randomly pinged Internet-connected
devices and, upon receiving a reply,
queried them to see if they had email
capabilities (many smart appliances
do, for service and software update
purposes). Once it found willing candidates, the program instructed the
appliances to dispatch spam on its
behalf. There was no harm done to
the homes; no milk was maliciously
spoiled. In fact, Epstein admits he is
not sure how the average consumer
should respond if their appliances
turn out to be a source of digital spam;
“there’s no simple solution,” he says.
Smarts in the Walls
While this unexpected activity suggests
consumers might need to find a way to
monitor their smart home’s behavior,
the appliances will be studying us as
well. One of the features that set the
Nest thermostats apart is that they aggregate data across their entire user
base and, as a result, learn more about
behavior, and how to adjust themselves
accordingly. Experts say this will become more common as smart homes
evolve from a suite of appliances that
await control to data-collecting machines that respond intelligently and
provide valuable feedback.
MIT’s Larson notes that in the home
of an elderly person, a smart home system could alert caregivers to potentially significant behavioral changes. For
example, if an elderly man living alone
opens his fridge 25 times per day on average, then one day doesn’t open it at
all, this might signal the need for some
sort of intervention.
In the long run, Larson envisions
the intelligence in our homes expand-
ing beyond expected items. His group’s
CityHome project centers around a
200-sq.-ft. apartment outfitted with a
moving, mechanized module that in-
cludes office space, a dining table, and a
bed. Users can transform the space, via
a digital interface, to suit their current
activities. While the CityHome project
was conceived in part as a way to save
space in urban environments, Larson
sees it as a new kind of smart home as
well, since it moves intelligence into the
walls and furniture. “We think of it as
the next step in the Internet of Things,”
Larson says. “We’re connecting things
that were not previously connectable.”
The connected homes of the future
could also incorporate domestic and
service robots, according to the Aware
Home Research Initiative’s Jones. For
the next few years, though, Jones be-
lieves smart homes will follow the pat-
tern of the smartphone’s evolution.
“Just as everyone finds a different way
to use their smartphone to fit their
needs, smart home components have
finally hit the market in such a way that
the general population can customize
their experience,” he says. “You’re go-
ing to see smart homes go to a com-
pletely different level. As this opens up
more, I think it is going to take off.”
The Connected Home: The Future of
Domestic Life, ed. Richard Harper. Springer-Verlag Books, 2011.
Kientz, J.A., Patel, S.N., Jones, B.,
Price, E., Mynatt, E.D., Abowd, G.A.
The Georgia Tech Aware Home, Extended
Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing
Systems, p. 3675-3680.
Brush, A.J.B., Lee, B., Mahajan, R.,
Agarwal, S., Saroiu, S., Dixon, C.
Home Automation in the Wild: Challenges
and Opportunities, Proceedings of the
SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems, p. 2115-2124.
The Home of the Future, A+U magazine,
edition 361, October 2000.
MIT Media Lab CityHome
A video introduction to a smart,
transformable apartment: http://bit.ly/
Gregory Mone is a Boston, MA-based writer and the
author of the children’s novel Dangerous Waters.
© 2014 ACM 0001-0782/14/12 $15.00
es. Insteon develops its own range of
bulbs, switches, and more, but the company also released an update that allows
its hub to control the Nest thermostat.
The next version of the Revolv smart
hub will have seven different radios inside, enabling it to automatically communicate with a wide range of smart appliances, bulbs, locks, thermostats, and
more; once you plug in the hub, the Revolv device scans your home for existing
smart devices, then automatically adds
them to its list, allowing you to control
everything from a single app.
The Spamming Fridge
This flexibility is critical, because users
want to customize their smart homes
to their specific needs.
Some consumers are more focused
on energy consumption. They want
their home to automatically adjust the
lights, thermostats, and window blinds
every time they leave, whether this action is triggered by a motion sensor,
a flipped switch, or a geofence that
tracks when a phone leaves the perimeter of the property.
Others are drawn to alerts. Insteon’s
Cregg says he receives a text message
when the garage door at his second
home opens, and he notes that frequent travelers can install leak sensors
that let them know if there is a problem
with a broken pipe or overflowing toilet.
The idea of a wirelessly connected
smart lock raises security concerns for
some, but the leading companies rely
on strong encryption to keep hackers at
bay. The Revolv smart hub, which can
connect to smart locks from Yale and
Kwikset, uses 128-bit encryption on all
communications between devices and
the hub. The Zigbee, Zwave, and other
protocols, as well as Apple’s HomeKit,
rely on end-to-end encryption.
Still, the smart home could create
a different sort of security problem, as
corporate security firm Proofpoint dis-
covered after analyzing a spam cam-
paign coming in to one of its clients.
When the company’s experts back-
traced the email to identify its source,
“We didn’t see computers,” says Proof-
point vice president of Advanced Secu-
rity and Governance Kevin Epstein. “We
saw home routers and entertainment
systems, smart TVs, and a fridge.”
Epstein and his team determined
spammers had set up a program that
Smart homes are
expected to evolve
from a suite of
await control to
and provide feedback.