The internet is changing our home lives in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just a decade ago. Today, living spaces are becoming interactive, intuitive places that are making our lives easier, more energy-efficient and, in a time where people are tightening their belts, cost-effective.
British Gas, Britain's biggest energy supplier, has developed Hive Active Heating, which the company claims could save its customers up to 150 pounds per year. British Gas recently hit the headlines in the U.K. when it and several other leading energy suppliers hiked their prices by an average of 9.1 percent.
The Hive Active Heating product enables British Gas customers to turn their heating on and off, adjust temperatures and set their heating schedule – from anywhere – through their smart phone or tablet. For example, someone leaving work on a freezing winter's night can tap their tablet to switch on the heating, ensuring the house is warm when they arrive home.
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"The way in which we heat and power our homes hasn't changed for decades, so I think it's about time," Nina Bhatia, Managing Director, British Gas Connecting Homes, said in a report for CNBC's Innovation Cities. "I can see smart technologies really enabling everybody to take control of their homes and make them work harder for them," she added.
As well as trying to make our homes more economic, technology is also being used to help make our lives more convenient. What, for instance, if we never had to worry about getting locked out again? Smarterkey, an app developed by brothers David and Simon Moss, enables users to open doors using their phone.
The app works by interacting with an electronic cylinder placed in a conventional lock. The cylinder then communicates with a wireless hub located nearby. "Our intelligence is in the software, in the cloud," David Moss told CNBC.com. "We have encryption and validation [software], our cloud talks to the smarter key hub, and that talks to the electronic cylinder, opening the door."
Currently in a beta stage, the initial target market for Smarterkey is for holiday rental homes. "I work in the overseas holiday market and have clients who need to let people into their properties when they're not present on site," Moss said. "We decided to come up with a solution that would help us resolve it, which is to automate the meet and greet and eliminate the need for keys, so we could just let people into the property remotely."
"Further down the path we do see the end user being just normal, domestic people in their houses, using their phones to open a door," Moss added.
"I see individuals maybe using it in domestic property to give access to third parties. Our software intelligence lets you give your digital key to an unknown third party, a home delivery service for example. That's where we see the next step developing," he said.
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Apps are also helping customers save money getting to and from their homes. In Scotland, FuelGood is a free app developed by the Energy Saving Trust to help road users monitor their fuel consumption and drive more efficiently.
The app uses a global positioning system (GPS) to track a user's road journey. Once the journey is over, it provides a summary of distance traveled, time taken and average emissions.
Using data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the device then calculates savings the driver could make had they driven more efficiently. Using the FuelGood app and following fuel efficient driving tips could save drivers 15 per cent off fuel costs annually, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
"We wanted to get to a new audience, and we thought that an app was a good way to do that," Ian Murdoch, Manager of Scottish Transport for the Energy Saving Trust, told CNBC.com. "It's the start of a process. Regardless of where you are in the world, we're seeing the price of oil escalating, and as time goes on it's going to become potentially more and more expensive to drive," he added.
"It makes initiatives such as the app even more valuable, because driving differently is about behavioral change."
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