Smart home for beginners - a practical guide

Smart-Home für Einsteiger – ein praktischer Leitfaden

In the digital age everything is “smart”: smartphones, smart TVs, smartwatches. Now your own home is following suit and is being transformed into a smart home thanks to networked devices and state-of-the-art home technology. But what exactly is a smart home? Why is it smart at all and how does it benefit its owners? Learn more about it in this handy beginner's guide. Find out about offers for smart home systems, but also about the concerns and problems of the technology. At the end of this article you can also take a look into the future and receive practical tips for your own smart home.

Smart home - what is it?

Yes, you've heard it before: Most online users in Germany are familiar with Smart Home. This is evidenced by a current Study by the Federal Association of the Digital Economy e. V. (BVDW). The participants surveyed there even know various smart home applications, e.g. B. networked household and monitoring devices, entertainment electronics or language assistants such as Siri, Alexa & Co. These applications offer their users more comfort and well-being in their own four walls, and with monitoring electronics ensure more security in the interior and exterior areas of houses and apartments . Certain systems and products even help to save energy when heating or lighting and protect the environment. And some devices and sensors are just plain fun to use. According to a recent study by the management consultancy Deloitte only 16 percent of Germans use a smart home system that makes all this possible. But the trend is rising: almost a quarter of the BVWD respondents states in the association's study that it intends to use smart home applications in the future. So will our refrigerators soon be ordering milk on their own when it's all gone? The answer is: maybe someday. But there is still a long way to go until then.

So again: what is a smart home today?

A smart home is a house or apartment in which sensors, devices and technical solutions can be controlled and interact with each other centrally via a platform. Incidentally, the first “home of the smart kind” is near Munich. Designed in 2001 by architects for the Federal Horticultural Show and equipped with intelligent electronic control modules by the famous Fraunhofer Institute, it was the first step into the era of visionary building technology. The Fraunhofer inHaus Center in Duisburg, an innovation workshop for intelligent room systems, had already designed modern smart home scenarios with numerous manufacturers. All electronic processes could then be controlled centrally in the Munich project house – via a central control unit. All commands to the connected systems ran via this central station. In other words, exactly the functions that the so-called base or docking station takes on in modern smart homes today.

Example of a modern base station that can be easily controlled using a smartphone app

The smart home has long since ceased to be the preserve of science: it is now being used 16 percent of Germans at least one of the numerous smart home systems available on the market. Ascending trend!

What is a smart home system?

In addition to the central base station, which controls all electronic processes in the smart home via a smartphone app, there is additional hardware that is able to collect and process data. This hardware is now absolutely affordable, so nowadays everyone can put together their own smart home system. Available smart home hardware consists of switches, buttons and sockets, e.g. B. for automatically switching on lights as soon as a person enters the area monitored by motion detectors. Practical if you feel an urgent need at 3 a.m. and the little ones' toys are in the way again.

Also common are thermostats for heaters that automatically switch them on and off without the user having to lift a finger. We explain exactly how this works here. Intelligent alarm systems as well as remote and time-controlled lights and luminaires are also very popular with consumers. Of course, smart consumer electronics and loudspeakers are also on the rise, e.g. B. Sonos offers them, with which we now play the same music in all rooms. And of course other products for smart blinds, doors, windows, smoke detectors and much more

Most of these systems can now be controlled via a smartphone app. Touch control is the easiest way of operation. However, there are also initial solutions that can be controlled solely by voice or external control elements that have been specially developed for certain smart home solutions.

Smart home systems – put them together yourself or buy a combination?

For beginners who do not want to assemble every single device or switch themselves, there are practical starter sets that contain a base station and the basic hardware for one to four rooms in the smart home. These combination sets are often the cheaper option compared to individually assembled and purchased products.

Practical smart home combinations for comfort, security and energy saving

Some smart home providers combine a kind of "best of" all available products for comfort, heating and lighting scenarios, energy saving and security in one app. The control is based on sensors that automatically collect data and process and execute it according to the app settings.

Everyone is talking about smart speakers and digital language assistants

A very hot trend in the smart home market are digital language assistants and smart speakers such as Alexa from Google, Siri from Apple or Echo from Amazon. The Smart Home Study 2018 by Deloitte revealed that 13 percent of all German households already have such a tool and chat with its owners. Upon request, they can get the current weather report, turn on the heating or turn on the light. This machine-human interaction is based on commands or certain audio signals. They are recognized and executed by the self-learning assistants on the basis of artificial intelligence via speech recognition.

Users and language assistants don't always speak the same language: an 85-year-old Italian-American communicates for the first time with her grandson's smart speaker - with hands, feet and, finally, successfully, with her voice

Brave new world: what does the future of the smart home look like?

There are many exciting new technologies in the smart home space - voice is just one of the promising trends. Wouldn't it be great if the underfloor heating always provided the right temperature at the right time and also saved energy in other ways? The topic of sustainability is playing an increasingly important role in expandable smart home systems: Linking your own solar power system to the smart devices in the house would be conceivable: additional services such as emergency calls for seniors or a security service that is called automatically if strangers gain access to the house – all of this, however, is largely a thing of the future and requires seamless linking of the sensors and devices as well as consistent compatibility. And you should definitely check them or have them checked before purchasing smart home systems. Otherwise you could experience nasty surprises when retrofitting. The question is also how willing consumers are to transform their house into a smart home. There are many practical ideas, especially from the large data companies. So plans z. B. Amazon is currently using smart locks. They are intended to grant authorized persons access to the house after the homeowner has released it once. Amazon suppliers or couriers could use it to deliver and pick up goods at any time. The advantage: no more yellow slips of paper in the letterbox that you can't pick up your parcel until Saturday after 2 p.m. at the nearest post office. The downside: Total strangers to a large data company are granted access to the “Holy of Holies”. According to the Deloitte study, this idea has so far only been possible in Germany 4 percent of all smart home users, but the test run in America was successful.

Smart home = transparent resident? The tiresome data issue.

Many people who are currently exploring smart homes are concerned about unauthorized use of their data. The topic of data protection and security is a concern for many. The fear is particularly great with the new language assistants and that they will secretly collect data about their users in order to use them profitably for the manufacturer. Nobody wants to become a transparent customer. However, external access, e.g. B. by hacker attacks, for more than a third of the respondents of a current study gebä a very realistic scenario. However, it is also a fact: without data there are no smart devices, without smart devices there is no smart home. Because that is based on and only works with the data of its residents.

Reputable providers therefore convince their customers with anonymous user accounts and the operation of cloud servers within Germany. These are therefore subject to European data protection regulations. This means that data cannot be transferred abroad, where data protection may not be regulated. High-level encryption within the entire communication path of a smart home should be a matter of course.

And how exactly does it work with the Smart Home? We will show you this again very clearly here.
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