That the world is moving towards smart communities, interconnected by technology, is not a new concept and the advancement of the Internet of Things, a network of devices that are embedded with technology enabling these objects to collect and exchange data, is getting us closer to the goal. Could this make homes greener?
The foundational technology for smart homes is already available with technologies such as coffee machines that turn on when its time to wake up, doors and garages that open automatically as your smartphone approaches, automatic lights that turn on when you walk into a room, and wearable tech that learns your preferences and adjusts the environment at home for you for your convenience and comfort.
Making Homes Greener?
The advent of the Internet of Things has brought with it a number of appliances and systems that purportedly promote sustainability, from helping to reduce food waste to curbing energy use. Samsung, for instance, is about to launch a smart refrigerator with an embedded camera that keeps an eye on what's in the fridge. The feed is accessible through remote apps or touchscreen tablet and is designed to help monitor spoilage, without opening the door. The idea here is to remind owners to consume particular groceries before they expire and help minimise the amount of food that lands in the trash. Amazon too has released Amazon Dash, a function that connects to users’ home Wi-Fi network and AmazonFresh accounts. Users say or scan items into Dash, and then view the list on their desktop or mobile device to purchase and schedule delivery.
However, critics argue that this could foster a kind of mindless consumption pattern that might work against sustainable consumption. Additionally, there is potential for unsustainable living due to the kind of products available, but as Dash expands its catalogue, people would be able to order eco- friendly products. From devices that detect how much pollution is in the air to gadgets that monitor and reduce energy consumption; the potential of smart homes in collecting data that makes dwellers comfortable and calculates the most sustainable way of living is seemingly endless.
One of the most important challenges in convincing users to adopt emerging technologies is the protection of data and privacy. Concerns over privacy and data protection are widespread, particularly as sensors and smart tags can track users’ movements, habits and ongoing preferences and it is, at times, unclear what happens to the data collected and who has access to it.
To promote a more widespread adoption of the technologies underlying the Internet of Things, principles of informed consent, data confidentiality and security must be safeguarded. Moreover, protecting privacy must not be limited to technical solutions, but encompass regulatory, market-based and socio-ethical considerations ITU, the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies is working to standardise the requirements of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to usher in a smoother and more secure rollout of such systems in the home.
The broader goal is a smart city that impacts every aspect of our daily lives and not just home life. The rollout of smart cities around the world is on track in areas as diverse as Taipei, Arlington, Rio de Janeiro, Dubai - which has already embarked on becoming a city that comprises Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart Mobility; dimensions to make the city “the happiest place on earth” - and Lagos, which signed an MOU with Dubai and will see it become Africa’s first Smart City. As the technology grows, so too should people lobby for environmentally-sustainable options for both home and community.