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Smart homes drive Standards

The market for smart home devices and systems is booming. The IEC is helping the various industries involved by publishing a number of Standards in the relevant sectors.

AI will help robots to guess our moods
AI will help robots guess our moods (Photo: Kuri)

Increasingly, smart homes are adapting to our multiple needs, even using artificial intelligence to meet our requirements. According to management consultancy McKinsey, in the next 10 years or so, "many of us will live in 'smart homes' that will feature an intelligent and coordinated ecosystem of software and devices, or "homebots," which will manage and perform household tasks and even establish emotional connections with us."

This description may still be in the realm of science fiction but it could fast become the norm. Already, fridges can tell us what is missing and order the food required while lighting systems can automatically adjust to the right setting as we walk through the door.

For the time being, most smart households conform to the definition supplied by technology news and review website CNET in association with US-based real estate developer Coldwell Banker. According to their joint description, a smart home "is a home equipped with network-connected products for controlling, automating and optimizing functions such as temperature, lighting, security, safety or entertainment, either remotely by a phone, tablet, computer or a separate system within the home itself."

Many companies are now producing devices and systems for the smart home. The IEC has published several International Standards which help manufacturers succeed in this booming market. According to statista.com, the online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, the global smart home market is forecast to be worth more than USD 40 billion by 2020. The US has the highest percentage of smart homes, followed by Japan and Germany. According to Statista, 3,7% of US homes were smart in 2015.

Safety first

Surveillance cameras have been around for decades, but initially only the very wealthy could afford them. New technology breakthroughs have made them much more accessible and user-friendly.

Advanced surveillance cameras can now include features such as 360° view, facial recognition and the ability to send high-resolution video signals that can be monitored via the web or mobile apps. They can have wide angle lenses, be weather resistant, and even include infrared detection features that can be used at night. Full 360° vision means that fewer cameras than before are required to monitor the same space.

Modern video surveillance solutions can also monitor light and heat, since the cameras are able to measure lux levels and variations in temperature. While these systems remain costly for individual users, they can be employed to detect heat wastage in public or private business buildings by using thermal imagery captured by a camera system linked to an alarm. These remote temperature alarm cameras can be key devices in helping buildings be more energy efficient as well as safer.

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, publishes International Standards relating to digital cameras, for instance on colour measurement and management. Standardization relating to TV, tablet, mobile or computer screens, comes under the aegis of IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices.

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 37: Biometrics, a Subcommittee (SC) of ISO/IEC JTC 1, the Joint Technical Committee formed by the IEC and ISO, develops Standards for generic biometric technologies as they relate to human beings, including facial recognition. One of these is the ISO/IEC 19794 series of Standards on biometric data interchange formats.

Alarm systems can be linked to cameras but also to sensors for monitoring temperature and light, detecting smoke or water leakages as well as trespassers, for instance. Some sensors can fix the problem themselves, by automatically lowering the heating or turning on the light, for example. Others signal the problem, by sending alerts and starting off sirens.

IEC TC 79: Alarm and electronic security systems, prepares Standards for a wide range of applications which comprise access control, video surveillance, fire detection and fire alarm systems, as well as intruder, hold-up and social alarms. Remote receiving and surveillance centres are also included in the TC scope. Social alarm systems are on the rise as a growing number of elderly people live alone and require monitoring. The devices that help the elderly to continue living in their own homes can also be features of the smart home.

IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, issues Standards that relate to sensors. It is blazing a trail in new technology areas such as human body communication (HBC) and the internet of things (IoT). The IEC Systems Committee on Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL) brings together technology experts from different fields, such as medical or consumer electronics, who work to address transversal Standardization issues across the various sectors affecting the life of people with disabilities. The focus is to develop Standards which help products, services and systems become reliable and trusted solutions that are able to function across all parts of the elderly or disabled person's life, whether in the home or at work.

Oh you clever thing!

The internet of things or even of everything, as some people are now starting to describe it, relates to the ability of every electronic device in the home to be controlled from afar and be connected to other objects such as a smartphone or a computer system, via the internet.

This is where the smart fridge or other smart home appliances come into the picture. Devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. A Korean manufacturer has commercialized a refrigerator which it claims can be “the hub” of the smart home. A connected touch screen allows families to check what is in the fridge from anywhere, get notifications about the expiry date of foods and order groceries. The fridge can also play music and stream it into speakers in every room.

IEC TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, publishes Standards on the safety aspects relating to most electronic appliances used in the home, such as fridges, vacuum cleaners, toasters or washing machines. The TC is also paving the way for the safety of connected and smart devices. The IEC and ISO prepare Standards that relate specifically to IoT. ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 41: Internet of things and related technologies, has issued ISO/IEC 19637 on the framework for testing the sensor network, for instance.

Sensor manufacturers can ensure their products meet the strictest requirements through IECQ testing and certification. IECQ is the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components.

Sensors, cameras, software and smartphones in the smart home do use up a fair amount of energy. There are a number of smart ways for harvesting energy to power all these new devices. High efficiency solar cells can harvest energy from indoor lighting, for instance. IEC TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems, prepares International Standards which make way for the conversion of solar into electrical energy.