Smart homes are quickly becoming the new normal. For most of us, adoption of this technology is piecemeal: We build our in-home networks by gradually replacing old appliances with new models that offer connectivity.
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The big picture? Interconnected smart homes built from the ground up are still a high-end novelty.
Yet, even at this moderate rate of adoption, it won’t be long before fully networked homes are the standard. So, the question is, how will that change our lives — and businesses?
The astonishing growth of smart devices
In 2014, there were one million smart devices sold around the world. IHS Technology predicted that 233 million smart devices would be sold globally in 2020, which means 470 million connected devices will be live.
While “complicit” is the 2017 Word of the Year, according to Dictionary.com, a likely contender for 2018 is “automated.” Organizations that automate have a strategic advantage over those that don’t.
For example, Henry Ford automated car manufacturing with the development of the assembly line. Amazon implemented automation throughout its entire business model to become a global powerhouse. Now, the keys to automation and its benefits are available to almost all businesses.
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Why is the number skyrocketing so quickly? The most obvious answer is the expanding range of things you can buy. We went from a few Roombas and smart TVs to talking refrigerators at lightning speed. Setting aside the sheer coolness of owning a device that lets you talk to your dog and dispense treats while you’re at work, developing smart devices is big business.
What this means for entrepreneur-inventors
The handwriting is on the wall. If you have an idea for a smart product, put your imagination to work and figure out how making it smart will add convenience, comfort, savings or safety for the consumer.
At this point, you may be thinking, “But I want to design clothing! How can that be smart?”
The answer is, it can be: Take smart mirrors, for instance, which are only a matter of time from coming into stores and homes. At some point soon, people will stand in front of a mirror and ask, “What should I wear today?” and the mirror will respond by scanning your clean wardrobe RFID tags, checking the weather and your calendar and then displaying appropriate outfits with a full explanation.
“It’s chilly this morning. You’ll need to layer with a light jacket, but it will be warm and sunny this afternoon. You have a meeting at 2 PM at XYZ client, and it’s a half hour drive to that client’s office. The building is kept at 72 degrees. So, take your jacket with you, but hang it in the car for the drive.
Your smart mirror won’t stop there.
“Your bed reports that you did not sleep well last night,” Mr. (or Ms.) Mirror will report, “and your music choice indicates you’re feeling a little worried. Your confidence color is blue. I suggest your royal blue blouse with your black suit or your navy button-down dress with the white pinstriped blazer.”
Think that sounds crazy? RFID tags for clothing have existed for almost 20 years, to benefit the retail and hotel industries. It’s not a stretch to imagine expanding that information to benefit purchasers. The concept was explored by a group of computer scientists in 2011, and you can already buy smart clothing for fitness.
What’s more, smart beds, smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart doorbells, smart refrigerators and smart coffee makers already exist. Heads-up displays already exist for cars. Why not for mirrors?
The one thing you absolutely have to remember
I had a chance to speak with Alex Keichinger, the North America home and building product manager for Somfy Systems, and asked him what advice he would have for smart product designers.
“In-home systems are increasingly common,” Keichinger told me. “Make sure whatever device you invent can be integrated into a whole-home solution. For us, this meant ensuring that our customers could not only program their window coverings to take advantage of the sun’s movement but say ‘Alexa, tell myLink to open the blinds,’ without getting out of bed.
“Nearly everything in our homes will soon be interconnected and managed by voice command,” Keichinger continued. “If your product is not compatible, it is already obsolete.”
Entrepreneurs can act on RFID trends in a couple of different ways. The first is that they can implement technology within their businesses, an example being the use of smart price tags in retail stores.
Second, entrepreneurs can use RFID technology to improve their supply chain.
Finally, applications of RFID technology exist within logistics and analyzing trends.
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It’s astonishing how far technology has come over the last 20 years. The next big leap is just around the corner, and entrepreneurs around the world are already working on it. How can you, as an entrepreneur, get a piece of the IoT pie? How a new business will age into the next phase is a question every entrepreneur needs to consider.