The future of Smart Cities is hotting up but is everyone onboard?

The world of Smart Homes, Buildings and Cities and generally everything “Smart” is coming together at a frightening speed! You don’t have to go far these days to find the word Smart plastered on nearly any device you care to mention; Smart Home, Smart TV, Smart Blu-ray, Smart Watch, even Spot the Smart Dog by Boston Dynamics and the list goes on! As my friends will tell you (both PhDs in AI and Machine Intelligence), most of this stuff is not really smart at all (not even the dog – although it is pretty cool!), most just have an internet connection meaning they’re easier to control and get data from but still follow a pre-determined set of rules. Unfortunately, nearly all of them use a proprietary protocol, or method of communication.

On the larger scale, you have every company, some with little to no history of being related to the Smart Home / Building / City moving into the space. There are studies or white papers from IBM, UK Government, Cisco, Hitachi, The IEC, The IEEE, Microsoft, Oracle, HP and the Smart Cities Council to name just a few. The problem is that it is still massively fragmented; there’s little connection between the Big Tech Companies, Architects, City planners, App developers (such as Roomie, IFTTT (If this then that), Fitbit and the new MS HoloLens) and AV / Smart Home Integrators (most of who have extensive insight into integrating technologies for end consumers including Control and Front Ends, Voice and Data, Infrastructure, Audio, Video, IT, HVAC, Lighting, Blinds, other BMS, Security, CCTV, Access, Power, Automation, Irrigation etc. as
well as what customers actually care about and pay for).

At the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) event going on this week in Amsterdam, Cisco, LG, ABB and Bosch Joined forces to start their Smart Home Initiative to try provide a open software and communication platform for Smart homes and some are asking why the need for yet another initiative when organisations such CEDIA, CEA and KNX are trying to do just that – although maybe not fast enough or with diverse enough support?

I’m not sure any group/initiative is wide-ranging enough yet and it may just end up being another proprietary standard. Frankly, It would need a significant push to gather a larger group of Consumer, Corporate & Industrial brands (such as Cisco, Google / Nest, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, HP, Daikin, IBM, ABB, Bosch, BT, Sky, Virgin, British Gas even Ikea and Aga! who are looking at future Kitchens), Smart Home Brands (such as Crestron, AMX, RTI, Lutron, etc) along with other protocols and groups (such as IP6, KNX, LonWorks, BacNet, BLE, iBeacon, 6LoWPAN, HDBaseT, Z-Wave, Wireless Power Consortium, IEEE) and organisations such as IET, BCS, CEDIA, CEA, Infocomm, CIBSE, etc and maybe even mix in a bit of SAP for good measure!)

If the Smart City groups and Manufacturers don’t talk or even know about the Smart Building and Smart Home groups the progression toward a truly Smart and Energy Efficient World will take a long time with significant amounts of time and money wasted on “open” protocols that won’t get off the ground whilst technologies with proprietary protocols such as Apple Homekit and Nest will take the greatest market share as they provide shinier and greater subsidised products but lock users into a walled garden or potentially utilise advertising and sell on consumer data.

In the end, if we’re not careful, we’ll have a technology arena that is years behind
where it should be with a unified cross-sector protocol/technology that everyone participates in.

A great example of a current technology that has been delayed by this is the NFC / contact payment / eWallet arena which I am sure could be so much farther developed and useful to the consumer (and profitable for the tech companies) had it been allowed to progress with a unified underlying protocol that everyone bought into. (Photo courtesy of Steven Walling). Unfortunately NFC hit the bottom in 2014 in a period Gartner refers to as the Trough of Disillusionment made worse by some proprietary tech, blanket pulling and some major players such as Apple not even partaking until now with the iPhone 6, resulting in the market becoming disillusioned with the tech so that few use it – even Android users.

So let’s not let the Smart Home / Building / City develop into another format war, it’s time to all play nice together, settle on some standards and start to look at the awesome power, automation and cool applications that we could layer on top.

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