Connected homes come of age

4 minute read

12 January 2021

By Dominic Pride

Founder and CEO, Upstart

As population growth and urbanisation increase globally, cities face growing demand for housing, energy and water.  These trends represent a huge opportunity to create intelligent, digitally-enabled connected homes which can create social value. 


In our recent blog, Disrupting Social Housing With Business Model Innovation, we spoke to Alistair Wickens, Founder of Goscombe Group, about how his company is using business model innovation to deliver sustainable social impact.

Alistair introduced the concept of modular construction as an alternative eco-friendly building technique that could play a part in reducing the carbon footprint of the housing sector.

He spoke about how healthy homes can deliver a social impact. We’re envisioning homes which are created using data collected and analysed with artificial intelligence to improve a building’s performance, which simultaneously increases the comfort and cost efficiency for residents. 

In this decade, tumbling costs of embedded sensors and affordable, networked AI will see connected homes move beyond being a simple plaything for the affluent. Combining these technologies can drive the creation of homes which are energy-efficient, benefit from lower build and homeowner costs, and which can also raise social values and make a positive impact on society.  

So What?

Poorly-built or designed homes can consume energy and waste water, leading to increased utility costs and environmental damage. As a result, many homes today are fitted with smart meters, placed in highly visible locations; they act as prompts to help us monitor our daily energy consumption. 

This kind of conscientious behaviour can produce financial savings, in some instances equivalent to one month’s rent a year. Smart meters have proven popular. As of 2019, there were 54.7 million smart meters installed across 50 emerging countries, with the global smart meter market projected to reach $7.06 billion by 2023.

By combining artificial intelligence, with observed human behaviour, can those smart meters be used to share and interpret data? By combining and analysing these datasets, residents, construction companies, utility firms and contractors can make healthier and smarter decisions about our home environments, and begin to address real problems such as peaks in capacity for energy. 

“Data sensors will act almost like a nervous system ”

We have already witnessed the acceleration of smart speaker technology in our homes. Product ecosystems such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Home use voice interaction commands, whilst Goole Nest features a smart thermostat to control temperature. When connected to networks and exposed to AI, they have the potential to perform a limited set of actions without needing human intervention or voice prompts. 

In a thought leadership piece from earlier this year, the International Finance Corporation - a member of the World Bank Group -  talks about biomimicry; where smart meters and AI converge to create an interconnected, responsive and protective system. 

Connected home devices - driven by adoption within affluent sectors of developed markets - are currently solving "soft" consumer problems such as adjusting lighting and heating environments.

Falling costs of home technology, sensors - and the cloud-based intelligence which drive such machines - will see this technology move beyond ambient lighting settings and thermal comfort into more impactful use cases such as increasing air quality and bio-climatic conditions. 

Tomorrow’s smart home has the potential to be not just fully connected, but to contribute to net zero emissions. And aggregated data plus feedback can quite easily contribute to reducing energy blackouts in developing nations.

This decade we are likely see the emergence of connected, sensing computers which can cost as little as USD $0.01, enabling them to be embedded in places where previously it was unthinkable to access data. Potential locations for these include housing, air, building materials and fabrics, all of which can create rich and fluid data sets for AI.

So Now What?

To prepare for this future, here are three things you can do right now;

1. Remove constraints.  When you're battling against the limits of today’s technology, it's difficult to imagine what the future could look like. If you lack the data to identify or deal with problems, picture a world where those constraints were removed tomorrow. Three years from now, that could be the reality. It's never too early to imagine how to react.

2. Learn from other industries. Just one look at media, advertising retail and health will give you an indication how quickly these sectors have been impacted by disruptive and enabling technologies. Take note of the speed with which it happens (and the denial which these industries originally encountered when it was happening). 

3. Apply the data lens to your own business. The housing industry is getting to grips with the fact that it may no longer be in the business of simply selling or leasing bricks and mortar; the fabric of the building and its inhabitants may represent untapped sources of data which can create new business models, and drive both commercial and societal gain.

Interested in understanding how sensors, AI and machine learning might play a part in the future of your business? Then drop us a line. We’d love to speak to you. 


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