That once-futuristic vision of a home full of smart gadgets that anticipate our needs, keep us healthy, and save us money is slowly taking shape. Thermostats now learn our preferred settings and schedule, lights turn on and off as we come and go, and refrigerators adjust their temperatures according to how much food they hold.
Such applications make the home a bit smarter, but they’re not really intelligent. That’s because most home-automation devices are loners: They don’t work with each other. They’re made by different manufacturers, and by the way, they lack privacy and security protection. IEEE is working with industry to build an architecture that provides connectivity; simultaneously, it is developing standards and addressing security concerns.
“The smart home is a great example of where many technology and business domains start interacting and leveraging the Internet of Things,” says IEEE Member Oleg Logvinov, chair of the IEEE P2413 Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things Working Group. “IoT probably represents the biggest tidal wave in technology development since the industrial revolution.”
And IEEE, like no other organization, is “well positioned to contribute its technology expertise and provide a platform to help industry, academia, and policymakers,” he says. Logvinov is director of special assignments at STMicroelectronics, in Piscataway, N.J.
The smart home brings together under one roof several IEEE-enabled technologies. Most smart devices use IEEE 802.3, 802.11, or 802.15, better known as the standards for Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The devices likely also contain sensors, actuators, and RFID and near-field communication tags. Taken all together, these will make up the Internet of Things (IoT), a self-configuring and adaptive system of networks of sensors and smart objects. Its purpose is to connect all of these in such a way as to make them intelligent, programmable, and more capable of interacting with humans and other devices.
The IEEE IoT standards and the work of the IEEE Internet of Things Initiative, launched last year, could lead to great improvements in such applications as home monitoring, the smart grid, electric vehicle charging, and electronic medical devices. The P2413 working group, formed in July, is undertaking several activities, including enabling IoT systems to be compatible, interoperable, safe, and secure.
“The P2413 framework will be critical to really getting a handle on how the IoT will be interconnected and which pieces of information will be absolutely necessary,” says Bill Ash, strategic technology program director for the IEEE Standards Association. Ash oversees e-health, smart grids, and smart cities.
Some smart gadgets are controlled by mobile apps connected to the cloud. The IEEE 1901 Standard for Broadband over Power Line Networks: Medium Access Control and Physical Layer Specifications allows for networking features within a home so that devices can be connected to a hub, which then communicates information to the cloud.
The cloud might seem ubiquitous today, but it wasn’t in 2011, when IEEE launched its Cloud Computing Initiative to accelerate the cloud’s development. One of the reasons people trust the cloud is the IEEE P2302 Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation, which specifies methods for cloud-to-cloud interworking. The standard, still under development, defines topology, protocols, and functionality. The word Intercloud in the standard’s title refers to an interconnected mesh of clouds that depend on open standards for their operation. Federation implies that data may be moved across internal and external clouds and access services can be offered that run on still more clouds for business and application requirements.
Smart devices are expected to generate enormous and continuous streams of data, well beyond the capabilities of existing data-management software. The IEEE Big Data Initiative, launched last year, is working not only to support and make sense of all the data but also to ensure that they remain secure. Experts expect data analysis to lead to more intelligent gadgets that understand our habits, react to our needs, and help us make better decisions.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
There’s no better example of a system that could tie all the technologies together and help improve people’s lives than the smart grid, which is expected to save energy, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and make electricity more reliable. The smart meter will be the interface between you, your smart appliances, and your energy provider’s smart grid.
The IEEE 2030 Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System and End-Use Applications and Loads, completed in 2011, provides a blueprint. Some smart meters transmit wirelessly to the electric company the total kilowatt-hours of electricity used in a home. Utilities could then retransmit that information to customers so as to give them a better idea of how they might conserve energy or whether to replace a power-hungry appliance. The electric company could also send signals that turn off discretionary appliances to reduce peak loads.
For homeowners who want to install photovoltaic, wind, and other renewable and intermittent power sources, the IEEE 1547 Standard for Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems spells out how to connect these sources to the grid. And there’s also the IEEE 1901 Broadband over Power Line standard, which allows the grid itself to act as a communication link for power management in areas without dedicated broadband links.
PRIVACY AND SECURITY
Concerns are being raised about the security and privacy of the information gathered by the smart grid and by smart devices. “When these devices begin to easily track people’s behavior and location and exchange that data with other devices, privacy becomes a huge issue,” Ash says. “It’s one we’re always going to struggle with as more and more sensors and devices are connected to each other.”
That’s why IEEE is considering cybersecurity from many fronts. The IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative, launched last year, is accelerating cybersecurity R&D for privacy technologies applied to protect commerce, innovation, and freedom of expression. The IEEE Computer Society Center for Secure Design focuses on identifying and preventing software flaws. And earlier this year, the cybersecurity initiative issued “Building Code for Medical Device Software Security,” a set of guidelines that establish a secure baseline for software development and production practices.
According to Logvinov, those working on the IEEE P2413 IoT framework standard are devoting a lot of effort ensuring that the overall system is private and secure and data cannot be misused.
He points out that approaches to privacy and security are made more complex because they depend on policies within each country: “There are not only concerns about the technology itself but also issues that lie at the intersection of policy and technology development.”
IEEE believes that technologists should help shape technology policy by providing sound guidance for legislators and policymakers in understanding the implications of their decisions. That’s why the IEEE Internet Initiative was launched earlier this year. Logvinov also chairs the initiative, a platform for bringing the technical community together with policymakers to discuss Internet governance, cybersecurity, and privacy.
“I think we will reach a point where privacy and security will become defining factors in deciding whether to buy a product,” he says.
Logvinov and Ash agree that shifting to intelligent homes will take time because of the expense of replacing infrastructure and appliances with smart options. “We’ll see a gradual adoption as prices drop and it all becomes easier to use,” Logvinov says.
“I believe there’s great potential for smart homes to really affect our communities and help improve the world,” Ash adds. “But first, consumers must be educated about how to get the most out of them. Even the best technologies won’t have an impact unless they’re used at their full potential.”
This article originally appeared in print as “Building Smarter Homes.”
This article is part of our December 2015 special report on smart homes.