Exploration: Sensing automation

Exploration: Sensing automation

If your house is able to think and feel, what can it do for you? Well, it could be an affordable or even a free housekeeper that can automatically take care of your family and property to make your life easy, comfort, organized and secure.

Sensors are fundamental for smart home. Smart home systems rely on a number of sensors to gain understanding of the environment to enable devices to respond accordingly. In essence, sensors communicate with each other and the smart home system to make a home intelligent. The intelligence may then be applied to various use cases, such as security, convenience, comfort, energy conservation and more. Today sensors are increasingly smart, cheap, compact and power efficient, each of which are crucial factors in pushing the market toward a truly practical and affordable smart home solution worthy of mass market adoption.

In addition, many sensors in the market today are multifunctional sensors with built in wireless connectivity. They also have a stronger focus on user experience users can easily find sensors that are cheap and easy to set up, measure multiple elements, and interact with a variety of devices through wireless communication protocols. And they last for years without a battery change.

SECURITY, COMFORT AND ENERGY SAVING
Security, comfort and energy conservation are three main motivations for homeowners to purchase smart home systems. According to a study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, smart home may become the second highest priority for residential modeling over the next five to ten years. According to another study by Harvard University, 73% of consumers demand energy efficiency in their remodeling projects; they achieve this through managing and coordinating lighting control and HVAC systems through automated means or via mobile devices.

Research conducted by Global Industry Analysts (GIA) indicates that smart homes of the future will feature more than 20 or even 30 connected sensors and devices. They will likely be linked via a home area network to the Internet as well as the service providers back end systems.

A smart home system that aims to make a home more secure, comfortable and energy efficient should include the following sensors:
‧ Motiondetection / PIR sensors:
Senses movement and triggers alerts. Major providers offer remote monitoring services that allow users to stream live video from their home cameras when needed.
‧ Ambient light sensors:
Lets the system know which areas have sufficient lighting. In conjunction with a motion detector, the smart home system may know that it should turn on the lights when motion is detected in a dark room.
‧ Smoke/CO detection sensors:
Alerts users of potential fire hazards. The smart home system may also know it should turn off fuel burning appliances, sound alarms, flash lights and more. ‧Temperature sensors/Thermostat:
Measures indoor or outdoor temperatures. Smart home systems can control HVAC appliances to adjust the environment to be more comfortable.
‧ Humidity sensors:
Measures humidity levels and possibly air quality. Smart home systems can control HVAC appliances to adjust the environment to be more comfortable.
‧ Water/floodsensors:
Informs users when water is spilling from a pipe or an appliance. Some systems can cut off water supplies and electricity to prevent disasters.
‧ Press/vibrationsensors:
Detects pressure and vibration. It could be attached to a window for security purposes or a washing machine to alert users when the laundry is done.

A ROSY PICTURE
The United States represents the largest market worldwide, followed by Europe. ON World s recent survey of more than 1,000 US adults forecast phenomenal growth in the coming years. Over a third believes they will have wireless sensors in their home in five years. Early adopters plan on having at least 50 sensors in their smart homes within the next five years and they want to integrate them into their WiFi/IP network,” said Mareca Hatler, ON World's research director. For all respondents, data reliability was selected as the most important feature of a smart home sensing and control system, followed by battery life, IP addressability, smartphone control and app availability.

Among all the sensor type, automated security and lighting are popular among consumers, and most homeowners opt for a smart home system because of security reasons. Families with children/elderly can especially benefit from the security that a smart home system provides. According to the survey by ON World, consumers are most likely to buy smoke detector/CO alarms followed by wireless LED light bulbs, smart thermostats and/or a smart appliance.

At the moment, wireless sensor devices are primarily used in industrial settings, residential applications are expected to grow phenomenally, mainly for automation and energy management purposes. This sector was worth $244 million in 2011 and is expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2016, showing a CAGR of 35.5% between 2011 and 2016, according to BCC Research.

The expected prosperity is also exemplified by the growth of key component shipments. “Smart home sensor network chipset shipments will approach 100 million worldwide in 2015, enabling nearly $6 billion in cloud services for energy and home service providers,” Hatler said.

MULTI-PURPOSE SENSORS: YES, PLEASE!
The most common combination of sensors in a single package is smoke and heat. There are also 4-in-1 multi-purpose sensors that can detect motion, light, temperature and humidity. For example, FIBARO's Motion Sensor detects movement and vibrations and measures the current ambient temperature and light intensity. The product is capable of displaying color, which are pre-programmed but fully customizable, allowing users to see at a glance what the sensor is picking up.

In addition to making sensors more powerful and capable of gaining a deeper understanding of the surrounding environment, another benefit is that few sensors need to be installed. This can offer real savings in areas with high labor costs.

