IoT, smart home, smart cities. Until a few years ago, these were ideas for a privileged few, but now they have almost become common use. This is the result of a study carried out by the Digital Innovation Observatory at the Politecnico di Milano School of Management. The term smart home, for example, is familiar to 59% of people aged between 36 and 45. This fact reflects the trend of a market, that of the domestic IoT, which in Italy is worth approximately 380 million and has grown by 52% over the past year. We are still far from the figures coming out of the United States, Germany or Great Britain, but our overall trend reflects that of these countries. The promise of a smart home and connected future cannot however become a reality solely through market preparation. What is needed is a significant effort to simplify the new levels of complexity which are being added to our every-day lives.
“The simplification of the inevitable complexity that results from advances in technology is a fundamental process which producers and suppliers of services must take responsibility for”, explained Antonio Bosio, Head of Product and Solutions for Samsung Italy, to Domus. “Activating smart functions in our home should be as easy as installing an app on our smartphone, a digital operation which we now take for granted”.
What we need, as well as a product which is easy to use, is to concentrate not so much on pure marketing, but on education, illustrating to potential users in an effective manner the advantages of a washing machine which communicates with a smartphone, or a fridge which automatically detects when the milk has run out.
Fluidity and openness
The strength of contemporary solutions for the smart home, again according to Bosio, is that they adapt to the evolution of family life. They can quickly reorganise, and it is the user who can create their own multi-platform services according to their needs, which are equally dynamic, and which transform over time.
“The traditional idea of home automation never became a concrete reality because it required a team of engineers to design a solution”, continues Bosio, “as well as a team of engineers to keep this solution running”.
In order to enable this natural modulation of solutions for the connected home, however, there is another fundamental prerogative, which is openness to solutions proposed by other manufacturers. Each smart object needs to be able to communicate with other devices without limitations imposed by a closed vertical platform controlled by a single company. “The smart home evolves with the requirements of those who live there. We need to be able to guarantee plasticity of the platform, which needs to be able to welcome new products, irrespective of who commercialises them”.
Currently, the situation is still too fragmented, admits Bosio, as not all manufacturers have accepted opening their products to allow them to communicate with the competition, preferring to close access and favour their own solutions. As he once again explains, this type of thinking is destined to fail.
With 5G, every lamp-post can house a small box connected to the network. In this way, a passive element of the city becomes active
Another couple of years
As also demonstrated by the figures from the Digital Innovation Observatory, the panorama in both Italy and world-wide remains promising. According to Bosio, over the next two or three years, the smart home will stop being just a concept, and will become an every-day reality for many families.
In a relatively short time, he adds, those who recently bought a washing machine or fridge on the basis of normal characteristics that encourage purchase will realise they have put a smart device in their home. And not just one, but an entire team. At that point, in order to enable a smart home, all one will need to do is to become aware of the potential of the devices which we already use every day.
“In a few months’ time, there will no longer be Samsung appliances on sale which are not smart”, he says. “If we began this process today, I would say that it will take another ten years to be able to consider the smart home an every-day reality”, he explains. But we already began five or six years ago, and so I believe that in the next two years we will begin to see the fruits of what we have sewn”.
5G and smart cities
The connected home of tomorrow will not, however, be an island. It will be a part of the much wider-ranging fabric of a city which in turn is connected. As with smart homes, smart cities have been a subject of discussion for years now. And again in this case the eternal technological promise seems ever closer to becoming a reality. The accelerating factor in this case will be 5G, the series of technologies which will enable the next generation of super-fast networks.
“With 5G, every lamp-post can house a small box connected to the network. In this way, a passive element of the city becomes active”, explains Bosio. “There will be traffic lights which can warn connected vehicles of imminent danger, new forms of interactive communication”, as well as a wide range of applications which until now we could only imagine.
Bridging the digital divide
5G will also play an important role in the field of the Internet of Things and smart homes, however. Not so much in terms of the advantages regarding the technical characteristics of 5G (such as low response time and connection speed) as bringing standard connectivity to places where it is currently not possible. “Even in the centre of Milan”, concludes Bosio, “there are situations in which optic fibre connections are not possible. Or take second homes, where often it is not worth activating a dedicated service. These are all situations in which 5G, thanks to micro-invasive solutions, can provide connections and render all applications for remote command of the home possible”.