SmartHomes and the Internet of Buildings

2nd September 2014

The way we use the internet is constantly changing, and there is no bigger indicator of the future and glimpse into how we will live and work than if we look at “The Internet of Things”. We spoke briefly about the ways in which the IoT is being used currently, while speculating at how this may develop. The main reason for the development of the IoT in buildings is to improve comfort, efficiency (primarily in energy) and security. Google’s acquisition of Nest back in January may provide the biggest clue yet as to where big tech companies are concentrating their efforts in the race to revolutionise the way we use the internet in our day to day lives.

Nest and Google

Nest Labs are a company that specialise in thermostats for the home and office that are capable of “learning”. The devices can be controlled via smartphones or devices remotely, and can also detect when you are in or out of the house. This enables them to conserve energy and automatically turn on when you arrive home. What’s more, they memorise patterns in users’ behaviour to anticipate when they will need the house at certain temperatures. Tech giants Google bought Nest at the start of the year for $3.2 billion! But what would they want with a thermostat company?

Turning up the Heat

Well, Nest has now released its API, which will allow third parties to create apps in order to interpret the functionality of both the thermostat and smoke detector. This means that a whole host of companies could create software which allows external devices to communicate with Nest devices. The launch partners include Whirlpool, Mercedes-Benz, Logitech and Jawbone which should give you some idea of the type of functionality that will be added. For example Jawbone will track sleep schedules to automatically turn on heating in the morning, and Mercedes-Benz will include an in-car app which can change Nest settings as your Nest device detects you entering the garage. These are just examples of launch apps – as more developers catch on to Nest capabilities, and indeed as Nest and Google develop more products, the possibilities for interconnectivity between devices and the home are extremely exciting! The “home ecosystem” could be closer than we think…

Safety First

This new technology is being developed with the aim of making buildings more secure (amongst other things). Worryingly however, there has been a number of breaches of existing software which could show that, currently, the IoT may actually be compromising the safety of users rather than improving it. As TechCrunch has pointed out, high profile companies such as Evernote, TweetDeck and Feedly have recently been the target of hackers. If large companies like these can be successfully hacked into, what guarantees do we have that our buildings and systems within will be safe from interference?

Last year, Google’s Australian office was hacked into, revealing detailed office plans and giving the hackers access to alarms, overrides and schedules. Fortunately, the hackers in this instance weren’t malicious, but suppose this type of technology becomes integrated into housing. It’s not beyond the imagination that crime and burglaries could take a different twist. The more technology installed into buildings, the more vulnerable they become. Unless companies invest in research into securing the software as well as developing it we may find ourselves going backwards instead of forwards…