Research has found the largest barrier to smart home adoption lies within that very issue – poor interoperability, in other words, how devices communicate with each other.
Interoperability is the key to smart home adoption. If a device can’t receive information, process it and act upon that information, it won’t function as consumers hope. Without full functionality, the product may not provide value.
We purchased a two-story home to create a real-world environment to observe how devices communicate with one another, and find a way to solve interoperability issues.
Why is it important to test interoperability in a real-life environment?
Communication between two people in a house is often affected by distance, closed doors, ambient noise, etc. Similarly, transmission between two devices may suffer from some of the same factors, which can’t be accounted for in a traditional lab.
Here’s some factors unique to a home:
- Layout, specifically, the number of walls and ceilings
- Ambient noise from other devices or people
- Soft carpets, drapes and furniture absorb and reflect signals
- Reflective surface like windows, blinds and mirrors bounce signals
- Competing signals from the neighbor’s Wi-Fi or radiating devices
- Multiple devices on the same network clogging bandwidth
- Crossing-platforms, brands and products
- When creating a smart home, consumers often combine varying brands, products and platforms to create a highly-customized environment. Manufacturer’s need to anticipate how a consumer may want to combine their product with a voice-activated assistants, lights, fans, etc. to be sure consumers have access to full functionality.
- How users interact with the device
What products are in the house?
We’ve taken steps to help ensure we’ve purchased almost every commercially-available smart device you could find a home. Everything from smart locks, internet routers and appliances, to sensors, speakers and lights are found in this house. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list:
- Voice-activated assistants
- Appliances (range, dishwasher, refrigerator)
- 15 different lightbulb and lightbulb socket configurations
- Indoor cameras
- 2 different internet routers
- Smart locks
- Doorbell systems
- Smoke detectors
For now, interoperability issues among smart devices have largely been contained to performance; however, what happens when communication discrepancies bleed into safety — like being locked out of the house, or without a working smoke alarm?
Now, UL is not just testing to help ensure devices are properly communicating during normal operating conditions, but are looking at what happens when the Wi-Fi goes down, there is a low internet signal, the power goes out, and all possible scenarios which may affect connected devices.
Through testing and inspection, UL is helping to make the house of tomorrow and what was once tech mythology, a reality.