Real Estate

If the extent of your involvement with smart home technology is watching for porch pirates on your digital doorbell and setting up a connected thermostat to accommodate a happy medium between your sleep comfort and your partner’s, you’re missing out on some extraordinary innovations. This field is experiencing rapid growth, and wellness – driven in part by the Covid-19 pandemic – is a major reason why.

Many of those innovations will be featured at the annual CEDIA Expo, bringing together the  professional integrators who make the technology work in a client’s home; builders, contractors, architects and interior designers; technology trend watchers, and manufacturers that want to grab their share of a market the association pegs at $14 billion.

Well-Tech Emerges

Ian Bryant, CEDIA’s director of strategic partnerships, dates the industry’s heightened interest in “well-tech,” (also called well tech and welltech to describe technology designed to support wellness),  to 2018 with a focus on human centric lighting. Other categories were being developed at the time too, he says, including air and water purification.

Carley Knobloch, a personal technology expert who decodes smart home features and well-tech for HGTV and Today Show audiences, observes, “I have seen a leap from ‘smart home’ to ‘intelligent home’ — where the technology and thinking have evolved from ‘I can operate my faucet from across the room’ to ‘I can monitor the quality and usage of my home’s water supply.’  Once the sensors and the technology were there, everyone seems to have thought harder about how to have an impact not just on convenience but health.”

Ohio-based architect and interior designer Rose Dostal also saw this field start showing up in her client work three years ago with water purification. Kitchen ventilation was another area where it has been making a mark. (The latest systems offer connectivity between cooktop and hood for automated operation.)

1. Water Trends

“In 2019 we saw a few major water monitoring solutions hit the market and take off fast!” Bryant notes that concern with Flint-like water crises continues to drive interest. “As people gain more insight into the water in their cities or their well water, they will realize that a good filtration system is not just positive for drinking but for your skin and hair.” Another water-related application is leak detection, which can add safety from flooding and peace of mind.

2. Lighting Trends

The increasing affordability, sophistication, energy-saving building codes and availability of LED technology are major supports for the wellness lighting category. This encompasses the aforementioned human centric lighting, (also called HCL and circadian lighting), that mimics the sun’s natural cycle from dawn to dusk, along with tunable lighting and chromotherapy, both designed to enhance the environment and mood.

“What is most exciting about this category is that the cost for the general consumer has finally come down, so that having lighting systems with circadian rhythm is more affordable, and there are many more options than there were even two years ago. The next focus is on the quality of the light’s color,” Bryant shares. (Dostal is hoping that ease of use is a coming focus too, pointing out how many non-techies like ‘plug and play’ simplicity.)

“I think people are still learning about what circadian lighting means,” Knobloch suggests. “They know all about blue light exposure impacting their sleep cycle, but [not] how the lighting throughout their home could help them sleep better.”

She is also enthusiastic about enhanced lighting technology in bathroom mirrors, tubs and vanities, she says. “What a lovely concept it is to have your bathroom help you start and end each day in a healthy way.”  

3. Shading Trends

This category is long-standing, Bryant points out, but has also become more affordable and more sophisticated. “When you connect your shades, astronomical clocks and light, motion and temperature sensors, we get into what we call ‘light harvesting.’ This coordinates the home’s functions to determine whether the shades should be automatically opened or closed, allowing for more natural light and warmth, he adds. “This is the true power of an integrated home with machine learning and analytics.” Smart shading can also be a boon for older clients who might otherwise find themselves thrown off-balance trying to cover or uncover a window.

4. Aging Trends

You may associate technology with millennials or generation z, but seniors are also adopting it in droves, especially since Covid made online shopping, meal delivery and connecting remotely with loved ones essential for their safety. Older individuals are also interested in using smart home features to see who’s at the front door, automatically shut off appliances, control their thermostats, detect a fall and monitor their home security, according to AARP.

“I can see voice control and geofencing in the world of smart home tech add a lot of value for aging in place and accessibility,” Dostal comments, “But smart touch or sensors can also be very beneficial,” the architect notes.  She cites faucets that don’t need handle operation, but can be turned on and adjusted by someone with tremors or grip strength issues with an arm or elbow. (Voice control can also be helpful in this regard.)

Bryant sees fall detection and related monitoring for older adults as a growth area for well-tech. “Add in motion sensors and door/cabinet/drawer sensors to track the activities of people in their home that need to be monitored.”

As AARP points out, only 10% of older Americans are extremely confident that their interactions with smart home technology will be private. That is an area that integrators address with their clients, Bryant shares, working with manufacturers whose business models are not based on leveraging user data for marketing purposes. “All of these point to a consumer getting more comfortable with technology, more comfortable with assisted living, and a lessened perception of ‘big brother watching you.’ When these technologies are set up and configured by professionals, security and privacy are the top priority,” Bryant comments.

5. Voice Control Trends

This is another category that’s been around for years, but is now experiencing rapid advancement and adoption. “Voice through smart speakers is convenient,” Bryant notes, “but when added to other connected devices like locks, HVAC, lights and motorized doors, it brings in a layer of function that can allow people with limited mobility to live more independently than before.”

What’s being developed, he observes, is technology that can alert a parent or caregiver to emergencies and health issues throughout their home. “Imagine your smart speaker or microphone arrays throughout the house that could detect if someone was choking, screaming for help, a baby crying longer than it should, irregular breathing patterns of someone with chronic health issues. These are all on the horizon and coming to those that want the ability to monitor all aspects of their home.” (This can make remote caregiving for those looking after elderly loved ones easier too.)

Knobloch sees the peace of mind potential in voice technology too, whether tracking down where you left your keys, gently guiding a loved one with dementia home, or catching up with your escape artist dog.

Another trend related to voice control for safety and security, the second facet of wellness design, is information sharing between your home and car, Bryant says. This would include automatically turning on lights and opening the garage door as you arrive for safer passage.

6. Health and Fitness Trends

The pandemic spurred sales of Peloton and other connected exercise equipment when gyms closed last year. Bryant predicts the next phase of fitness-related well-tech: “We are seeing companies like Immersive Gym turning entire rooms into three walls of video and immersive audio to surround you as you exercise.”

He’s also seeing smart beds with movement sensors, heating, cooling and integration with other technology for gentler wake-ups and sleep health reports.

Knobloch is tracking health-related trends too and points to infrared saunas, telehealth capability and connected appliances. ‘Whether it’s cooking with steam or sous vide, drifting off to sleep with circadian lighting, improving our water quality for bathing and drinking or jumping on a Peloton to get our blood flowing, it’s all critical to combatting the toll that modern life has on our vitality,” she points out.

7. Robotic Trends

Bryant is also bullish on the potential for robots to support our well-being, he says. “We already have vacuum and mop robots in millions of homes. Eventually a lot of wellness offerings for those [aging] in place will have the support of robotics,” he predicts.

“This video by CableLabs about the near future is what I predict it will be most like,” he comments about a promotional video featuring a widower, his attentive adult daughter and a friendly support robot named Cookie. R2D2 would be jealous!

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Author’s Note: Bryant, Dostal and Knobloch will be sharing well-tech insights and answering related smart home technology questions in an August 18 (4 PM Eastern/1 PM Pacific) CEDIA preview-themed Wellness Wednesdays conversation on Clubhouse.

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