It might sound unusual to refer to an inanimate object as "smart," but today, some of them really are. Smart devices are a part of what is colloquially known as the "Internet of Things."
"Smart" and "Internet of Things" – these can sound like mere buzzwords, but while they might come off as trendy, they refer to some very real technological changes that are going to change the business and consumer landscape in almost every conceivable way.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the communication between connected devices over a network and generally, a device with this kind of connective ability is referred to as smart. The IoT as a more general concept grew out of what is known as machine-to-machine communication. Machines in industrial settings were configured to communicate with one another, allowing for a greater volume of data to be collected on the machine's performance and other key metrics.
That last point is what got manufacturers and retailers in nearly every other vertical thinking that there was massive potential in unleashing this same capability in what had previously been considered ordinary products. In particular, people are getting interested in bolstering more common energy-saving methods like solar power for the home with a wide offering of smart home devices.
Your home is getting a lot smarter
Home appliances and equipment have proven to be fertile ground for innovative manufacturers and designers who want to bring the IoT to our living spaces. While few home goods have been spared from the ever-expanding reach of the IoT, it seems that the parts of our homes that are more energy-intensive have gotten the bulk of the attention from manufacturers and consumers alike.
It's no secret that energy prices are steadily rising, to say nothing of the wild fluctuations that come with harsh winters (remember the polar vortex?) and unseasonably warm fall weather. In light of this, consumers are looking for ways in which they can save energy and money.
This is where things like smart thermostats, lights, appliances and other products come in. They're ordinary devices made extraordinary, equipped with technologies that enable them to connect to the Internet and communicate with their owners and even the manufacturers. Even better, smart devices often come with the ability to be programmed and set up so they can learn their owner's preferences.
At this point you might be feeling somewhat underwhelmed. So now, you have appliances that can connect to the Internet and be set to your preferences. Is this really that exciting for homeowners looking to save money their energy bill?
Why smart devices are so important to home energy efficiency
If this is sounding a little too abstract, maybe a specific example will be the best way to get a clearer picture of how this actually works.
Take something as simple as your thermostat. Normally, you set the temperature you want and the thermostat makes sure the heating system keeps your home at that. It's definitely easy enough to use, but it has some serious flaws when it comes to energy efficiency. Midwest Energy News told the story of a homeowner named Sean McBriarty who was getting fed up with his thermostat, which he believed to be the culprit behind his high energy bills. McBriarty said that he and his daughter couldn't agree on an acceptable temperature, leading to the constant changing of the thermostat dial.
He solved the problem by purchasing a smart thermostat. He programmed the unit and with very little further interactions with it, the sensor-equipped device was able to learn his family's patterns and adjust the temperature around their lifestyle – lowering it when they aren't home and raising it when they are. And while the device gets obvious points for being cool, what has homeowners like McBriarty excited is the savings. His new thermostat is saving him about $150 per month on his energy bill.
Even though this is just one example of many, we can already start to see the real promise of smart, connected homes: A level of control and comfort that simply cannot be achieved with unconnected devices and appliances. Instead of trying to remember to shut off all your lights (LED, of course) every time you leave the house, you can leave and shut them off with your smartphone. Even better, sensor equipped light systems will just know that you've left and shut themselves off automatically.
Another major benefit to smart devices is that they collect valuable data. As WPTZ News reported, smart appliances can learn your habits, track your energy use and report what they find to you. If it turns out you're using an excessive amount of power, the device will pick up on that and let you know before your use, and your bill, gets too high.
The IoT and smart device trend is still in its infancy, but even the earliest entrants have made enough of a splash in the home appliances market to get everyone's attention. The savings that people like McBriarty have seen at such an early stage with just a few basic home upgrades cannot be ignored.