According to IHS Technology, market trends in North America and Western Europe are showing higher demand and increased usage of multi-purpose sensors. The think tank forecasts the global multi-purpose sensor market to grow at a CAGR of 7.0% from 2013 to 2018.

INTELLIGENT SENSORS ENABLE SMARTER LIFESTYLES
Sensors gather data to help an intelligent system analyze users' habits and take actions to maximize user comfort and minimize energy consumption. Occupancy and vacancy sensors are commonly referred to as motion and light sensors, which can be applied to help save energy. Lights turn off automatically when a room is unoccupied, and turn on when motion is detected. Vacancy sensors are also used to automatically turn off lights when a room is empty. In addition to lighting, indoor temperature can also be controlled to effectively heat or cool a room depending on the number of people in it. For example, FIBARO's smart sensor offers intelligent analysis like guest counting. Once the system knows there are more people in the house, it will turn on the ventilation on to let in fresh air.

Some sensors also reach beyond comfort to improve users' wellness. Air quality monitoring startup alima, offers responsive sensors that monitor indoor air quality and sends messages to users regarding pollution levels and predictions of upcoming weather.

The sensor intelligently learns indoor environment and helps modify user habits to minimize contributions to pollution. It sends data to the cloud and pushes results and advice to connected devices, while also providing a holistic view of air quality.

COMMUNICATION STANDARD GOES IP-ADDRESSABLE
Regardless of the application of sensors, communication between different sensors is crucial. Unfortunately, multiple wireless communication standards coexist and are incompatible with each other. Many popular smart home solutions are still closed systems that adopt proprietary standards.

Closed systems and proprietary protocols contribute to the lack of interoperability between systems and devices. Although there are numerous gateways or hubs that attempt to bridge communication between devices that adopt different standards, true interoperability is unlikely to be realized through “duct tape” solutions. The majority of wireless sensor networks use proprietary protocols running on sub-GHz or 2.4GHz frequency bands. When a home is equipped with tens or hundreds of wireless sensors continuously working in the full-alert mode, a large amount of energy is consumed.

As sensors become more compact, their sizes limit them to use small batteries as their power source. The sensors must minimize energy consumption to extend their lifetime, which is unacceptable for consumer use if it is less than one year. At the same time, sensors must provide high quality monitoring 24/7, as the consequence of unreliable homecare may be life threatening, and will not be tolerated by consumers. The scenario reflects the necessity of activity-aware sensor networking, along with the integration of activity recognition algorithms. For instance, if no one is at home, the sensing and networking activity should fall back to standby mode in order to reduce energy consumption. If a user is at home, the sensing and networking needs to provide reliable and predictable monitoring.

Low-power and activity-aware sensor networks with the integration of activity recognition algorithms are on demand. The current connected home systems connect sensors with multiple low-power wireless technologies like Low Power WiFi, Thread, ULE, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and ISM Band Sub-GHz frequency bands (433, 868 and 915 MHz).

IP-addressable is the mainstream for smart home sensors. Among the standards, ARM, Big Ass Fans, Freescale Semiconductor, Nest Labs, Samsung Electronics, Silicon Labs, and Yale Security launched Thread in July 2014. Thread is a new IP-based wireless mesh network protocol that will enable smart home devices to carry IPv6 communications with very low power consumption and support large-scale networks for the home with more than 250 nodes. Lisa Arrowsmith, associate director of IHS Technology indicated that Thread is an IPv6 networking protocol built on open standards, designed for low-power 802.15.4 mesh networks. Existing popular application protocols and IoT platforms can run over Thread networks, which means millions of existing 802.15.4 wireless devices already on the market can run Thread with just a software enhancement.

According to Transparency Market Research, WiFi used to be the major technology employed in home energy managements systems, accounting for 25.1% of the total market in 2012. However, over the forecasted period from 2013 to 2019, ZigBee is expected to show the fastest growth and surpass WiFi to become the primary technology. This is mainly attributed to its growing demand in established markets like Europe and the U.S. on the account of its superior properties like scalability, more interference tolerant and compatibility with most HAN (Home Area Network) devices.

ConnectSense by Grid Connect is a platform for low-cost, cloud-based WiFi 802.11b/g wireless sensors that monitor changes in a user's environment and then sends alerts and notifications via phone call, email, text or tweet. Sensors are available to monitor temperature, humidity, water, motion, security and light. WiFi is the ubiquitous wireless technology found in business offices and homes. The utilization of WiFi networks lets users leverage their existing WiFi network without the need to purchase any additional hardware or gateways.

ON World's findings indicated that ZigBee and Z-Wave will have more than half of the sensor network market in 2015, but emerging technologies such as Low Power WiFi and 6LoWPAN will grow even faster. Z-Wave operates in the sub-GHz band, avoiding 2.4 GHz interference.

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