The notion smart home has been around for many years now. However, in the beginning it appeared to an average individual a distant, expensive and seemingly unreachable technological development used by either wealthy people or technology enthusiasts. As the time has moved on, things have changed. We can now talk about smart homes not only in exclusive villas in Nice, but also in Madona, Skulte and Limbaži, in a cottage as well as in a two-room flat. What are smart homes and what should an advanced individual know about them?

It must be noted right away that there are two types of smart homes. The first type are those the solutions of which have a focus on savings. These solutions let you save energy, track and analyse energy consumption and thus perform the necessary optimisation. In addition, it ensures climate comfort and lets you control the lighting, air temperature, etc. Generally, such solutions are better known as Building Management Systems (BMS). These solutions aim to ensure the maximum efficiency in using buildings and energy savings, they also include the integration of several engineering systems. Consequently, it is a way to make life comfortable for the residents of the building and enable the building facility managers to manage the building effectively and economically. This system is mainly installed in larger buildings such as commercial sites, offices, schools, etc. It is already fairly popular globally and in Latvia.

The second type system has not gained the popularity of BMS yet, and it is perfect for private houses and flats as opposed to larger buildings. Although it is, of course, being installed in the public sector, too, for example, in modern office buildings and conference halls. In terms of this system, the magic keyword is comfort. Thus, it is a system that lets you save money, economically manage buildings and furthermore creates an automated environment – it is the real smart home! The smart home provides you with a wide range of opportunities – lighting, climate, entertainment environment, which ensures audio, video functions and many other additional bonuses such as opening curtains and blinds, darkening windows (if the liquid crystal switchable glass is installed), the TV screen emerging from walls (ceiling), automated furniture, etc. Yes, just like in the movies. That is the reality we can observe in some houses in Latvia, not to mention the world’s metropolises.

While the BMS has been known to the world for about twenty years, smart homes came into being some five to ten years ago. And that could have happened mainly due to the rapid development of the IT. Computers, tablets, smartphones – these are the gadgets, I would even like to say magic wands, with the help of which our dreams can become reality. Smart home is a place that connects many fields – the IT, automation, BMS, audio playback, video, etc. The human desire to achieve more and invent new ways to make your life more comfortable.

As I have previously mentioned in these articles – every single invention in the human history has been the result of a search for better and more comfortable life. To do less, faster, easier, or not to do at all.

By now, there are hundred dozens of BMS manufacturers, while only by five to ten great quality brands manufacture smart home systems. Yet the field continues to develop. If I were to make predictions, I would say in five or ten years a range of variations of this system will be a norm in every house. Like a refrigerator. Or a washing machine. Humans have the desire to monitor and control their surroundings. That is why this field is rapidly evolving. Just imagine. It is a Sunday morning. A lazy morning to spend lying in bed. And suddenly ding dong – a sound at the door, even better in the case of a private house – the gate. Should you get up? Do you really have to get out of the bed? Not if you can take your tablet and look what is happening in your territory, find out who dares to disturb you on a Sunday morning and decide whether to press the button and let the person in or carry on relaxing in your bed. Keeping enjoying the Sunday. Emotions and feelings are what this system gives you, while emotions and feelings create and develop these systems.

In the same way, I should mention that the evolvement of smart homes promotes the development of various other industries as well as their alignment to this field. Say, the manufacturers in the entertainment sector, such as, Sony, try to standardize their products to make them suitable for connecting to the home network and make it possible to control them from many places regardless of where they are situated. To make it possible to control them from a distance, from anywhere in the world.

It is possible for you to be a welcoming host from anywhere in the world, and with one movement of your hand, pressing the right button on your phone or tablet, you can let your friends inside your house in Riga even if you are located in Sidney. And from Sidney on your tablet you can monitor what and how your guests are doing in Riga. Only in that way you would probably be an overly nosy host, too.

There are smart homes in Latvia as well. Undeniably, it raises the value of the property. I should also say that in many properties the introduction of this kind of ultra-modern systems is almost a necessity. Why? To preserve the historical air, ancient aura and the authentic feel. Museums, castles, manors, etc. Buildings, in which modern TV’s and other devices spoil the view, but are essential for the modern life and comfort. In cases like these systems help to hide the undesirable under panels, and when necessary is brought forward – TV, audio, video, curtains, etc. by pressing the right button.

I must note that the user has to become smarter, too, to fully benefit from all the advantages of the smart home. You have to be in a close relationship with the newest equipment – smart phones, tablets, etc. It takes emotions and feelings to control these systems. The possibilities are truly vast. From a single server at home or a remote server elsewhere, turn the music on in all rooms, adjust its volume to match the overall mood – romantic or maybe a bit of a rock, access your video library from wherever you are, in the morning simply press a button to open the curtains without bothering to get out of bed. It gives you the ability to adjust lighting to reflect your mood – darker, brighter, including the colourful LED light bulbs; changing the temperature to match your comfort level, setting music playback to pre-chosen volume and time, a nearly mystical appearance of a TV from a wall, ceiling or hidden panels etc. Lighting, ventilation, conditioning, curtains, blinds, entertainment functions – audio, video etc. What should our education be, how many remote controls should we own to manage all that – separately, every system on its own? The smart home does it all for us – joins all these systems into a single integrated platform in a way that is intuitively easy to understand and use. You do not have to be an engineer to be an owner of a smart home. For that, you have us – real engineers – who do whatever is necessary – connect, program, help to maintain the systems easily, etc.

I have to admit, however, that you do have to have certain amount of money at your disposal. Obviously, costs differ in each individual case and have to be matched to the value of the particular property. This system can also be installed in a small countryside lodge far away from civilization. The question is – is it really necessary? Would you drive a 20-year old car with an integrated touchscreen display? I don’t think so.

Talking about cars, I see similarities. If we take various features in a car as a given, why not do the same regarding our homes? How much time do we spend in cars? And at home? Of course, we do spend more time at home! In the meantime, in the car we might already have one big touchscreen display, which we use to manage all the systems, while we do not at home. At home, we have countless remote controls that get lost and keep annoying us, because the remote control X cannot control the device Y. I would think that it is home that we deserve the highest level of comfort. Why should it be regarded as luxury at home when it is already a must in cars? Here, that is the trend of the future. That is where we are moving to.

Smart home. A house. Home. The place, where people recover lost energy, take a break from the big race that life is. Where they distance themselves from the stress brought on them at work. Where they get this unique sense of being home and enjoying the comfort. For many it is already the present, for many more – the future. A future that is nonetheless real and possible.

By Miks Stūrītis, Chairman of the management board SIA Citrus Solutions,