Interoperability, a crucial step in smart home development

Smart home, electricity consumption, energy 3.0, renewable energy, housing, home automation

The expected rise of smart homes in the coming years poses questions about their large-scale implementation. Chief among them is that of the interoperability of various smart home systems. Interoperability can be defined as the capacity of systems to coexist and co-operate with each other thanks to full operational compatibility; it aims at ensuring that all the components of a smart home can exchange and use information in order to perform the tasks assigned to them. In other words, interoperability is a sine qua non condition for successful smart homes. How is this technical challenge to be met?

Unifying systems and standards

In a smart home, various appliances are connected to a centralized ecosystem, which functions as the house’s data hub and communicates with other devices using different software. The goal is to ensure that separate systems can exchange information without having to modify their various protocols. System convergence is therefore the key to interoperability.

Most manufacturers have developed their own standards, which generally are not compatible with other systems currently available on the market. In the future, several features of connected systems will have to be standardized in order to make interoperability possible. Interoperability is required, for instance, for operating protocols and authentication schemes, as well as to enable guests to interact with the house’s connected appliances. Manufacturers on the smart home market are going to have to deal with a number of challenges, such as deciding which parameters are to be standardized and the way smart home devices are to interact with central unit protocols.

Data exchange and safety

Besides these practical, day-to-day operations, the success of interoperability also depends on safe data exchange. Standardizing the data exchange protocols of the different elements connected within a user’s house not only requires that those devices can “understand each other” in order to properly function, but also that the data they exchange cannot be used by other unauthorized devices located outside the domain.

It is therefore of utmost importance that systems ensure data privacy without overcomplicating smart home networks. When data is fed from a connected appliance in their homes to a remote central system, users want to be able to make sure not only that the transfer did take place, but also that it did in a safe and confidential way.

A fledgling French smart home sector

Many professionals in the eco-electrical sector are now seeking to enter the smart home market, although they are still struggling to find a viable market model. Not only must technical issues be dealt with, but it is also important to set up a dialogue between the various players in the industry, in order to reach agreements and strike compromises.

Such communication has already been established, for instance via the IGNES, a French grouping of building and home automation industries. According to its President Xavier de Froment, “today no single company has all the tools required to build a smart home”. With a view to fostering co-operation, in 2012 the IGNES launched the “smart home mornings” which bring together various leaders on the smart home market to take part in ninety-minute long conferences dealing with the challenges facing the home-automation sector.

As a matter of fact, the success of this fledgling industry will depend on the ability of players to understand the market and anticipate its evolution.

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