Household Automation

Astudy commissioned by Nokia last year discovered that during a 16-hour waking day, users check their smartphone an average of 150 times. Another study by global market researcher IDC found 80 percent of users 18-44 years old had their phone on them 22 hours each day. Seeing as we don’t use phones to, you know, talk to each other we might as well put them to work.

With smartphone and tablet penetration on the rise it’s no wonder home automation beyond the garage door opener is too. “Nowadays, we are seeing home automation/smart homes to be as ubiquitous as ever in Hong Kong and other major markets,” says Man Lam, director of Cypress Systems, whose Carrot Home subsidiary supplies home automation solutions. “As a point of reference, if you open a recent newspaper you will see three residential development advertisements. Of the three, we have home automation systems installed in two of these properties — Double Cove and Summa. It is really becoming a long-term trend for developers to enhance their residential projects with home automation.”

Home automation comes in degrees. Home control is turning off lights and cooling the living room, but, “Time scheduling and having GPS know I’m 100 metres from my home and turn the lights on, draw the curtains and I haven’t done anything. That’s true automation,” notes Amar Dhillon director of two-year-old Auluxa automation systems. “We strive to do both.”

Dhillon and Lam agree that the easiest way to get on the automation train is by moving into a new build that has included it as a feature or a total renovation of your home. But existing homes can be automated too. “You can very soon get home automation via retail channels and for most cases, you can retrofit old lighting switches or even use many of the wireless accessories to bring automation to an existing apartment. It is easy and takes 1 to 2 hours,” says Lam. The most common systems to be automated right now are functional: air conditioning, lighting, window coverings, and increasingly appliances, particularly in new-builds. “As Carrot is moving into the retail sector, we are seeing more and more end-users bringing automation to electric fans, dehumidifiers or retractable hangers,” Lam notes.

Dhillon points out compatibility is still an issue in some cases, especially geographically. Major automation providers in Hong Kong include Control4, Crestron and Nest. “We wanted to take a different route because the big players had a lot of proprietary boxes and it was hard for other technologies to integrate with these solutions and I thought it was a great opportunity,” he theorises. “A lot of the big players only cater to the American home. The Asian home is very different … We realised something other companies don’t. I’m not going to tell someone in a 600-square foot apartment to automate their lights. The switch is right there!”

To that end Auluxa has a more fluid concept of what it focuses on and emphasises customisation and broad-spectrum compatibility and Carrot’s system includes its own tablet in the event you don’t have a smartphone (still under 70 percent in Hong Kong and only 22 percent globally). But Dhillon is quick to point out the rising “Internet of Things,” our increasing connectedness to each other and objects. As such, home automation in the future is going to be about service, not just hardware. And there are other issues, privacy and security among them, some of which are regularly remedied by manufacturers; the new iPhone has fingerprint scanner. Users, however have a responsibility to use properly. “Providers are going to have to be able to teach users how to use the systems,” finishes Dhillon. “The technology will be important, but the education will be too. That’s what we’re trying to do — to provide an extra service rather than just put a home automation system in someone’s house.”