2015 smart home technology and designs in Europe

2015 smart home technology and designs in Europe
In Europe, there are over 50 countries and 20 official languages. In the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s the same. In a smart home, a variety of connected products from diverse suppliers operate on different protocols. There are different routes to smart homes. What drive consumers to make their first purchase on smart home products are comfort and safe living as well as easy-to-use user experience.

You can have your bathroom at 24 degrees Celsius. If you open the window and take a shower, the heater will turn off automatically. After you close the window, the heater will turn on again. Bernd Grohmann, CTO of eQ-3 explains its smart home design concept, “What we do is not just saving energy, we sell thermostats for increasing the comfort.”
 

Popular standards

Developing interoperable systems and products is critical to early growth of the smart home market in Europe. Being open platform and supporting multiple standards are two major ways to tackle the problem of lack of standardization and interoperability. According to IHS, “A large part of the consumers don’t feel comfortable when installing smart home systems.” Usability is what suppliers are working on for their smart home products. Wireless networking standards and powerline technology are popular for smart homes because they are non-invasive and easy to install. A Parks Associates report indicates that an ideal product does its task with little to no maintenance and can provide more complex functions as needed.

To that end, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and DECT ULE are key building blocks for today’s smart home systems along with wired alternatives like power line communication (PLC) and Ethernet IP networking. EN13757 compliant Wireless Meter-Bus (M-Bus) is a widely accepted standard for smart metering applied to electricity, gas, water, and heat resources in Europe.

“We adopt Z-Wave because it is currently the smallest chipset available on the market. What’s more, we have always wanted to create the smallest device having integration with different third-party devices in the world,” said Krystian Bergmann, Technical Expert at Fibar Group.
 
Matthieu Douriez, Open Innovation Manager of the Product Marketing Department at Orange said, “We adopt Z-Wave because it is a protocol that can address several devices. Our system also caters to Wi-Fi technology.” He added, “We aim to provide one app for all objects. What we would like to do is to integrate all these sensors, cameras, and functions within one app and help homeowners manage their home.”

Intesis Software from Spain focuses on open technologies and protocols like KNX, LonWorks, Modbus, BACnet, and M-Bus. “KNX standard is used for controlling lights, heating, and as such,” said Josep Cerón, CEO of Intesis Software.

The Polish company Zipato offers a home automation controller Zipabox that supports several important interfaces, such as ZigBee, Z-Wave, KNX, and EnOcean technologies for whole-home automation. The Cozify Hub supports ZigBee, Bluetooth 4.0, 433MHz, Wi-Fi, and Z-Wave to connect smart devices across different manufacturers and platforms.
KNX, one of the primary home automation standards in Europe, faces strong competition from new technologies developed for affordable smart home solutions. The green technology EnOcean is gaining attention, featuring battery-less solutions. It is one of a few wireless standards capable of energy harvesting. Z-Wave is popular among professional installers for its high interoperability among other third-party devices. ULE is inherited from DECT technology which is widely used in cordless phones and accepted by European consumers. The promising technology operates in the 1.9GHz frequency band, which is clean with much less interference than others like 2.4GHz. ZigBee is also an important wireless standard to watch, especially for the lighting segment.
 

Openness saves time and cost

relayr, a Germany-based IoT Platform as a Service provider, indicated that open APIs will dominate the smart home evolution over the next five years. To boost the adoption rate, the company offers a service that is free for single and small batch users, then features low-cost monthly fees for larger businesses that connect thousands devices. This pricing structure reduces the costs of up-front investment in server infrastructure.

The company released WunderBar, an Internet-of-Things starter kit with WiFi and Bluetooth sensors that comes in the form of a chocolate bar with built-in light, humidity and temperature sensors to enable companies and software developers to quickly develop prototype products and own solutions. Jackson Bond, Co-Founder and Head of Product at relayr said, “Our platform enables businesses, entrepreneurs and developers to develop their own smart solutions, allowing people to create their own connected things. We offer a cloud, open source SDK and sensor starter kit, so that businesses can rapidly create the IoT solutions they need to bring their bottom line down and accelerate their companies into the Internet of Things in days not weeks through our Innovation Acceleration program.”
 
Intesis Software offers Wi-Fi adapters communicating with every indoor air conditioner or heat pump regardless of brand or make, offering an open API for third-party companies wishing to integrate their AC-integrated systems. “As a software and hardware solution provider, we hope to integrate with all cloud systems and whatever companies interested in home automation systems who do not have their own solutions for controlling air conditioning. They can use our device to interact with other systems,” said Josep Cerón, CEO of Intesis Software.

Easy installation

Consumers might need new things to add after purchasing a new system. The life cycle of heating systems is 15 years. However, consumer electronics will have new features and capabilities every two to three years. Power lines are a great way to get infrastructure and add-ons done easily. Broadband and IP networks are second most mature infrastructure in the home. digitalSTROM offers a real plug-and-play solution via wired power line.

“You never have the situation that all the devices have the same age, meaning they are not replaced frequently. The heating is a good example. Moreover, the devices in a home come from different manufacturers. That's why we would never have a single standard for communication. However, there should be somebody taking responsibility for the interaction of the devices and the main infrastructure. When we look at the smart home for the mass market when talking to system setup, we need open interface and the ability to handle different technologies. digitalSTROM uses power line as an infrastructure — which every user has plugs, switches, lights connected there. That's the only way you can make it really plug-and-play for the customers,” said Martin Vesper, CEO of digitalSTROM.
 
Vesper added, “When you talk about smart home, you don’t talk about three devices, it’s about 200 devices. The main driver for people to buy things online is convenience; it happens in smart home as well. We can’t be an expert for everything. If you have 200 smart devices at home, you would like to have it easy unless you have only three or four devices at home.” He added, “We use power-line technology because we don't have to configure communication, as soon as you plug it in, it works. In order to have the high reliability and ease of use, everything should be connected via wires, unless it is a mobile device. For small devices like push buttons, lights and shades, we choose powerline; as for the IP-based devices, we recommend to connect them via Ethernet of POF.” Furthermore, Vesper thinks voice control is an ideal solution for complicated commands.

Design philosophy

Besides ease of use and installation, user experience is highly emphasized for smart home users. European consumers seem to be more conscious about external design that doesn’t interrupt their current lifestyles. Smart home devices need to fi t home decoration. Lars Felber, PR Director of Elgato, a Germany-based company, said, “The Germans boast minimalist, clean, and bright design principles. All we want is that it needs to look good enough to be placed in a visible space, and not draw too much attention.”

Swipe from Fibar Group, a Poland-based Z-Wave home automation solution provider, represents slim and hidden design, put behind a wall or under a table. With the gesture control unit, users can control shutters and lights by swiping their hands in different directions. The product is scheduled to release in H2 2015.
 
HomeDefender is an Italian brand of DIY home alarm systems, operating in Asia and distributed in Europe. Alberto Antinucci, Owner of HomeDefender shared his observation about user experiences. “Everyone has different living environments and backgrounds, but the same need. I mean user interface. For example, they all need to drink water though they use different kinds of glasses to hold it. Of course, the outlook should be nice enough to fit for the home decoration.”

The European market is promising with growing business opportunities. The smart home suppliers in the region believe the market is growing with the aid of multiple market drivers. However, lack of interoperability is a major barrier to mass adoption. Since there are multiple standards applied in different applications, it’s not easy to choose side. Those who want to enter this sizzling market need to take care of functionality, usability, reliability, as well as unquestionable eye-pleasing design.
Share to:
Comments ( 0 )