The smart buildings market
Google acquired Nest in 2014. Apple announced it’s Siri Smart Home Application in the same year and Honda announced its ‘Smart Home USA’ in 2013. This has heralded the arrival of new global players in the homes and buildings market. Nest has rapidly increased the number of partner companies and products in its portfolio, including smoke detection, lighting, sensing, remote control, locking and smart appliances. Meanwhile, Apple’s HomeKit is turning the smart phone into a sophisticated remote control for homes.
In January 2015 Facebook acquired a little known speech-recognition start-up called Wit.ai. It seems Facebook intends to turn speech and text into actionable data and connect them to multiple devices. This could signal a move into the voice control of home appliances, and with 1.3 billion Facebook users, this could be a very powerful offering.
Developments in micro technology, software, communications and automation, mean that most devices, buildings, systems and processes now have the potential for a degree of ‘smartness’ or built-in intelligence. We are already seeing this at the micro-level of smart devices, appliances, and buildings which can be programmed in ways that meet human needs for comfort, security and energy saving and which help to achieve wider objectives such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At a macro level, cities and larger metropolitan areas are using technology to run more efficiently, including physical infrastructure, such as smart grids, video surveillance and traffic control strategies designed to raise resilience, improve productivity, save energy and reduce costs. This smart evolution also embraces public transport infrastructure and the provision of services such as smart health, education, law and order, and the process of national and local government. Some human needs are being addressed at an even wider level by systems and organisations with global scope and outreach, from multinationals to intergovernmental organisations.
By linking systems together in a smart way it is possible to exchange and analyse information and coordinate processes so that goals and problems are addressed at the most appropriate level or combination of levels. The development of the internet of things, the influence of major software platforms and the drive for common standards mean the distinction between smart devices, buildings, and cities is an increasingly artificial one. However, the rapidly growing number or interactions creates a level of complexity and hence of unpredictability. This is heightened by the interactive nature whereby human responses to smart technology, both at an individual level and en masse are not always as intended. Smart, interconnected systems can provide a degree of resilience, but are also vulnerable as access to one can provide a gateway to others.
Smart technology has provided opportunities for a wide range of suppliers, but to date, only a small number have achieved a strong presence across a broad range of competencies. While automation companies lead the field, some of the major IT, software and web technology companies are already influential and could become much more so.
As elsewhere, there is a tendency for technology elements to mature and become commoditised, meaning that suppliers need to move further up the ‘value chain’ to maintain a leadership position. As larger-scale systems become more important, so the human-facing and social skills such as consultancy become more important.
People are beginning to realise that ‘smart’ technology and processes can have a major effect on the success of companies and cities. It is possible, in the future, that the level at which technology most effectively interacts with individuals and organisations will itself help determine the way society and politics are run.
This article originally appeared as Smart Trends - Just how is the market changing and what to expect in the future? In BSRIA’s Delta T magazine, published in January 2016.
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