Connecting with the Connected Home
February 1, 2012
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products, Materials & Components, Markets & Trends
A remarkable turning point in the fenestration industry was reached a few weeks ago. Rather than waiting for the upcoming International Builders’ Show, Pella Corp., Andersen Windows, Therma-Tru Doors, Lowe’s and Schlage introduced new Internet-enabled products a month earlier at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Many probably paid little notice to the importance of the announcements at CES, but they mark the transition to a new era that could rock the fundamental nature of the window, door and building products industries and define new opportunities for growth, profits and exciting innovation.
|Pella SmartSync allows shades or blinds in the manufacturer’s windows and patio doors to be operated by a remote control or programmed by a home automation system through Web-enabled devices to provide energy savings and increased comfort. The system, to be introduced later this year, was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.|
In two decades in the technology industry, I’ve worked with innovators and entrepreneurs with vision and passion who created the future in industry after industry. We’ve all seen televisions transform from cable-ready dumb devices to Internet-embedded displays with web-enabled movies, games and communications. Cell phones became portable computing platforms. Automobiles have replaced simple mechanical deadbolts, window controls, brake and steering systems with intelligent microprocessor controlled systems.
Already, more than 10 million Internet devices in homes deliver streaming music. More than three million homes use smart electrical meters. Dozens of devices in my home are connected to the Internet. Roughly one million homes utilize an advanced home automation system like Creston or Control4, allowing the homeowner to control music, video, lights, security, energy and connected devices from a single tablet. The Internet backbone, itself, is preparing a major upgrade–IPV6–designed to massively expand capacity as we rapidly near the end of Internet’s current limit of 4.3 billion devices.
Change Coming from Outside
This new era, dubbed the “connected home” by technology insiders, will leave few home components untouched. While leading building product companies are evaluating and trying to decide what role their products will play in the connected home, much of the innovation is coming to the industry from outsiders. Silicon Valley, where I live, has dozens of start-ups designing new products for the home without the constraints imposed by decades of institutional learning.
For those that say it can’t be done, the newest car company on the NASDAQ is Tesla, started by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. While Tesla may not become the next GM, it’s clear that Tesla has changed the automotive industry forever.
Nest Labs, founded by a former Apple executive who led the development of the iPod, recently introduced a $250 “learning” thermostat. I can guarantee you that no thermostat manufacturer believed a market would exist for a luxury thermostat and no customer research stated the need for it. The vision of the Nest founders created a product that homeowners decided they want, only after they saw it. Beautiful as it is functional, the initial inventory of the product sold out in days.
Silicon Valley is full of technologists with an interest in mechanical engineering and electronics seeking to reinvent commoditized everyday products. Improving security, energy utilization and convenience are top themes. In the end, they are driven to make our homes smarter, more comfortable, safer and more fun.
I have visited companies creating dynamic glazing and radiant glazing systems with intelligent controls that continually adjust each window for optimum comfort. I toured a new NASA building targeting net zero energy use with automated control of daylighting, cooling and ventilation. Pella’s SmartSync system, shown at CES, controls internal shades and blinds, to increase the energy efficiency of a home. My engineering team is hard at work, with many patents.
|Also featured at CES this year, the Nexia Home Intelligence from Ingersoll Rand can be used to monitor and control Schlage locks and window sensors, as well as home heating and cooling and other products.|
Locking hardware used in the fenestration industry also holds much potential for innovation. Locks are ripe for change. Patented over 90 years ago, the deadbolt is a particular fascination of mine. Today’s products look very much like the patents filed by Walter Schlage in 1936. Recently, Schlage, Yale and Baldwin have all announced first generation updates–adding Internet capability to the deadbolt, allowing it to be locked and unlocked via a smartphone.
Such a change is interesting, indeed. But, this is much like inventing a motor and deciding its best use is to attach a whip to make the horse go faster. True innovation is based on a complete “from scratch” re-thinking and re-imagination which challenges the bounds of compatibility and industry practice. True innovations are under development by technologists in Silicon Valley and in R&D centers in the larger industry players.
For purposes of full disclosure, I am focused on all the following questions—and more. Do we want to have smart control of who enters our home? Does it make sense that a deadbolt can be easily picked in seconds by hundreds of strangers—also known as locksmiths—living within 10 miles of my home? Is it time to stop putting a key in a “hide-a-key” false rock in the flowerpot? (For those readers interested, I moved mine.) How can technology improve our security, reduce our energy costs and have our home adapt to our needs and behaviors?
There are many questions that come with these new technologies. Developing the perfectly reliable product is quite difficult. These complex systems are a challenge to debug, it may be a challenge to train installers and a challenge for the various manufacturers and dealers to support these systems. Many, particularly those adverse to technology, will decide they don’t want a smart window, smart door or smart home. The doubters will jump on every problem and proclaim the downsides of the connected home. They will, however, be missing the point.
The connected home is on its way. The amount of investment is an order of magnitude greater than the combined traditional R&D in the window and door industry. A tidal wave of exciting products is under development. Connected devices will adapt to the homeowner’s needs, provide new capabilities, smarter operations and enhanced control and energy management. CES was merely the tip of the iceberg.
It can be argued that our focus on improving quality, manufacturing process and cost reduction for the past decade has starved innovation. That needs to change. Innovation is our nation’s competitive advantage and will fuel a rebound in manufacturing and exports. We need to create exciting and compelling products, take market risk to generate opportunities, and break old norms. This industry will not rebound by trying to sell as many windows and doors as we did in 2007. No matter your role in the industry–manufacturer, dealer or contractor, innovation is the path to growth and profits. The connected home is ushering a wave of opportunity that will rejuvenate our industry by getting homeowners excited again.