Connecting homes, connecting things

Internet of Things to bring major changes in connected homes

By Morand Fachot

Commercial and residential buildings are widely expected to become increasingly automated and better connected, allowing them to meet the need to cut energy use as well as to provide better security and improved working and living conditions. This trend presents many opportunities, but also challenges, which manufacturers and governments are addressing. They are supported in their efforts by IEC standardization work.

Control screen in security monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.) Control screen in security monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.)

Building automation essential for the future

Although it is impossible to give a uniform breakdown, owing to the existence of wide-ranging economic, climatic and other conditions, commercial buildings are reported to account for 20%-40% of primary energy consumption in industrialized countries.

Residential buildings are similarly large consumers of primary energy.

Automating buildings is seen as an attractive solution to cutting energy use in commercial and residential buildings and as an essential step in the future introduction of Smart Grids. In addition to providing better energy efficiency through automated control and the regulation of utilities (electricity, gas or water), automating buildings provides solutions for:

  • enhancing security through presence simulation, alarm systems (against intrusion, fire, smoke or other hazards), remote information and intervention
  • improving health care with support for the elderly through AAL (ambient assisted living)
  • ameliorating living conditions and increasing comfort in terms of ambience, through the means of lighting, interconnection of existing devices and connected appliances

IEC standardization work covers all these areas .

Commercial sector leading the automation drive

Automation is more advanced in commercial than in residential buildings as the former are usually refurbished and modernised more regularly, allowing for replacement or overhaul of energy-hungry installations.

Automation in commercial buildings includes the installation of programmable thermostats, timers and sensors that switch heating off or on, ventilation, lights, escalators and other equipment such as security systems as required.

IEC SC (Subcommittee) 61D: Appliances for air-conditioning for household and similar purposes, prepares International Standards for electrical heat pumps, air conditioners and dehumidifiers. For its part, TC (Technical Committee) 47: Semiconductor devices, prepares International Standards for integrated circuits and sensors, among a wide range of other devices and systems.

Technical challenges

Automation in residential housing is more complex than in the commercial sector, notably because significant technical challenges have to be overcome to bring older stock up to modern standards.

For owners and tenants, retrofit of buildings, in particular through the installation of automated systems, is often not a priority. Retrofitting mainly concerns critical systems and often only occurs when forced to, when a system such as a boiler breaks down and needs replacing. Furthermore, there is always a cost/benefit analysis between landlords and tenants that rarely favours expensive retrofits, automation in particular.

Automating new houses is easier and less costly as the infrastructure needed for automation (networking, cabling, etc.) can be installed at relatively low cost as soon as construction work starts.

Widening range

Home automation combines a widening range of domains, applications and products such as home energy management and data networking, home appliances, integrated home systems, security systems and access control.

Connected home appliances, which are coming onto the market, are also set to play a growing role in home automation.

International home automation systems and standards

Work done by ISO/IEC JTC (Joint Technical Committee) 1/SC (Subcommittee) 25/WG (Working Group) 1: Interconnection of information technology equipment - Home electronic systems, paved the way towards energy management systems with its home automation/home networking standards. These allow consumers to take control of their energy use and programme their devices to a much greater extent than ever before.

This work was followed by initiatives in several regions of the world.

In Europe, CENELEC, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization, presented its draft recommendations for its SHR (SmartHouse Roadmap) Project in 2010. The goal was to project a European vision, approach and suggested way forward for smart homes.

In Asia, PASC (Pacific Area Standards Congress) included HEMS (home energy management systems) at its 2012 meeting. The approaches to energy-efficient homes in the region’s most industrialized economies, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, present certain similarities.

In Japan the Echonet (Energy Conservation and Homecare NETwork) consortium developed a standard of the same name for communication between appliances and networks to control white goods via embedded microprocessors through wireless or wired connections.

China, through its IGRS (Intelligent Grouping and Resource Sharing) developed a similar solution. Control of the appliances that meet this standard relies mainly on wireless control. Both Echonet and IGRS were accepted as International Standards by IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment.

Korea, through the Korea Home Network Industries Association, makes great efforts to realize smart home applications able to control power consumption of each appliance remotely, either centrally or in a distributed manner, according to the architecture employed.

Security at the forefront

Besides energy management, which is considered a leading incentive, provision of security through the installation of various alarm and surveillance systems is another major factor in the drive towards home automation.

