Somewhere between the iPad cases and the latest in headphone technology, the connected home concept was everywhere at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics show.
For the energy conscious, smart energy was not siloed with companies only pitching smart plugs or wireless thermostats. Instead, everything from windows to door locks to light bulbs could talk to each other. Some of it had to do with saving energy, and a lot of it did not. After all, no one has ever purchased a smart phone because of its stellar energy efficiency.
The concept of the smart home pops up again and again at CES every year, but this year showed some industry leaders, from semiconductor manufacturer Marvell to HVAC maker Trane, are building embedded solutions for products that are already widely sold.
While the big announcements made at the 2012 CES will not come squarely from the home energy management space, the fact that solutions are already being sold by Lowe’s, Best Buy and some of the largest manufacturers of everything from televisions to windows means that a futuristic, connected home, minus the robot maid, could (finally) be coming. While some companies, like Control4, are de-emphasizing energy management, the idea has found its rightful place as just one aspect of the controlled home package.
“We’ve moved from smart energy to home controls,” said Lance Hoffman, spokesperson for GreenWave Reality, summing up not only his company’s position, but also the trend of the industry.
The Irvine, Calif.-based company has spread its wings and moved from smart plugs and energy display to connected lighting, motion sensors and connected thermostats from partners. All of the devices can run on its IP-based platform that supports Z-Wave and ZigBee.
In 2010, the company said it was focused on utility channels, but as companies such as AlertMe and Nest Labs move into big-box stores, GreenWave Reality is looking for a presence on store shelves, too.
Startups weren’t the only companies pushing into connected home. Semiconductor giant Marvell also announced a system on a chip for home automation -- and primarily LED lighting -- at CES 2012. Unlike other networked LED lighting, such as technologies from Adura, Lumenergi, and Redwood Systems, both GreenWave Reality and Marvell are looking at the individual consumer to buy their lighting systems (although Marvell is also eyeing the commercial market).
Marvell’s new LED Controller, which is embedded in a bulb from Lighting Science Group, was a 2012 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award Honoree and will likely show up in many other applications besides LEDs. Most of the focus at the Marvell booth was focused squarely on Google TV, and not its Wi-Fi/ZigBee light bulb, but it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to see that you could control your lights from your Google TV. It’s just an app away. In fact, Google and Lighting Science are already working on an Android bulb.
From thermostats to set-top boxes, Marvell touted the fact that the chip could easily and cheaply be integrated into a variety of products from original equipment manufacturers. However, there were no details about what sort of software platforms would take that information and turn it into home controls -- although companies like Tendril, EnergyHub and Trilliant are all waiting in the wings with platforms to help OEMs deliver the home of the future to all of us.
Other startups, like Powerhouse Dynamics, are also forging relationships with household names to get their product to market. Ingersoll Rand updated its smart home platform Nexia, which includes door lock giant Schlage and HVAC provider Trane, as well as a host of other Z-Wave-enabled products that can all be connected over the Nexia platform.
Nexia currently has pilots in Tampa and Richmond with Powerhouse Dynamics, which provides circuit-level visibility for the home. The partnership will be rolled out to targeted dealers of Ingersoll Rand products in the first half of 2012.
While everyone is talking about networking lights, door locks and thermostats, Nexia takes it a step further with Pella SmartSync windows, which will be integrated into the system so that the blinds could eventually be talking to your thermostat. Is it sunny and hot out in summer? If people aren’t at home, the blinds can be shut to reduce the solar load.
Somfy was also pitching its radio-controlled window coverings at CES, where it landed a 2012 Products of the Year Award in the whole house control category, but it did not announce any new platform partners.
Pella, however, is hedging its bets. The window company announced on Wednesday that it is also integrating with Lowe’s Iris platform. The move by Pella is exemplary of what was seen all over the sprawling trade-show floors of CES: partnering -- anywhere and everywhere -- to bring an efficient, connected home to the masses at a price point that will interest more than just the 1 percent.