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The connected home: Tomorrow's home today

By R&D UK Team | Posted November 06, 2017

We managed to grab some time with Will Selby who is part of the Digital Innovation team at EDF Energy’s Research and Development centre (R&D UK). In this interview, Will gives us his personal insight on the future of the connected home.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and your team?

I work in the Digital Innovation team at R&D UK, a team that’s largely made up of data scientists, developers and designers; a good blend of skills and personalities. Many of us consider ourselves to be innovators too (if that is even a thing!). We work with all parts of the business to explore how the latest digital technologies can help our customers and/ or our company. We work on virtual reality, artificial intelligence and data, but a lot of what the team does is centered around energy efficiency and sustainability.

We spend a significant amount of time researching and developing ideas, products and services that will be of interest and of benefit to our customers. The connected home is one of those ideas. I have been working in the connected home space for just over three years, it is based on understanding preferences and adjusting settings according to this. I believe it has a lot of potential for useful and innovative services.

What exactly is a connected home?

Connectivity is the term used to describe devices which speak to each other, this can be over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, telephone networks or various other protocols. The idea of a connected home is installing devices in the home which allow the homeowner to control their appliances remotely or use rules to ‘teach’ the home how you want it to be run. At the centre of all of this, is data which guides the rules and provides insight into what is happening in the home.

The idea is in its infancy but the possibilities are endless; it could be the answer to making our homes easier and cheaper to run in the future. Imagine a home which understands your comfort preferences and adjusts itself based on local weather conditions and your energy budget for the month

Where are we with the connected home at the moment?

For me, the connected home is still a little way off. It is true that new connected devices are being launched every day and the promise of a billion of connected devices is getting closer, however, they only solve very specific problems and often deliver more frustration than value.

In some cases connected devices can be useful however, getting my phone out of my pocket, unlocking it, finding the app to control my lights, opening it and then seeing the connectivity drop off, is not. I just go back to using the light switch.

The frustration increases further when trying to get multiple devices to communicate with each other and work in harmony. This is often due to the lack of interoperability and the fragmentation of the market; different devices from different manufacturers just don’t always work together.

Where could it go?

This is what keeps me motivated and excited! As an environmentalist and as a technology fan I see massive potential in technology changing the way we generate, transport and consume energy. The immediate issue for the connected home to overcome is the standardisation across devices and having a simple shared interface. Take the internet for example, every website is unique but they all conform to certain standards to be online. So, for the connected home, this would allow devices to be controlled centrally for example, in one app.

Further down the line you can imagine artificial intelligence becoming a major player in making our lives easier by learning from our behaviour and automating decisions. You can begin to see that with Amazon and R&D’s project, Alexa.

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What’s R&D working on with the connected home?

R&D UK has been exploring the use of data to automate the rules and decisions of connected devices. The aim of this is to reduce the amount of energy required to meet the comfort or running requirements of the home. This could be achieved by turning on appliances at times during the day when the home is generating energy or periods when energy prices are lower. We are also working on topics such as disaggregation of energy data to appliance level, service offerings using connected devices (predictive maintenance), managing grid demand using connected devices and energy advice.

Long term we can imagine optimising home generation, heating and energy storage, flexing the demand on the grid and balancing it with supply and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Let’s hope that future is just around the corner!