IEC TC 79: Alarm and electronic security systems, prepares International Standards for systems for "the protection of buildings, persons, areas and properties against fraudulent actions". Its work does not cover the production of standards for fire detection and fire alarm systems in general, but does include the following:

  • Access control systems
  • Video surveillance systems
  • Social alarm systems
  • Alarm transmission systems
  • Combined and/or integrated systems, even those that include fire alarm systems
  • Intruder and robbery alarm systems
  • Remote receiving and/or surveillance centres

Alarm systems have been used for decades as deterrents against theft and robbery and for fire detection and evacuation warning purposes. In more recent years, other domains have seen a steady growth. They include social alarm systems and services, which allow, for instance, elderly or disabled residents in specially equipped accommodation and dwellings to activate an alarm and call for assistance in the event of an emergency.

There are 36 TC 79 International Standards for home alarm systems; 21 of these are recent, having been published since 2010. TC 79 standardization work underpins a huge global market, which is projected to reach USD 62,5 billion by 2018 .

Assisted living

Improving health care with support for the elderly, disabled and others through AAL (ambient assisted living) represents another major reason to expand home automation. AAL systems "encompass products, services, environments and facilities used to support those whose independence, safety, wellbeing and autonomy are compromised by their physical or mental status".

In 2011, IEC SMB (Standardization Management Board) established SG (Strategy Group) 5 "to manage and coordinate AAL standardization work in IEC TCs, to establish and achieve interoperability and interconnectivity of AAL systems, and accessible design of their user interface".

Writing standards is not within the scope of SG5, but more than a dozen IEC TCs, including TC 79 mentioned earlier, do standardization work that is relevant to AAL.

Improving comfort and living conditions

Home IT and multimedia systems are increasingly interconnected. This interconnection facilitates wider and improved home automation. It has been used for entertainment for a number of years, allowing users to connect compatible devices to a home network to access and share content using, for instance DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standards (see article in this e-tech on DLNA).

Increased IT networking and connectivity in homes allow the automated or remote operation and control of many functions such as switching on or off heating, lights, alarms and, increasingly, appliances.

Large connected appliances, such as refrigerators, cookers, washing machines or robotic vacuum cleaners that can help with chores have been demonstrated at various trade events in recent years.

International Standards for household appliances are prepared by TC 59: Performance of household and similar electrical appliances, and TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, and their SCs.

Judging by the range of connected products unveiled at the 2014 Las Vegas CES (Consumer Electronics Show), and the functions they now offer, the signs are that these devices will be entering the home environment as major constituents of the future Internet of Things. One issue that will need addressing is the interoperability of devices and appliances of different makes. Another issue that emerged was that of privacy and security.

Information security issues

As connected appliances and devices will communicate with each other and with users via networks, often wirelessly, they can be affected by security issues and "hijacked" by ill-intentioned individuals or organizations.

The problem is compounded by the lack of awareness on the part of sellers and installers of security risks inherent to connected appliances.

The BBC reported an analyst at a security firm telling 2014 CES participants that "dealing with the privacy and security aspects of the Internet of Things is going to be one of the biggest challenges we have faced in security for a long time".

This concern was vindicated when researchers at Proofpoint Security, a Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity company, announced in mid-January 2014 that more than 750 000 malicious emails had been sent from over 100 000 so-called smart devices, including a "smart" fridge, over the holiday period.

The IEC is involved with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) in standardization work aimed at ensuring IT security through ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27: IT security techniques.

Huge market with a bright prospect

The overall size of the global connected home market is difficult to assess with any precision. However, some figures indicate that it is huge and growing very fast.

In addition to the global market for electronic security systems, projected to reach USD 62,5 billion by 2018, the market for home automation and controls – lighting control, security control, access control, HVAC (heating ventilation air conditioning) control, entertainment control, outdoor control, communication protocols, standards and data distribution – is forecast to exceed USD 48 billion by the same date. Pike Research, a market intelligence company in clean technology products and services, estimates that the worldwide sales of smart appliances will total nearly USD 35 billion by 2020.

This vast market and the entire ecosystem on which connected homes and appliances are based rely on IEC standardization work. .

Control screen in security monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.) Control screen in security monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.)
Smart washing machines like this one are entering the home environment (Photo: Samsung) Smart washing machines like this one are entering the home environment (Photo: Samsung)
Tele-health will play an important role in ambient assisted living (Photo: BT) Tele-health will play an important role in ambient assisted living (Photo: BT)