François-Xavier JEULAND founder and president of the French home automation federation interview

Internet of Things, Home Automation, Fédération Fançaise de Domotique

François-Xavier JEULAND is the founder and president of the French home automation federation, a member of the Smart Building Alliance and author of “La maison communicante” (Connected homes). We asked him to share his views on the future of home automation.

Are design and architecture affected by innovations in the field of home automation?

Interior designers and decorators are increasingly interested in home automation insofar as it offers them new opportunities.  Manufacturers have put considerable effort into making monitors and control panels (i.e. the visible part of home automation) smaller, more aesthetic and ergonomic. As an increasingly diverse range of equipment is being embedded into the home, architects and designers are forecasting a growing trend in house building that continuously looks to facilitate the lives of occupants. Innovations in home automation are starting to directly impact the architect’s work at a very early stage (from changing the way they approach the building’s shell to the way they consider dynamic façades and energy optimization). [Editor’s note: How can active management of building technologies cut energy consumption? Find out here].

Why create a federation dedicated to home automation?

Home automation is a fast-moving sector, involving many industries and trades. From the outset our objective was to bring them all together. People do not often think about home automation as a cross-cutting sector, and tend to forget that it comprises the world of energy, connected objects, telecommunication, household appliances, audiovisual equipment, etc. It stands to reason that, all these trades must be involved in the advent of home automation and the market in connected homes.

The launch of our federation two years ago reflects the need for this cross-sectorial approach. Today, it brings together 160 members from a range of trades: operators such as Orange, energy providers like EDF, manufacturers such as Siemens, as well as designers, architects, consultancies and 88 home automation engineers that make up about half of our membership. They all needed a platform for dialogue with manufacturers, distributors and researchers, to share their skills and to get a global insight into the solutions that already exist and to better understand what the future holds for the sector. In the face of such numerous innovations, no one can claim that they know everything about home automation. Our various committees closely monitor technological developments and provide our members with forecasts and opportunities to hone complementary skills. In 2015 we will focus on connected homes, what we call ‘home automation 2.0’, a hot topic which is of great importance to all our members.

How has home automation gone mainstream over the last decade?

For a long time, home automation was confined to three sectors: office buildings, with heavy-duty but highly efficient building management systems (BMS) controlling the energy use; villas and luxury apartments; and, finally, solutions to enable the independent living of disabled people.

Over the last few years, with the emergence of smartphones and tablets, rising environmental awareness and the Internet of Things, the smart building sector has gradually gained momentum in a variety of areas, ranging from services and the hotel industry to the silver economy as well as passive and connected homes.

How will the Internet of Things benefit smart buildings?

BMS and conventional systems led to a deadlock, because you could not use them on a large scale, especially for financial reasons: these systems are expensive and difficult to maintain.

The Internet of Things, however, is affordable; allowing you to get started with small functions. Everyone has networks of some sort at home, and the infrastructure is already there. With the Internet of Things, you can start small and gradually build up to meet new needs. The IT and energy worlds, which had long been separated are being reconciled with the arrival of generation 2.0; paving the way for a brighter future.

What do you expect to be the main changes in the field of home automation in the coming years?

There are so many issues to be dealt with and such a wide range of companies involved in research and development that this convergence will play out slowly. For home automation to move from 1.0 to the 2.0, a genuine convergence protocol will have to be established: and advances in IT will help overcome the obstacles of interoperability.

But for high-performance, dependable mass-market products to become readily available, I believe we will need to create a new platform. The tech giants like Google, Apple and Samsung are already working on it. This will enable all stakeholders, from energy providers and operators to large retail outlets to move in the same direction. Today, too many products are still not relevant, which hampers the long-term development of sustainable solutions.

This new platform will put everyone on the same wavelength, much like the internet protocol (IP) did 20 years ago in the IT industry. We haven’t invented a smart building IP yet, but it is likely to happen soon. In the longer run, artificial intelligence is expected to emerge. Nowadays, it is still all about monitoring, control and command, etc.

In the future, a smart building will be a building in which the technology is invisible. Of course, people will need to remain in control but 99% of the time, any given building will need to be independent, sensitive to its environment, able to anticipate events, learn from its users and free them from the responsibility of managing it. Nobody wants to manage their home first thing in the morning.

Today a typical home includes only a handful of connected objects. Tomorrow, it will have hundreds of them. Technology, computing power, processors will be needed. Simplification will probably be necessary. Raising awareness and empowering users will be key. To sum up, I believe that there are at least three stages to be expected from the future development of home automation:

  1. a more consistent platform
  2. more consistent interfaces
  3. relatively autonomous buildings that are sensitive to their environment

Which services within a smart building can be remotely controlled and decentralized?

With the advent of connected objects, almost everything can be transferred to the cloud: processing, storage, monitoring, analysis, connecting… Only measurement, using sensors and detectors that tell us what happens inside a building, needs to be carried out onsite.

As a matter of fact, you could argue that the future of smart buildings will completely rely on cloud computing, allowing different appliances to communicate r despite not speaking the same language. This will require networks, bandwidth, and above all redundancy. When considering that almost all of a building’s intelligence could be externalized, users need to be reassured. Without the necessary reassurances, users will not accept the technology. This is the “zero-flaw” world which we are headed to but haven’t arrived at yet. However, as soon as these issues of ‘redundancy’ have been resolved, it will be possible to export almost any building function to the cloud.

How will this change the way people live in buildings?

People don’t want to waste their time managing their environment. Technology is here to spare us these chores. The first thing these technologies will achieve will be to reassure users. They want to be utterly sure that whatever happens their building will be able to manage the situation; that it will meet their needs, use as little energy as possible and guarantee their comfort and safety, saving them a lot of time and effort. This is precisely what people expect from technology. In a nutshell, the evolution in home automation resembles that of IT 30 years ago.  But at the rate things are going, it will take us far less than 30 years to reach Plug and Play in home automation.

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