Smart Home Technologie - modernes zweistöckiges Haus, ausgestattet mit Wi-Fi-Konnektivität und intelligenten Geräten
Ирина Старикова /
2024-07-01 VDE dialog

Home, Smart Home

People have been dreaming of the smart home for many years, decades even. However, despite great progress, implementation continues to fall short of hopes and expectations. The reasons for this are well known: security concerns and a lack of interoperability are the main obstacles to the smart revolution in the home. However, this could soon change.

By Martin Schmitz-Kuhl

The “House of Tomorrow” was presented 90 years ago. The 1933/34 World’s Fair in Chicago showed an astonished public what life would be like in the future. Electric light with an adjustable dimming function, the first dishwasher from General Electric, an “iceless” refrigerator and a garage door that opened and closed at the touch of a button were just a few of the innovations that the house offered. At the time, all of this seemed like pure science fiction – and yet it became reality just a short time later, at least in the wealthier industrialized nations.

It would be another 50 years before the term “smart home” was coined. This also took place in the USA; the originator is said to have been the “National Association of Home Builders”. The concept of the smart home was linked to the idea of automating, networking and controlling various devices and systems in the home via a central control system. The main aim was to enable residents to live more comfortably within their own four walls and to make everyday life easier.

Thermostats and the like: it is mainly stand-alone products that are sold

A great deal has happened since then. Smart homes offer solutions for comfort, security, energy efficiency and entertainment. Whether you want to control your radiators automatically, regulate the lighting when you’re out and about or keep an eye on your driveway, there is a suitable smart home device for almost every application. There is no shortage of new technical developments – not only for two-legged residents of a smart home, but now also for their four-legged friends. Today, there is even a smart cat litter box controlled by an app that cleans itself and logs every single visit by the animal. Home, smart home!

Overall, business involving such products and systems has developed into an important and expanding area of the technology and consumer goods industry. But despite all the euphoria and the hope that the smart home would become the next big “thing”, the predicted boom has so far largely failed to materialize. A survey conducted by the industry association Bitkom at last year’s IFA revealed that 44 percent of people in Germany now use smart home applications. Most people enter this world via individual solutions such as smart lighting systems, radiator thermostats and sockets and, for some years now, also increasingly robot vacuum cleaners. However, complete smart home households are rare. The reasons for this have been obvious for years and were queried again in the above-mentioned survey: 48 percent of non-users are afraid of their personal data being misused; 41 percent are worried about hacker attacks and 36 percent about their privacy; 37 percent say that smart home applications are too expensive for them; and almost one in three respondents (31 percent) felt that installing the devices was too time-consuming, while one in four thought that they were too complicated to operate (25 percent).

VDE Messestand auf der IFA

At the IFA, the three associations VDE, ZVEH and ZVEI will once again be showcasing what is already technically possible and where the industry is heading in the “House of Smart Living”.


For Alexander Matheus, the main concern is the often inadequate IT security of the systems: “Nobody wants to bring devices into their home that spy on them or are a gateway for hackers,” says the expert for smart technologies at the VDE Testing and Certification Institute. And this is not a horror scenario, but unfortunately common practice, says Matheus. Many devices are simply extremely easy to crack. You would be in the system in no time at all, perhaps via the vacuum cleaner, could access the WLAN password from here, and would then have free access to things that the owner would certainly not want to disclose – for example, visual access into their home via the web camera or into personal data on the computer.

Manufacturers will soon have to guarantee not only safety, but also security

Since 2013, the VDE Institute has therefore not only been carrying out the usual safety tests on smart home systems and components – i.e. tests relating to electrical safety – but also security checks. “The way it works is that we try to hack these systems on behalf of the manufacturers to see whether the protective measures taken are already sufficient,” explains Matheus.

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The problem with this is that, apart from general product liability, there are no legally binding requirements. However, that is about to change. For example, the cybersecurity requirements under the Radio Equipment Directive (RED) and the Cyber Resilience Act (CRA) are now being adapted in stages and therefore form part of the CE mark. “Then manufacturers will also have to take security aspects into account – things like passwords, encryption and updatability, for instance,” says the VDE expert. This means that a risk analysis of the threat potential of the respective product must be carried out, security measures must be derived and implemented, effectiveness tests must be carried out and all of this must be documented and verified accordingly. “If manufacturers do not comply with the regulations, the worst-case scenario is the withdrawal of the CE marking.”

So is this another competitive disadvantage for domestic companies? Adalbert Neumann shakes his head: “We actually think the opposite is true. We tend to see a certain competitive advantage due to the legislation in Europe,” says the spokesperson for the board of the Smart Living economic initiative and managing director of Busch-Jaeger Elektro. After all, the security aspect is so important to the customer that taking strict requirements into account could be a positive differentiating factor in the future. “Anyone who can’t offer that will be second best,” he believes.

Incompatible standards make the overall smart living experience more difficult.

