Founder and CEO of smart home technology firm Josh.ai
What does smart home technology look like for you? Is it an Alexa-powered speaker for your news and entertainment? A Nest thermostat to automate your home’s temperature? A Ring doorbell to keep an eye on packages, visitors and porch pirates?
Millions of these devices have made their way into American homes in recent years, but they’re just a portion – and not even the most powerful or secure one – of the potential that smart home technology can bring to your life. For that, you’d want to look at a different source: the technology integrator and the suppliers used by these emerging professionals.
Many builders, architects and designers are adding these pros on speed dial as new home buyers and remodeling clients ask about smart home packages. Integrators work with industry insiders and homeowners to ensure that all of the desired components for a connected home are specified, sited and function as intended, are easily used by residents, and are as difficult as possible for hackers to breach.
The resources integrators often recommend are available only to the trade – previewed at conferences like the annual CEDIA Expo, (virtual-only this year from September 15 to 17) because of Covid – and consuming increasingly large slices of new home construction and remodeling budgets. [Disclosure: I’m a 2020 CEDIA Influencer to help get the word out about educational opportunities to colleagues in the design and building industry. There is no compensation involved.]
One of the reasons for smart home technology’s extraordinary growth is its potential to enhance wellness, a particular concern for all in the midst of a pandemic that has millions of Americans sheltering at home, working from home, studying at home, exercising at home and caring for elderly relatives from their homes.
Alex Capecelatro, a CEDIA organization board member and founder/CEO of the award-winning smart home technology firm Josh.ai, shared his thoughts on the potential of home automation to enhance wellness during the pandemic and beyond.
Jamie Gold: Please share the many ways smart home technology can enhance wellness at home.
Hands-free technology for faucets, light switches and other areas of the home reduces germ spread … [+] between family members.
Brizo // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press) (c) J. Gold
Alex Capecelatro: When considering how many hands touch doorknobs, TV remotes, light switches, and more, it makes sense that the demand for voice-based solutions is growing to eliminate the potential for germ transmission. From the standpoint of usability, that is another avenue through which voice has a huge advantage; voice is simple to use for everyone no matter their technological abilities or if they have a handicap that limits their options with other manual controls.
Leveraging technology to monitor and promote safety is now a primary concern as homeowners explore ways to keep loved ones healthy. The automation of air quality monitoring with the installation of purification systems will play a key role to ensure harmful pollutants are detected and eliminated. Water quality monitoring is still improving to granularly detect particulates, but installing filters and leak detection sensors will go a long way – not only to reduce the consumption of harmful substances, but also to provide alerts if water is building up and creating hospitable conditions for mold that can cause respiratory issues. Thermal imaging cameras may also see increased demand as homeowners seek ways to monitor the body temperatures and potential fevers of those on the premises.
Human-centric (also called circadian), lighting is helpful to getting more and better sleep.
Service Tech, Inc./CEDIA member company // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press) (c) J. Gold
Transformative technologies like circadian lighting to keep the human body in rhythm, sound-masking acoustical treatments, and distributed audio to play white noise or biophilic sounds have been proven to reduce stress.
Gold: What are some barriers to people adding smart home technology features to their homes, and how can they be overcome?
Capecelatro: If something is not intuitive and does not provide an enjoyable experience, then people will not use it.
Smart home technology interfaces should blend with the room’s style.
Josh.ai LLC; Photo by Nicholas Freeman // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press) (c) J. Gold
An installation challenge that frequently comes up in luxury homes is the need to fit in with a home’s design aesthetic. We often come across walls that are cluttered with switches, thermostats, touch panels, and more that are the exact opposite of what a smart home should look like. Technology’s ease of use should extend to its ability to operate in the background without over stimulating a user’s senses.
Last, but certainly not least, is the barrier of privacy and data security with home technology. Many consumers are already unnerved by targeted social media and email advertisements, adding a microphone into the mix only increases their concern about what is possibly being overheard. Nothing is being listened to nor leveraged with the intent of targeted advertisements.
Gold: What questions should someone be asking when considering smart home technology for themselves or a loved one?
Busy, stressed parents value stress-free simplicity at home.
Capecelatro: I believe the primary question about smart home technology adoption should always be: Is it going to help make my, or a loved one’s, life better and more enjoyable? As the head of a household responsible for the safety of your family, does this technology monitor metrics critical to health? In cases when someone is reaching out on behalf of a loved one, it is often about technology for their aging parents or relatives. In cases like these, the conversation always starts with them asking if the technology is easy to use.
For a demographic that wants simplicity, that is the most important factor. The questions then usually progress to what kind of remote monitoring capabilities there are through camera streams or motion sensing, which are important for family members wanting to make sure that someone is alright when they cannot be there to check on their well-being.
Gold: There are some security risks in linking your home to the Internet. How can people avoid being hacked, losing data and privacy or having their identities stolen? This could be particularly important right now as more people work from home. What should non-tech types know before they select a system?
Capecelatro: This is especially critical right now with people working from home and hosting virtual meetings. There is also the psychological effect for families now placing more importance on their home being a safe space in the midst of the pandemic. It is unnerving when conversations behind closed doors lead to unsolicited advertisements.
Looking at the landscape logically, opting for retail products that are offered by companies that focus on selling you goods or marketing your data to third party advertisers exposes you to more risk. For those clients seeking as secure of an experience as possible, I would recommend choosing a professionally-installed solution.
Gold: What should parents of young children know about smart home technology and wellness at home, both in terms of what it can offer and avoiding problems?
Smart home technology can include indoor air quality monitors to support your family’s health.
Airthings/GreenRoom // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press) (c) J. Gold
Capecelatro: Like anything else in life, too much of a good thing is bad. Technology is no different and it is important that children put down any handheld screens disseminating harmful blue light prior to bedtime. One of the primary aims of wellness is to ensure that members of the home receive the rest they need to recharge and reboot their internal systems. For everyone in the home, and especially growing children, optimizing sleeping conditions with the proper environmental technologies is vitally important to syncing the body’s rhythms. Between tuning lights to a soft warm temperature, ensuring the air quality is at a healthy level, playing soothing white noise on surround systems, and more, parents can provide the conditions necessary for their children’s bodies to get the rest they need to continue developing.
Gold: What should seniors or their caregivers know about smart home technology and wellness at home, both in terms of what it can offer and avoiding problems?
Capecelatro: Baby boomers’ needs are relatively simple, revolving around the desire to easily control their environment while living independently for as long as possible. Of all the smart home technologies, voice control has resonated with seniors because it is an intuitive means of control that they have already been using their entire lives. With little learning necessary to interact with a suite of connected devices, the home is more accessible than ever for a generation of users seeking comfort from their surroundings. For the elderly who may have physical limitations like poor vision, difficulty moving around, or loss of dexterity, voice provides a way to avoid navigating complex manual interfaces that can lead to confusion.
For family members and caregivers, smart home technology offers them a way to check in remotely to ensure that seniors are doing alright. With user access to view cameras, motion sensors, and overall activity, they are able to make sure that all is well when they are not able to be there in person.