There is much talk of the Internet of Things (IoT) and in particular what this means for the smart home/office and home automation. There are many smart devices on the market, with innovations receiving great press and fanfare, but what they have in great functionality they often lack in integration and value.

Plug and Play IoT and The Internet of Silos

Many may have heard of, or purchased, some well-publicised IoT products such as the Phillips Hue smart bulb, the Amazon Echo or the August smart lock. These are devices that can be loosely described as “Plug and Play”, and they offer ease of implementation, great functionality and access through the internet. These devices, on the whole, do precisely what an internet device should do, in incorporating external Internet information and services into their functionality. The Echo’s “Skills” are an excellent example of this with the ability to check the weather or order an Uber. These devices all come with a feature-rich app, and for the wonders in functionality that these apps provide lies their essential limitation.

There is little or no integration between these devices and almost all require separate apps to operate. One cannot turn off the smart light and lock the smart lock with a single button or automated trigger. Furthermore, the technology and protocols used to operate them are often different. WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and Infrared are but a few so besides the software hurdle to integration, there is a real hardware stumbling block. So what we see being pushed into the market, at great expense to the consumer, is not the Internet of Things but the Internet of Silos.

infographic illustrating the lack of integration between Internet of Things devices

The lack of integration between Internet of Things devices

Smart Hubs and Control Centres

Smart Hubs or Control Centres provide the solution to this by providing a central hub that can operate on many (or even all) protocols. They create a centralised integration platform that performs all the integration and provides software for creating scenes, rules and automation that incorporate all devices as the user requires.

The Components of Home Automation

The “Plug & Play” devices provide ease of installation but are expensive and by themselves do not cover all needs to make a space smart. A smart space needs five components:

  1. Sensors: devices that generate information e.g. light, temperature, motion, door or internet information.
  2. Actors: devices that perform an action, switch, dim, on, off, open, close, siren.
  3. Control: control and switch other devices.
  4. Hub: integrate between sensors and actors, control actors, create rules and automation.
  5. Display: see states, usage, etc.
infographic illustrating how plug and play devices compare to smart space devices

Plug and Play devices vs Smart Space devices

infographic illustrating the components of a smart space

Components of a Smart Space

While some Plug and Play devices meet the criteria of one or more of these components, many don’t, or by providing duplicate functionality become expensive. Some examples are listed below.

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DeviceGood Smart Fit?ComponentsAdvantagesIssues
Philips Hue Smart BulbNoActor
  • Rich functionality with custom colours and moods
  • Easy setup
  • Integrates well with smart systems
  • Expensive
  • Each bulb is smart as opposed to a room or area
  • Requires standalone hub
August Smart LockNoActor
  • Great functionality
  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t integrate into smart systems
Amazon EchoYesController
  • Easy setup
  • Integrates well with smart systems
  • Rich functionality through “Skills"
  • Integration can take work

Your Smart Home Working in Harmony

So while some of these devices will provide a wonderful enhancement to any smart space, the bulk of devices need to be relatively inexpensive and integrate well to be ubiquitous around the space. Simple devices using older technology with connectivity to an appropriate hub. When a light switch, a motion sensor, an electronic lock, or a more function-rich device communicates well with others, incorporates web information and is accessible anywhere, true automation can occur, and your space can truly be called smart.