Intelligence of Things

Building The 'Home Oasis' One Smart Device At A Time

The house (or the apartment or the studio or your parents’ basement) is increasingly becoming a focal point of daily life.

Time, then, to picture the house as a bit more like home.

As PYMNTS found in one recent study, “Navigating The COVID-19 Pandemic: The Post Pandemic Reset,” as many as 32 percent of consumers plan to do far less outside the home than they had done before the coronavirus hit.

To that end, as Ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard told Karen Webster in an interview, the potential is there to create the “home oasis” one smart device at a time. Ecobee makes smart thermostats and smart home devices, including components and sensors.

From a high-level view, he said, “people are going to invest more in their homes.”

And with that investment, the onus is on home automation firms like Ecobee to introduce products and services that are streamlined and intuitive, and even friendly.

Picture, then, the very gateway to the home itself — the security system that miraculously doesn’t beep at you, silenced only when the right numbers are (fumblingly) input into the keypad.

“If you think about traditional security systems,” he told Webster, “they are almost adversarial.”

He pointed to Haven, an Ecobee offering that connects sensors and hardware (including Alexa) to automatically arm and disarm the alarms, determine who’s at home, and assess whether someone who’s at the door is either friend, family or unknown.

The Evolution

Broadly speaking, he said, and moving beyond security and smart thermostats, smart technology deployed in the home should able to learn from the behaviors of those within the dwelling itself — and adjust to new behaviors as they become entrenched.

To get there, he said, there are some similarities to be drawn from the evolution of interconnected devices up to the present day.

A decade and a half ago, the height of technology was the flip phone, equipped with a bad camera. Maybe you had a video camera at home for family events and a GPS system for the car to help get to where you needed to go.

In other words, each function was housed within a separate piece of hardware — and none of the devices communicated with one another.

“The connected home is a lot like that today,” he told Webster. “If you walk into a house, you have an alarm panel, but it wouldn’t know anything about your thermostat or your life.”

He said equipping the smart homes of today and tomorrow means integrating more functionality across fewer devices. Today’s smartphones, after all, have so many sensors that can tackle several tasks, sometimes at once.

“If you opened up one of our products, it would look like a smartphone inside, with the same type of computing power and the same type of memory and communications,” he said.

Against that backdrop, said Lombard, the “occupancy sensor” housed within a smart thermostat can understand whether anyone’s home or not and turn down the heat when no one is there, saving money on electricity bills.

That same thermostat can be part of the home monitoring system, he added, helping deliver a broader range of services to homeowners at lower costs.

To make the entire home “as smart as” the disparate systems and devices (including smart coffee makers and smart washing machines) within it requires the use of “smart agents,” said Lombard.

“These smart agents automatically understand the devices you have in your home, learn how you want them to work, and configure themselves for you, so you don’t have to.”

Thus, the homeowner does not need to become an IT administrator, he told Webster.

Where We Are Now

Initial consumer acceptance of the smart, connected home has hinged on a few widely accepted use cases, and as Lombard told Webster, right now “devices matter a lot.”

Individuals and families understand the value proposition. Lombard said that people intuitively understand the utility of video doorbells for added security.

These consumers, he said, are on a journey. They start with simple problems they want to solve, such as saving money on utility bills, and move on to, say, garage door openers if the experience with the smart thermostat has been a positive one.

Call it a device-by-device progression.

To help speed consumer adoption, he stated that it’s important to develop products that are “open” and work with, and within, the main tech ecosystems being built by Apple, Google and Amazon.

Looking A Year Ahead

As tech ecosystems become even more widespread, he said, the experience within the connected home will become seamless. New feature functions will be downloaded to the smart home as easily as downloading an app onto one’s smartphone.

The best innovations, after all, are the ones you don’t see.

As it stands today, “if you want devices together, you have to start setting up rules or scenes,” said Lombard. “There's overhead in doing that.”

Smart agents will learn behaviors and embrace them (turning on the lights whenever it is dark outside, for example), without having to create rules.

Data Donation

Ecobee also has a program called “Donate Your Data” through which customers voluntarily have given away their thermostat data to researchers at universities and government agencies.

He remarked that traditionally there has been very little data on how people consume energy within their homes. The company has gotten permission from more than 100,000 users to collect and anonymize data, which are in turn used in research tied to everything from COVID-19 to energy efficiency to “aging in place.” On these last points, motion sensors and sleep monitoring can become key to improving the quality of life in a home setting.

More immediately, as the coronavirus continues to upend daily life, Ecobee has been working with hospitals to deploy its sensors and cameras to help make treatment more efficient. The company’s hardware enables two-way communication between medical personnel, caregivers and coronavirus patients.

“The caregiver can be outside the patient's room, can use the camera to speak to the patient, but also see all around the patient's rooms and monitor vital signs,” he said, adding that “it’s an inexpensive solution to what is a big problem in hospitals right now.”

Looking beyond the pandemic (and at a stay-at-home world), the trend toward using sensors, cameras and data to improve daily life — inside the home and out — will continue unabated.

As Lombard told Webster, with technology in hand that enables users to see “what's actually happening, and by understanding context, we can create experiences that then become really frictionless."



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.