in time and sanity, not to mention cost. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike swapping out all your light bulbs for LEDs – which, at long last, the federal government has mandated in the U.S.
The point Links makes is really that devices aren’t all that smart on their own, but require each other to become smart – along with intelligence garnered from each device and analyzed and leveraged as a cloud-based resource. When entire home systems – entertainment, lighting, cooling and heating, safety and security – are all not only network-connected, but also on a single management system, the intelligence is able to be leveraged for an enhanced lifestyle.
When you are able to combine the intelligence from all of these systems, almost any scenario becomes a reality, because the system is able to understand individual and group habits based on data collected from each of these sensors, which it then translates into action items – turning on the TV when Lefty tees off, turning the security system on when it recognizes everyone has left the home, adjusting lighting systems to environmental factors such as clouds or sun.
Links believes we will realize true smart homes in the next four to six years, when the Internet of Things comes to fully exist.
One challenge thus far is cost. Not only are smart products priced significantly above their non-connected counterparts, but when it comes to connected lighting, for instance, a homeowner who has installed LEDs throughout the home already is much less likely to be willing to absorb the cost of that than switching to smart lighting. And obviously, there are soon-to-be-connected items with much longer buying cycles that will take years to be replaced (refrigerators and other appliances).
That said, the real key will be education. For smart technology to become ubiquitous, consumers will have to be made aware, and their purchasing will have to be made easy – as will the connectivity. Despite its inherent advantages, if ZigBee isn’t as easy to use as Wi-Fi, it will fail. Based on what Links says, it’s a no brainer.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi