Main image of Aiming for Lifestyle Support Technologies that Can Respond to the Diversity of Residents: Expectations Toward Manufacturers that Provide Component Technologies for Smart Homes

Aiming for Lifestyle Support Technologies that Can Respond to the Diversity of Residents: Expectations Toward Manufacturers that Provide Component Technologies for Smart Homes

What kinds of technologies should be introduced to build the ideal smart home?

Homes are inhabited by various people with different profiles including men and women of all ages, lifestyle habits, and values, etc. The smart home will be realized by introducing advanced information and communications technologies in such diverse locations. We must carefully verify in advance what kinds of technologies should be introduced from multiple perspectives including the effects, ease of use, and even safety.

A demonstration building for verifying technologies to be introduced in future smart homes was constructed in Ishikawa Science Park where the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is located. Featuring a layout based on design standards from the Architectural Institute of Japan, it is a living environment that clearly establishes the residents' profile (such as the family composition and the daily behaviors of each resident). A wide variety of sensors and various devices and equipment that make up a smart home are equipped inside and around the demonstration building, and we are conducting preliminary verification of new technologies, devices, and equipment aimed at smart homes before their market introduction. In addition, systems that simulate power grids and wide-area communication networks are also connected to verify that smart homes and society can smoothly and safely integrate and function together.

Under university Vice-President and Professor Yasuo Tan, a wealth of knowledge has been accumulated that can only be obtained by actually verifying technologies, devices, and equipment for smart homes. The professor believes that the role of a smart home is to always place the residents at the center and discreetly support their lives from close by. So what kinds of technologies are needed to make the ideal smart home a reality? Moreover, what points should we pay attention to when advancing technology development to smoothly introduce advanced information and communications technologies into the home to make the smart home a reality? We asked the professor for his opinion based on knowledge obtained from various research results and demonstrations.

What kinds of information and communications technologies should be introduced to the home? Differences with business and industrial technologies

--Professor Tan, you suggested that when developing component technologies for smart homes, it is necessary to assume that the residents have an endless variety of attributes and purposes for introducing the technologies. There is also the "smart building" movement that aims to make buildings themselves smarter. What are the differences in the technologies that make up the systems in smart homes and smart buildings?

The management systems when building and operating smart automation systems are significantly different in homes, which are private spaces, and buildings, which are public places occupied by offices and commercial facilities, etc. This point must be kept in mind during technology development and when standardizing the developed technologies as well.

Image 1 of Professor Yasuo Tan

In the case of a typical home, there is no administrator to build and operate the system. Moreover, the residents will introduce devices and equipment that were not originally anticipated and connect it to the home network after the housing completion. In other words, smart home technologies must be developed on the premise that the environment will become more diverse and complex in the future.

--You mentioned the need to keep in mind the differences when standardizing technologies, but what exactly are the differences?

The technologies to be standardized for smart homes must be plug and play so that they will function in a simple and reliable manner when connected. Technologies that require specialized knowledge will not be widely adopted in smart homes. The introduction and handling of advanced information and communications technologies requires the same ease of use as being able to use a home appliance by plugging it into a power outlet.

Expectations toward manufacturers supplying sensors and other electronic components for the evolution of smart homes

--You pointed out that the importance of sensors to collect data for closely monitoring the condition and status of the interior and exterior of the home will increase in making the ideal smart home a reality. How do sensors and electronic components need to evolve to support the evolution of smart homes going forward?

First, we are looking forward to advances in communication technologies and related electronic components for transferring data to the cloud. As discussed, we would ideally like to install about 1,000 diverse sensors in the typical home. However, many of the sensors that we use in the demonstration building to verify new technologies are connected by wires. As it stands, installing sensors requires a massive amount of effort and cost, which makes the collection of appropriate and high-accuracy data challenging.

Naturally, another option is to use wireless technology. However, even if the specification provides for a field connecting tens of thousands of sensors according to that technology standard, in reality it is not possible to reliably transfer data of the desired size at any given time when 1,000 sensors are connected. We need a system in which each node functions independently, connects up to 1,000 sensors, and smoothly transfers data.

Image 2 of Professor Yasuo Tan

Although it is relatively easy to transfer data reliably with wired connections, wired technologies that are easier to install are needed. We established an organization for promoting an IoT communication technology in Japan called "Single Pair Ethernet (SPE)" that enables low-cost, space-saving sensor connections. This is an extremely effective technology for easily networking many sensors in a home, and we believe that it will be one solution.

--Certainly, it seems that some sort of technology innovation is required to install as many as 1,000 sensors.

There are other approaches for installing more sensors in a home based on completely different viewpoints.

First, there is the method that uses sensors embedded into existing home appliances and housing equipment. This application method aims to utilize more sensors with less investment. For example, in regions where the effectiveness was actually verified, temperature, humidity, and other data obtained from sensors built into air purifiers and other IoT home appliances connected to the network was collected and stored in the cloud of the Digital Garden City Data Integration Platform. There we are linking the data to resident information to try and understand the lifestyle rhythms and at-home status of elderly persons. This initiative aims to provide health care, disaster prevention measures, and energy management to the elderly. In recent years, home appliances have come standard equipped with various sensors to realize efficient and high value-added functions. Among those appliances, some models are able to collect valuable information about the air quality, odors, dust, and CO2, etc. The idea is to connect home appliances to the network and use the sensors that allow each device to function for other data collection purposes. Naturally, it would be better if home appliances were equipped with sensors that can collect more diverse and highly accurate data.

Image of Aiming for Lifestyle Support Technologies that Can Respond to the Diversity of Residents: Expectations Toward Manufacturers that Provide Component Technologies for Smart Homes

In addition, although this has not been achieved for use in the home, there is also room to consider a method that equips the sensor itself with movement functionality. In recent years, it has become common to perform inspections using drones to streamline the inspection and maintenance of bridges and other road infrastructure. Although it is possible to collect data by installing IoT sensors in key bridge locations, the use of drones enables flexible data collection according to the objective and conditions. In the home as well, there will always be areas that cannot be addressed with fixed installation sensors alone. There are also scenarios in which you wish to collect information in an intensive manner depending on the situation. For example, it is obvious at a glance whether appliances and equipment in the home are working just by looking at the movable display LEDs, etc. attached to each one. Installing cameras to monitor each one is inefficient, but if sensors and cameras are equipped on devices such as cleaning robots that move around the home, then it becomes possible to collect information with mobility.

A new innovation in sensor technology and the possible emergence of general-purpose multi-function sensors with standard specifications

--At the current time, I believe that sensors are selected and equipped in home appliances to optimize the functions and performance for those devices to function. In an era where smart homes are really taking off, would there be a certain value in equipping sensors that would seem to be over specified when viewed in terms of a single home appliance in order to improve the functions and performance of the entire smart home?

Yes, I think you are correct. I think it would be ideal if all home appliances were broadly equipped with standardized, general-purpose multi-function sensors that can collect diverse data with higher accuracy even by different manufacturers. Of course, dedicated data collection IoT terminals with similar sensing functions could be placed in various places in the home, but some might be resistant to the idea of placing devices with sensor functions only and the constant consumption of electricity. Therefore, I think it is more natural to equip general-purpose multi-function sensors in home appliances, etc. In fact, some home appliance manufacturers are already equipping sensors and speakers that would appear to be over specified into integrated communication modules in their home appliances. Moreover, they are highly rated as IoT home appliances.

Generally speaking, sensors consist of a wide variety of products that are segmented by function and performance. If the need for general-purpose multi-function sensors increases, production will shift to small lot mass production, which may produce the potential benefit of increased business efficiency for sensor manufacturers and lead to innovation in the sensor business.

Standards and frameworks that should be prepared for the ideal form of collaboration by a diverse range of smart home-related companies

--The industries and sectors of companies involved in the construction and operation of smart homes are diverse. What should be done to ensure that such a diverse range of companies are heading in the same direction to make the desired smart home a reality?

Image 3 of Professor Yasuo Tan

We need a place where diverse companies can develop technologies and products as well as provide services while thinking about, discussing, collaborating, and agreeing on smart homes together. Smart homes will not function unless the collaboration between each company progresses smoothly, so each company must advance their development and commercialization while accepting the positions of the other companies. It is important to clarify the overall map for making the smart home a reality, the role and position of each industry, and clarify where we stand to move in the consensus direction. Some aspects that are not covered by any business are likely to appear, so I think that the universities and the government need to provide a direction in such areas. In the Smart Home Board of the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA), this is exactly the kind of activity that we carry out to promote consensus across industries and sectors.

--What kinds of roles do you expect suppliers to play in supplying technologies that are essential to smart homes such as sensors and electronic components, etc. that are essential for implementing communication functions?

First, the device manufacturers tend to participate in business-to-business collaborations and industry organization initiatives only after they have an idea of ​​the scale of the application market. I think that the system evolution will accelerate from the device level if they jointly participate from the stage of creating future markets like smart homes. At that time, we will be discussing the ideal form of the entire smart home system, so I hope that device developers with system-oriented ideas will participate.

In the Society 5.0 era, all types of devices, systems, and even government systems will become digitally connected. I hope that together we can gain insight not only into the business that is right in front of us, but also into the kinds of devices that will be needed in the coming era.

Summary: contributing to the advancement and adoption of the smart home through the evolution of sensors and other electronic components

According to Professor Tan, it is necessary to use a large number of diverse sensors in smart homes in order for the system to watch over the condition and status of the residents. However, he also indicates that in order to more smoothly introduce and operate advanced information and communications technologies in the home, the technologies must be developed into something that anyone can easily handle.

Naturally, smart homes can be made a reality by using existing sensors and communication components as shown by the fact that smart home demonstrations have already been conducted utilizing sensors equipped in air purifiers and other devices. However, in order to improve the smart home to reach a more advanced level and spread the concept to more households, it seems that the technologies will need to evolve from the electronic component level. As we move toward the construction and continued evolution of the smart home, there is a possibility that new technology trends will emerge that differ from conventional sensors and communication components.

Murata Manufacturing has developed and supplied sensors and communication components that meet the needs of a variety of applied devices from home appliances to advanced equipment used in data centers, etc. We believe that we can make a significant contribution to the development and supply of new components required for the smart home.

Yasuo Tan

Vice-President, Professor, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Director of Center for Digitalization Endeavors, Director of Center for Innovative Distance Education and Research, Director of Headquarters for Digital Transformation, and Director of Center for Reskill & Recurrent Education of Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and Manager of the Smart Home Board of the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA)

Photo provided by: National Institute of Information and Communications Technology

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