UK: A Glimpse Into The Future Of Home Automation

Last Updated: 23 April 2018
Article by Matthew Howell

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a buzz phrase since the term was first coined towards the end of the 20th Century, with analysts and experts regularly predicting a revolution in the way we live and work, due to the rapid emergence of billions of connected devices that are able to perform everyday tasks like ordering groceries and regulating the temperature of our homes.

 In reality those predictions have yet to be fully realised, though analysts are still forecasting strong growth in IoT technologies, particularly in the area of home automation.

We've looked into recent patent filing trends in the area of home automation, which show that many major multinationals are committing significant resources to research and development in this area.

Samsung leads the way in terms of patent applications filed, with a total of 1926 applications in the relevant classification over the last three years. LG comes in a distant second, with 1017 applications, whilst Panasonic, Google and Sony round out the top 5 patent filers, with 699, 667 and 623 applications respectively.

Samsung has also received the most granted patents in this space, with 775 patents granted in the last three years. LG is second, with 472 patents, whilst Sony (348), Google (302) and Panasonic (294) make up the rest of the top 5.

Recently published patent applications provide interesting insights into what these companies see as the challenges and opportunities in the home automation field.

For example, Samsung contemplates (in its US patent application no. US2017/0034281) a home network that is able to adapt environmental conditions such as lighting, temperature and humidity to a user's preferences as the user enters the home. The presence of the user can be detected by detecting the user's mobile phone, or by receiving information from a fingerprint-operated lock that is activated by the user on arriving home. On detecting the presence of the user, a server accesses sensor devices connected to the home network to ascertain current environmental conditions, and compares these to stored preferences for the user. If the current environmental conditions do not match the stored user preferences, the server instructs devices connected to the home network such as lights, heating units, humidifiers, window actuators and the like to operate until the environmental conditions match the user's preferences.

Samsung also predicts that home networks will be able to help users to find objects such as wallets. The home network described in its US patent application no. US2017/0005826 contains multiple notification apparatuses, which could be home appliances such as fridges, TVs, washing machines and the like. The object to be found may be capable of wireless communication with the devices of the home network, or else can be provided with a wireless communication device, e.g. in the form of a sticker containing an RFID or NFC tag, or a Bluetooth communication device or the like, by means of which the object wirelessly communicates with the devices of the home network.

A user seeking the object can enter a search command into a user terminal such as a mobile phone, and the devices of the home network will indicate the location of the device, for example by emitting sounds indicating that the device is close to one or more of them, or by reporting directly to the user terminal the device that is closest to the object, with an indication (based on the strength of the signal received from the object) as to how far the object is from the closest device.

Both of these IoT use cases would benefit from an innovation described in Google's US patent application no. US2017/003736, which envisions a home full of smart devices that can communicate with each other and with the outside world. This application addresses one of the major hurdles facing all IoT devices: power efficiency, and proposes a scheduling mechanism for communications between smart devices that enables the devices to stay in a low-power sleep mode for extended periods of time, helping to reduce power consumption in the smart devices.

These are just three examples of the thousands of recent patent applications in the home automation space, which seem to bear out the analysts' predictions that in future our homes will be teeming with connected devices trying to help us in our daily lives.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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