For Neumann, a greater problem is the “well-known barriers” of interoperability and connectivity, i.e. the fact that components from different manufacturers are not or not always compatible with each other. To date, there is still no uniform smart home wireless standard for wireless products, leading to manufacturers using different protocols. WLAN, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, EnOcean, DECT ULE, Thread, Homematic IP – the list of standards and protocols is long. They are all designed to ensure that control commands, automations and routines are executed correctly. However, the way in which this is done is different in every smart home standard. For wired devices, the domestic industry primarily relies on the KNX standard, which was originally developed for building automation a good 30 years ago. “However, such a system always involves a lot of effort and you need well-trained tradespeople to install and commission the system,” admits Neuhaus. As a result, while there are individual smart home devices that are very popular – such as smart lamps, sockets or thermostats – more complex systems that not only make individual aspects of the home smart, but the home itself, remain in the high-priced niche market.

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So far, smart homes have fallen short of expectations, but this is about to change – thanks to a new standard and the possibilities that artificial intelligence will offer. This is the opinion of Adalbert Neumann, managing director of Busch-Jaeger Elektro and spokesperson for the Smart Living business initiative.

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Future solutions should be more efficient, cheaper and open to all manufacturers.

However, there are developments and trends that indicate that this could change in the future. As technology develops, smart home systems will become more efficient and cost-effective. And by integrating affordable do-it-yourself solutions into professional systems that are open to other manufacturers, the entry barriers for consumers can be lowered. The industry is pinning its hopes above all on a standard from the USA that has the potential to become established: Matter. This is not a public standard developed by independent committees, but an internal industry agreement between several large companies, most notably Amazon, Apple, Google, Comcast and the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly ZigBee Alliance).

Matter aims to reduce fragmentation in the smart home market by providing a standard that simplifies the setup and use of smart home devices for consumers. It’s designed to enable different components to communicate seamlessly with each other, regardless of the manufacturer or platform used. Matter is also designed to simplify the setup of smart home devices – by using a common setup process that is the same for all compatible devices – as well as ensuring data security. Above all, however, it should be future-proof and offer the possibility of integrating new functions and devices into the ecosystem in the future, while at the same time ensuring backward compatibility – all guaranteed by the commitment of some industry giants, which practically no one can ignore. And – as we must note critically at this point – their main motivation is probably to obtain even more data from their users in the future.

A truly smart home learns everything itself for comfort, safety and efficiency

But what does that mean for domestic companies? “I expect that Matter will certainly bring some momentum to the market,” hopes Neumann, who in his capacity as managing director of Busch-Jaeger Elektro already relies on Matter himself – since the end of last year, the smart home system of the Lüdenscheid-based ABB subsidiary, “free@home”, has been compatible with Matter. Nevertheless, German or European manufacturers should of course ask themselves what role they want to play in this Matter world in the future. “If we do it wisely, we will be solution providers within this world and not just product suppliers,” Neumann believes. And he adds: “Because in such a role, we would have no long-term future on the market.”

Speaking of the future, both Adalbert Neumann and VDE expert Alexander Matheus take a very positive view of the smart home. Both believe that the real boom is still to come. Because what is currently being sold under the label “smart home” is usually not particularly intelligent, especially when compared to what artificial intelligence is already capable of today, or even what it will soon be capable of. A truly smart home would not require time-consuming configuration – it would have to learn on its own. The behavior of the house’s inhabitants and global knowledge should be the sources from which this house obtains its information. It would have to manage itself optimally, ensuring the greatest possible comfort and safety on the one hand and the best possible energy efficiency on the other. “Particularly in view of the fact that buildings are responsible for around 40 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide, I see enormous potential here that will increasingly come onto the radar and greatly influence purchasing decisions in the medium term,” believes Neumann.

Contributing to climate protection with smart technologies.

In this context, the network-oriented behavior of houses will also play a role. The key concept here is energy management at the grid connection. And since this is mainly about managing power in an energy industry context – for example, heat pumps, air-conditioning units, photovoltaic systems and storage systems – the local electricity grid operator and legislation also have a say. So standards are required, for example for the mandatory connection of the above-mentioned devices to the smart meter gateway. It’s obvious that a standard like Matter is not helpful for this. Here it is EEBUS, a communication interface developed in Germany and focused precisely on these applications, that is ahead of the game. However, in future it may not even be a question of finding the single all-encompassing super standard anyway, but rather of shaping the interplay between different applications and technologies.

And that brings us back to the “House of Tomorrow” from the beginning of the article. Because now, 90 years later, such a concept is set to be presented again. Admittedly not at the World’s Fair in Chicago, but at least at the IFA technology and industry trade fair in Berlin in September. Here, the three associations VDE, ZVEH and ZVEI will once again be jointly exhibiting what is now possible in the smart home sector. Instead of dimmable lights, fridges and dishwashers, the “House of Smart Living” will primarily show how we can save energy with the help of building automation and what contribution electrification, digitalization and modern building technology can make to a climate-neutral future.

Martin Schmitz-Kuhl is a freelance author from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and an editor of VDE dialog.

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