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Central Portal for the Data Revolution

By Mark Walters, Chairman, Z-Wave Alliance


Mark Walters, Chairman, Z-Wave Alliance

While smart home functionalities have been in existence for decades now, the medium has undergone extensive changes of late as enabling technologies have evolved, and connectivity to the Internet has been given up. What began as primitive point-to-point remote control for lights and appliances has evolved into comprehensive control and automation ecosystems for residential and commercial environments – encompassing everything from smart lighting, climate energy management, and security to water controls. The Z-Wave standard, a prominent wireless two-way communications protocol designed specifically for control and status-reading applications, has enabled routine reporting, logging and cloud transmission of the activities across these environmental systems. The usage data generated by these Z-Wave controlled devices and systems paints a vivid picture of activity within these environments. The resulting data sets, observed as immediate snapshots or as changes over time, present clear demonstrations and predictive implications for a broad variety of stakeholders, including residents, energy utilities, security providers and healthcare professionals, all the way through community services and smart city initiatives.

“While smart homes have always been capable of conserving energy—think of the earliest lighting controls--a new generation of smart devices allows consumers to clearly visualize their home energy usage and make adjustments as needed”

Individual and Scaled Quantified Environments

The addition of cloud capabilities to the smart home landscape has been largely driven by the home security sector, which already monitors millions of homes and businesses worldwide. Companies like ADT, Honeywell, Vivint, Alarm.com and Napco, among many others, have extended their core monitoring services through additional Z-Wave enabled smart objects, such as door locks, thermostats, and water valves. These individual devices, as well as the environmental subsystems in which they operate, are all remotely monitored by the service’s cloud. This in turn provides a detailed picture of building activity. While the data collection of these monitored environments is configured relevantly to the specific homeowner or building operator, data patterns that are extensible throughout larger localities or specific building types are yielding important information that go beyond one-to-one reportage. For example, as more buildings record and transmit security-related events to the cloud, usable patterns emerge regarding neighborhoods and crime risk, which in turn can affect everything from policing activity to home and car insurance rates.

Data Spurs Intelligent Aging in Place

While conventional home security monitoring is typically focused on unwanted activity, the emerging field of senior monitoring, or “connected aging” is often focused on an unwanted lack of activity. Some 43 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. are full or part-time caregivers to elderly loved ones who are aging at home. Regular activity and mobility is the key to senior health, and degradations in either of these areas point to potential problems worthy of investigation.

The advent of cloud services, in conjunction with smart devices strategically placed throughout a “senior-proofed” home, provides these caregivers with new tools to remotely monitor health and wellness patterns. In many cases, they even provide the opportunity for proactive interventions that can save money and lives. Areas of frequent use, such as the kitchen or bath, as well as general mobility activity are monitored through this connected aging environment, with the resulting data sent to either a cloud service or a one-to-one monitoring setup. Thanks to sensors distributed throughout the home, aberrations in living patterns are immediately observable and can send signal alerts to the caregiver. Viewing the data over the course of time, caregivers can directly observe whether loved ones’ conditions are stable, improving or degenerating, and take any appropriate actions. Until recently, these observations were the sole province of in-person assistance, either through family, friends or professional health aides. The advent of smart devices and the cloud has enabled e elderly population to age safely at home independently, rather than in assisted living or nursing facilities, which is the stated desire of an overwhelming majority.

Data Informs Energy Management

While smart homes have always been capable of conserving energy -- think of the earliest lighting controls -- a new generation of smart devices allows consumers to clearly visualize their home energy usage and make adjustments as needed. Moreover, the emerging ability for residences and commercial buildings to communicate with smart utility meters, points to potentially dramatic changes in energy consumption. Prior to this technology and data-aware energy usage, payers had basic energy systems that were quantified only by the kilowatt and dollar amounts shown on the monthly bill.

When energy rates changed during peak consumption periods, payers had no way of modulating usage, nor any control over specific energy-hogging devices or appliances, such as washing machines or plasma TVs.

A growing variety of data-driven energy management systems is remedying this shortcoming, including devices that are able to speak with automated demand response technologies deployed by utilities, such as OpenADR. By being able to accurately gauge energy usage from specific devices and components during specific periods of the day, week or month, both consumers and utilities are able to monitor and conserve energy and costs. As smart grid deployments continue to grow, neighborhoods, cities and counties directly benefit.

Given the prohibitive cost of building new power utilities, these capabilities will be crucial for the foreseeable future The smart home markets have come a long way since the simple X10 devices of the 1980s, which offered one-way communication, no status reading and therefore, no generated data.

Today, smart homes and buildings are the most central gathering points for data feeding the Internet of Things. As new techniques and algorithms are devised to interpret this data, and as more and more smart objects become directly addressable through IP, exciting new products, services and benefits will be plentiful.

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