Battle of the smart homes

Battle of the smart homes

Tim Panell | Agency Collection | Getty Images

In an August 2012 interview, Ingersoll Rand Chief Technology Officer Paul Camuti said that the home automation market was worth $1.5 billion, and could top $2.5 billion in five years' time. The sole barrier to this progress, he said, was cost.

"If the minimum price you have to pay to automate a home is $2,500, the addressable market is pretty small," he said. "If your entry level price is $250, the market is a lot bigger."

Today, price remains an obstacle for the majority of homeowners, so it remains to be seen if Camuti's prediction turns out to be accurate. But while the cost of a "smart home," also known as a "connected home," might be an issue for some, the technology isn't.

If you've got the money to spend, then the means to automatically heat your house, run a bath and turn on mood music are already at your disposal. You can even do those things from your smartphone, before you even get home. presents a look at the growing industry of home automation, smart homes and connected homes, and spotlights what's on the market today, and what's to come in the not-too-distant future.

By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 17 Sept. 2013

From refrigerators to freight trains, CNBC's "Rise of the Machines" shows you how a new generation of connected machines can now speak to us, and each other. "Rise of the Machines" premieres Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.


Consexto creative solutions.
Image source: Consexto

Consexto is a Portuguese architecture firm that offers THX-certified home theater products for both the indoors and outdoors as well as several other nifty gadgets for home automation. In May 2012 the company was featured on the Forbes website in an article called "Amazing High-Tech Homes."

The piece featured a shape-shifting apartment in Matosinhos, Portugal. The limitations of its 474-square-foot dimensions are overcome via moving walls, which allow it to accommodate guests or just move things around for a change of scenery, all at the touch of a button.

Honda Smart Home US

Honda Smart Home.
Image source: Honda

Honda—yes, that Honda—manufactures more than just cars. Specifically, it's in the home automation business. The Honda Smart Home US, which is under construction on the University of California, Davis campus, is intended to be a sustainable, high-tech vehicle for carbon-neutral living.

The Honda Smart Home US produces more energy than it consumes, and allows residents to adjust energy usage remotely. It also accommodates an integrated electric vehicle, so occupants can reduce carbon emissions at home or on the road. It also recycles resources, using old shower water to nourish plants outside, and uses weather forecasts as the basis for climate control behavior.


The Satis toilet by INAX.
Image source: Inax

INAX is a North American sanitary ware brand that manufactures the "integrated toilet." It combines water and air when it flushes, which provides both powerful waste disposal potential and a surprising lack of noise. In fact, the website guarantees that "you'll hear little more than the sound of a murmuring brook."

The model with the most bells and whistles is the Regio. It features a motion sensor, which tells it when to open its lid, play relaxing music, flush and close up shop, all in response to the user's movement. The cost is $8,600, but for those on a budget, INAX also offers the Satis (pictured), a toilet that costs a very reasonable $5,686.

Jung KNX

Jung Smart House
Image source: Jung

Jung is a German company whose motto is "Progress as a Tradition." It specializes in everything from socket outlets and dimmers to advanced systems that control such features as home security, multimedia devices and energy efficiency.

Jung manufactures everything for home automation. This includes lights that turn on by themselves, sensors that detect when a window is open, blinds that automatically adjust to the position of the sun and a flat-panel PC that controls all the gadgets.


Kwikset lock
Image source: Kwikset

Kwikset is a company that aspires to consign the key to the dustbin of history. Its SmartCode products allow users to access homes by punching in a code, and also to lock up at the touch of a button. It can be accessed remotely through a smartphone.

SmartCode units run on AA batteries, but don't worry about getting locked out. An indicator light warns the user if those batteries begin to run low, and if you still don't trust this technology 100 percent, there's a backup keyway which allows it to function like an ordinary latch.

Microsoft's Home of the Future

In the Microsoft Home’s teenager room, the decor can be changed momentarily based on the teen’s mood, and social updates appear on the walls keeping the teen up to date on friends’ whereabouts.
Image source: Microsoft

In a distant, bygone era known as the 1990s, "Microsoft Home" was the name of a software line that didn't survive into the 21st century. But today, when that phrase is uttered, it's more likely a reference to Microsoft's Home of the Future, an interactive house in which every futuristic convenience exists.

The resident gains access via palm scan, and once inside, he or she is told by the home computer, "Grace," if the plants need watering or which ingredients to use in tonight's dinner. "Grace" will also call you to tell you to pick up more peanut butter or garbage bags, after monitoring the contents of the kitchen. According to Microsoft's website, the home is probably about a decade away, so start saving up now.


Nest thermostat
Image source: Nest

Nest is a programmable thermostat that learns the day-to-day habits of the homeowner and adjusts itself accordingly. According to the product website, Nest takes one week of use to learn what temperatures the user prefers, then builds a schedule tailored to those preferences.

Once the system gets the hang of it, it adjusts to an energy-efficient temperature when the homeowner is away. According to the Nest website, its features help reduce heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent.


Ohea Smart Bed.
Image source: Ohea

Parents hate telling children to make their beds, children hate doing it, and when those children grow into adulthood, they often become grownups who hate it too. The good people at OHEA know this, and have designed one that makes itself in under a minute, as soon as the user has been out of bed for three seconds.

Those wishing to avoid a Charlie Chaplin-esque battle with a robot bed have the option of setting the frame to "manual," which causes it to make itself at the touch of a button. One downside is that users must buy the duvet, sheets and pillowcases designed for this bed as opposed to using their own. But that's a small price to pay for permanently eliminating the need to nag loved ones into pulling a sheet straight and fluffing two pillows.


Image source: ZeroHouse

If you're looking for a fully automated, prefabricated home that can be shipped from location to location and quickly assembled, look no further than the zeroHouse. Boasting a "house brain" that can be controlled by laptop, it learns the routine of the inhabitant and can be customized to accommodate changes in schedule.

The zeroHouse is also energy efficient. According to the website, it generates its own electrical power through solar panels, and stores enough energy in reserve to last a week without sunlight. It also collects its own water and processes waste in what the website calls a "digester." The zeroHouse accommodates up to four adults with no external connections for waste disposal or utilities.

Rise of the Machines

All around us, there's a technological revolution underway powered by devices as small as a grain of rice. They are sensors, capable of tracking and recording everything we do. They're in our smartphones, our cars, our appliances, even our bodies, and they're connected to the Internet to share information and make our world smarter. Virtually all products that use electricity—from toasters and coffeemakers to jet engines and MRIs—now have the ability to "talk" to each other, and to us. And, what they have to say is profoundly transforming our lives—the way we travel, treat disease and enjoy our homes.