2014: Finally, The Year of The Google Smart Home
It’s hard to hear talk about a “smart home”—in essence, a fully automated, connected habitat that allows residents the ability to control its functions remotely—without thinking of that most clichéd of all space-age clichés: the Jetsons. However, with pioneering powerhouse Google’s recent $3.2 billion purchase of home automation device company Nest, the Jetson lifestyle envisioned by Hanna-Barbera in 1962 may finally be close to mainstream reality.
Let’s put the pieces together and see what exactly might compose this dream house as built by Google.
Imagine this: All the features of the Internet that make your life easier via your computer, tablet, smartphone, and smart TV are transferred to your home structure. Your house becomes a virtual “Internet of things,” in which you can remotely control everything from the lights to the door locks, while robots learn the layout of your home and clean it without any human intervention.
We’re not quite there yet, but Google’s acquisition of Nest suggests we’re on that path. Nest Labs (created by two ex-Apple luminaries, one of whom led the team that developed the iPod) captured the giant’s interest with its innovative Internet-connected thermostat. The concept is simple and energy-saving: The heat or air conditioning goes off when you leave for work, and turns back on again just in time to greet your family with a perfectly controlled temperature. Nest followed this up with Nest Protect, a smoke detector that can communicate with the thermostat, detect carbon monoxide levels, and “talk” in a human voice telling residents what exactly the issue is if one arises.
If you’re on the go and want to check on things at the homefront, all of these features can be accessed via app. And it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine this technology could easily spread to other home appliances–currently, there are already emerging home products on the market that are employing basic smart features, such as a smart convection oven that can automatically adjust temperature to ensure even cooking, and a smart refrigerator that can manage grocery lists, keep track of food expiration dates, and even suggest recipes based on what’s in stock.
However, Nest is not giving any hints about what is to come. Directly following the big Google announcement, Nest stated on its site blog, “Nest’s product line obviously caught the attention of Google and I’m betting that there’s a lot of cool stuff we could do together, but nothing to share today.” Stay tuned.
You’ve walked in the door to a perfect 71-degree’d atmosphere, and now it’s time to relax. Like so many of us, you sit down in front of the TV—but this isn’t your TV from 10 years ago! Google’s deceptively small and simple Chromecast device allows viewers to take a wealth of online entertainment from computers, smartphones, or tablets, and transfer it to the big screen and sophisticated sound system of their television.
Google’s already paved the way for an entirely Google-powered entertainment system linked with its Android & Nexus devices (including an Android-powered gaming system that’s currently in development)–and it’s even recently partnered up with YouTube to offer easy-to-understand ISP video performance ratings, so users can optimize their viewing experience. But, to begin with: Chromecast is pretty cool in and of itself for the time being. The $35 device supports content from popular streaming media sites such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu—and you can stream music from cool sources such as Spotify, too.
Now, we just need that robot to mix us up a cocktail…
But wait. We’re not done with the TV and Internet yet. Google wants to make sure that your experience here—be it simply watching entertainment or interacting with friends and family—is the speediest possible. Google Fiber brings extraordinarily fast Internet speed to an as-yet-growing number of U.S. communities. Currently it’s available in the Kansas City Metropolitan area; Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; and one residential community in Palo Alto, Calif. The service is 100 times faster than the basic broadband we’re all used to, virtually eliminating issues such as buffering, long download times, and other nuisances that interfere with our connected lifestyle. So, you yourself may be feeling a little slow from that cocktail, but rest assured, your screens will be zipping right along.
If the last motion-controlled device you bought for your household was the (as seen on TV!) Clapper, you’re in for a treat with Flutter. Acquired by Google in 2013 for approximately $40 million, its “Kinect” technology allows you to use hand gestures to control your streaming media—music, movies, slideshows, and more. Just move your hand, and you can pause, skip, fast forward, rewind…wow. It’s compatible with a wide variety of popular services, including iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, and more.
And talk about handy: It’s not too far of a stretch to predict that such motion (and/or voice) command technology could extend in the future to the entire home experience; allowing residents to turn on appliances, dim/brighten lights, open curtains, play remotely with the kids while in different rooms…all with a flick of the wrist and without the hassle of handheld devices.
Step outside your front door and you’ll find that even your mailbox has now been retired in favor of a new, connected household experience. In 2012, Google shelled out $25 million to acquire BufferBox, a startup with a clever concept to make package delivery even more convenient than it already is. Shoppers who are tired of missing important home deliveries from traditional shipping methods can now take advantage of a “24-7” mailbox, which can serve as an enhancement to the traditional mailbox at home. The concept is simple: Not at home when the mailman arrives? Just pick up your online purchases any time of day (or night) that you like. BufferBox offers kiosk locations as local delivery points, and provides a unique “unlock” code to the buyer so he or she can simply go to the kiosk anytime and pick up the loot. The service originated in Canada’s Toronto area, but has since expanded to San Francisco in its still-growing evolution.
We’re sure you’ve heard of Google’s head-mounted wearable computer Glass as one of the company’s higher-profile “hot” developments. However, Glass isn’t the only vision-related technology Google has up its sleeve. The company is working on “smart” contact lenses! Who actually needs smart contacts, you might ask? Well, the lenses are poised to make life a lot easier for diabetics, in an extraordinarily simple way. The contacts have sensors with the ability to measure blood glucose levels via the wearer’s own tears, thus eliminating the painful but necessary routine of drawing blood to determine these levels. These innovative lenses are still in development, but given that 1 in 12 Americans are affected by diabetes, we’re sure a lot of people will be happy once they finally go wide.
As we all know, health is a hotter-than-ever topic in the 21st century, and technology is racing to keep pace with demands for new and innovative ways to improve it. Could it be possible that the ultimate personalization–individual health concerns–be integrated into the “smart home” overall? It’s a very strong possibility — and furthermore, we will be able to control our health in the comfort and privacy of our own homes rather than gyms, clinics, or hospitals.
In the future, will we see such automatic environmental adjustments such as allergen control, air temperature optimization for specific health issues, sound therapy for relaxation…? Will we be living longer and stronger in the “smart house?” It’s probably not too far in the future!
What about privacy?
Certainly the idea of a connected home and all its associated conveniences is intriguing, but underneath the intrigue is a question many consumers will immediately ask: Isn’t privacy going to be affected? After all, a company that can literally get into one’s home can, of course, also collect scores of data about one’s habits, preferences, and other personal information.
Nest, however, was not specific about how exactly it would integrate with Google’s existing products. And, let’s face it, Google has had its share of privacy issues over its history—as a pioneer in an industry that’s still too young and mutable to have established hard-and-fast legal protocol in all areas. Does this mean fans of the “smart home” need to lose enthusiasm due to paranoia? Not necessarily, as there are currently many conversations online discussing smart ways to secure smart data, such as this one.
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