Smarter living

New technologies for consumers make home life simpler and safer

By Natalie Mouyal

Nearly every aspect of our lives bears the imprint of smart technology. From home thermostats controlled via a smart phone to watches that monitor our health, the number of traditional devices that are becoming connected is increasing. This enables us to benefit from new service offerings.

Image of a mobile phone in a home that is able to control the indoor temperature, security and entertainment systems Smart homes use mobile devices to control security and entertainment systems

Previously isolated components, communication protocols and subsystems are now becoming interoperable and interconnected. These devices and systems are able to gather, monitor, exchange and analyze data, to improve the user experience. They rely on technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) for connecting devices and systems, artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the information that is gathered and cloud computing to store the data.

While more and more of these devices are appearing in our daily lives, they are simultaneously making their presence felt in a wide array of industrial sectors. In farming, leg band wearables and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags provide real-time location and health monitoring information about each animal. In hospitals, connected infusion pumps ensure that medication dosages being administered conform to the doctor’s prescription. In factories, sensors can monitor specific processes and provide notification of equipment that needs to be changed, for example.

Smart technologies help cities to enhance safety as well as manage their transport, health services and water and energy resources. One example is smart grids that help accommodate the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources and enable energy savings by managing demand response and energy storage. Embedded sensors provide real time information for detecting and responding automatically to system problems. They can also be used to manage outdoor lights and to monitor traffic conditions and infrastructure depreciation.

Relying on IEC Standards

Over 1 800 IEC Standards provide the tools needed for the safe connection and automation of much of the city infrastructure that uses electricity or contains electronics. These Standards ensure interoperability between systems and facilitate the long-term maintenance and repair of infrastructure.

IEC and ISO Joint Technical Committee (ISO/IEC JTC 1) develops International Standards for information and communication technologies used in smart business and consumer applications. Its Subcommittee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 41 develops International Standards for IoT, making connectivity possible, while ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38 addresses the standardization of cloud computing for the storage and retrieval of data. In 2017, JTC 1 set up ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42 with the mandate of providing standardization in the area of AI as well as guidance to other committees developing AI applications.

IEC Standards are also necessary for hardware components such as electronic display devices, which are developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 110. Standards for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, including digital cameras, are developed by IEC TC 100.

Smarter homes

According to the management consultancy firm McKinsey, many people will be living in ‘smart’ homes within the next ten years and will use technologies that will redefine their living spaces. Demand for ‘smart’ home devices and systems is expected to boom. The market research portal Statista forecasts that the global smart home market will be worth more than USD 40 billion by 2020.

Examples of home automation applications include refrigerators that can change channels on television sets, order groceries or send images of the food inside. Voice-activated virtual assistants can control music, thermometers and lights. Small robots can vacuum the floor in the home or cut the grass outside.

The safety of household appliances such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners relies on International Standards developed by IEC TC 61, including household appliances that are connected and smart. Several IEC TCs handle varied aspects of voice recognition.  IEC TC 100 has set up Technical Area (TA) 16 on active assisted living, which covers audio requirements for accessibility, while ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 35 publishes International Standards pertaining to voice command user interfaces.

Smart technology also enhances home security. Surveillance cameras include features such as high resolution video and 360⁰ surround view which can be monitored via the web or mobile apps. Facial recognition helps control access to buildings while thermal imagery captured by a camera system can provide an alert in case of trespass. IEC TC 79 prepares International Standards for a wide range of applications including access control and video surveillance.

Given that buildings, whether homes, factories or hospitals, account for 40% of global energy usage, efforts are underway to make gains in energy efficiency to help reduce the overall costs of buildings maintenance. Adjustments made automatically optimize the use of heating, cooling and lighting systems. Sensors can monitor temperature and light, for example, to lower heat or turn off lights based on levels of occupancy. They can also detect smoke or water leakages, thus warning of potential accidents before they actually occur.

IEC TC 47 issues International Standards that relate to sensors. Sensor manufacturers can ensure their products meet the strictest requirements through testing and certification by IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components.

Smarter babies…and pets

Over the past few years, a new industry has emerged to help anxious parents monitor their babies. The latest technology uses sensors, voice and facial recognition tools as well as artificial intelligence software to monitor health, sleeping patterns and learning skills.

These tools can measure the richness of a child’s language environment or help parents identify unwanted presences around their baby. As medical technology moves into the mainstream, wearable patches and germ-killing techniques are being integrated into products that are developed for babies.

ISO/IEC JTC1 SC 37 develops International Standards for generic biometric technologies, including facial recognition. IEC TC 124 develops International Standards for wearable electronic devices. They include patchable, implantable and edible materials and devices, as well as e-textiles. Several other IEC TCs are also involved in standardization activities for the components found in wearable technology – for example IEC TC 21 which deals with the batteries that power wearables.

Animals are also benefiting from smart technologies. With domesticated animals increasingly being treated like members of the family in many parts of the world, the demand for products and services that cater to their needs is booming. Wearable technology, initially developed for people, is now being adapted for pets. According to Transparency Market Research, the global market for pet wearables is expected to reach USD 2,5 billion by 2024.

For example, smart collars can track a pet’s vital signs, the number of steps it takes each day and its sleep patterns. They can help train dogs to cure annoying habits such as incessant barking or enable cats to open and close flaps on the front door.

Privacy and data protection

The protection of collected data will be a key element in the development of smart technologies. Privacy concerns could dampen the sale of connected devices whether those tools are used for monitoring babies or automating homes. Data must be protected from potential hackers and encryption software in connected devices must safeguard information adequately. Protection from cyber threats must be guaranteed to ensure the safety and security of users.

IEC work addresses both cyber security and data protection. More than 200 International Standards dealing with these issues have been published. The IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) has set up Working Group (WG) 17 to investigate the need for and timeframe of global certification schemes for products, services, personnel and integrated systems in the area of cyber security. Through its work, IEC helps ensure that the IoT environment in homes is effective, safe and reliable.

Gallery
Image of a mobile phone in a home that is able to control the indoor temperature, security and entertainment systems Smart homes use mobile devices to control security and entertainment systems
Hospital wristbands incorporate technologies that provide access to full patient information (Photo: Zebra) Wearable technologies are used at hospitals to provide access to full patient information (Photo: Zebra)