Looking at some manufacturers' visions of the future, one thing is clear: they want us to one day sit happily in our smart homes and have gadgets and robots do almost everything for us. However, what happens when your smart home suddenly turns dumb?
Smart thermostats, light bulbs, shutters, refrigerators, washing machines and ovens: in the future, numerous appliances will be so smart that we will hardly have to worry about any household chores. The prerequisite, of course, is that everything is networked, "speaks" to each other, and recognizes the demands of the users.
Yet, what if a problem arises? Then we the users must also be smart enough to notice it and solve it. However, two recent experiences demonstrate how this can become a huge issue.
Living room or sauna?
Recently a friend shared a story: he visited a couple of acquaintances and the man bragged about how great he had networked everything in the house and how much money he spent doing so. He went on to say how he could control everything with his smartphone. However, during the visit there was an unpleasant surprise. The reason? The smart home had turned against its owners and there was nothing the man could do.
The moment there would trouble with the Internet, it would result in issues for the smart thermostat, the shutters and other tech devices. This meant that the heating thermostat in the living room could no longer be controlled properly. It decided to heat the room to a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. It doesn't sound bad at first, after all, it's cold outside, but a living room sauna comes at a cost.
"The smart washing machine is too smart for us"
Then there were the shutters. Fortunately, they could still be operated manually, but they also decided to close on their own. The Google Home devices scattered all over the house refused to work due to a lack of Wi-Fi. Fortunately, the smart washing machine could do without the Internet, but it is not being used either. Why? The couple now have reservations about letting the washing machine run when nobody is at home.
The couple had no idea how to fix the bugs. The devices could all be set up with just a few pushes of a button and adjusted using colorful and simple UIs. However, neither of them knew exactly how all of this tech works.
More heating problems
Then there was the case of my friend who decided to use smart thermostats in the bathroom. He showed up at work with a broad grin, because he could now bring the bathroom temperature to a comfortable level before even getting up. He was also greeted by a pleasantly warm bathroom in the evening.
Unfortunately, he was shocked weeks later when working from home: there had been an error with heating times settings for weeks and his options were not stored anymore, as a result of a system error. The result: the heating was on full throttle throughout - that's why it was always so nice and warm in his bathroom. But the real trouble is the heating bill he's now facing.
A smart home needs smart users or better technology
Now I don't want to accuse anyone of stupidity, but both cases show a clear problem: a smart home may be comfortable and desirable for some people. However, a smart user is needed to keep the whole construct in good shape, or better technology to make such problems less frequent.
Press a button here, press Connect there and everything works? This may be nice when setting up, but when it doesn't work anymore, you're quickly left with the whole construct collapsing. Fortunately, in the first case my friend was able to get all the equipment back on track after three hours, but who knows how long he would have put up with the problems without help.
However, it's not just the users, because after all, smart homes are not supposed to be a product aimed at IT experts and tech freaks only - they want and need to conquer the mass market. Yet, manufacturers then have to offer systems that are easy for the average consumer to maintain and troubleshoot.
Have you ever experienced crazy errors with your smart devices or heard similar stories? How do you feel about smart home tech? Share your experiences and opinions in the comments!