The promise of the smart home movement is enormous, not least in its potential to facilitate a shift away from centralised energy market models and empower homeowners to take control of their energy usage. But, as we heard during the launch of the Smart Lives report at Edelman during London Technology Week, the shift to decentralised or even distributed models won’t be plain sailing.
The Smart Lives team at Goldsmiths and the Energy Saving Trust undertook an in-depth behavioural trial of smart home technologies to uncover how people engage with smart technologies, providing insights into how consumers discover and experience smart home innovation.
The team found that harnessing the power of smart home technologies for meaningful impact in individual lives is about more than having access to available and affordable technologies. It also requires recognition that consumer behaviour doesn’t always tally with goals and intentions.
Simply giving someone a smart device won’t necessarily mean that they engage with it. It will depend on how they relate with the information they get from it. And while the future of smart technology is headed toward remote automation, consumer trust in the technology and how companies use data is still a long way off. And this is where communications can play a particularly vital role.
According to Edelman’s 2015 Trust Barometer, the general public contend that the current pace of development and change in UK business and industry is too fast by a 2-1 margin. And some home tech developers are already recognising this. As Tim Cantle-Jones, CEO, FutureEnergy, says in the report: “The benefits of why consumers should invest money and time needs to be more creatively addressed in the market.”
One of the key dynamics of the smart cities movement has been to listen to the needs of citizens and to build organically from the bottom up. At the home level, too, consumers need to be consulted from the start: firstly to identify which aspects of their home lives can be configured and secondly to build trust.
The Smart Lives report cites the impending UK smart meter roll out as a case in point: “If the Government is targeting 2020 for a smart meter in every UK home, the technology rollout needs to be complemented by a campaign to explain, inform and educate.”
Smart engagement requires both technical and social evolution. Households must have the collective willingness, skill-set and resources to engage with smart technologies at a level that makes sense for them.
Our capacity to build smart environments actually has little do with technology; if the community isn’t willing to engage, smart will never become a reality. We need to first create a framework through which people can make decisions. Borrowing from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, building trust in smart home technologies will ultimately require a renewed social contract.