Smart Homes Bigger Opportunity than Smart Cities?

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As Indians aspire to ‘smarten’ their homes, global and local brands vie for piece of the automation action

BuildTrack 360 degree view of smart home sensors

While many cities who have received generous grants from the centre under the Smart Cities Mission last year, are still to take off, their citizens are moving ahead to create their own Smart Homes, creating a big opportunity for Indian and international home automation electronics players.

Bangalore is a prime example: The city has not completed a single project using the Rs 500 crores it received under the Smart City programme. But aspirational home owners have made this one of India’s fastest markets for smart home and home automation electronics products.

The contrast with many other cities is palpable even as a visitor enters: In the arrival hall of Bangalore’s International Airport is a gigantic hoarding of builder Purvankara, advertising their smart homes coming up in the city. These homes under the company’s Blue-Nex brand are intelligent apartments and villas, pre-fitted with a Google Voice Assisted system to control, security, as well as all home appliances.

Global players arrive

Next week on June 14, Hogar Controls, a US-based, Indian-founded home automation player, is to showcase its lineup of smart home controls which bring control of lights, temperature, music, TV, curtains to a single hub which in its smallest form is a simple USB plug in device.

Hogar founder Karan Kumar is overcoming one challenge: the difficulty in conveying to a potential customer what an automated home can do. So his company has created an interesting Home Automation demo kit in a suitcase with an LCD screen which can simulate all possible smart home scenarios.

Earlier this year French leader in electrical and digital building infrastructure opened an experience centre in the city to showcase its portfolio of home and office automation solutions under its programme called ELIOT, short for Electricity + Internet of Things. Jean Thuard, CEO and MD of Legrand India says the company aims to take a share of what it estimates is a US $ 15 billion market for IoT-based conencted products in India.

Indian challengers

Not all home automation are big global names: Mumbai-based BuildTrack, leading Indian player in smart automation and IoT, recently announced its wireless Home Automation System, proudly declaring it to be a “Maker in India” solution. Says Founder-President, Dr Narenda Bhat, “Today, home automation in India is on an upswing, as people are embracing smarter homes for reasons that range from convenience to safety, as dictated by what matters most to them in their homes and for their families. Our Smart Home Solutions offer wired, wireless and hybrid options to serve homes of any size and shape, whether existing or new, for a broad range of features.”

Wireless safety sensors, curtains and blinds motors, Yale automated door locks are all integrated and can be controlled from a single mobile app which provides a 360 degree panoramic view of all the sensors.

Another desi player is Delhi-based EBTL (short for Engineer Bringing Technology to Life). Its product is Amour 3.0 a mobile-assisted smart switching solution for the homes. The product is fully made in India. The control unit is a touch panel with icons for bulbs, lights, appliances etc. It supports five 10-amp and two 40-amp electrical channels, works on WiFi, voice and touch, with short circuit and surge protections. It can regulate fan speed or dim bulbs.

Standardization challenge

There is one problem for buyers and OEM solution providers alike: the lack of a single standard for Connected Home controls: Amazon, makers of the Echo series of smart speakers, uses the Zigbee Smart Home hub and its inherent standard. Google on the other hand uses its own standard for its Google Home products.

Samsung has its proprietary standard called Bixby embedded in Samsung refrigerators, microwaves and washing machines. So OEM and third party home automation providers are having to adhere to multiple standards, or lose a part of the market.

Meanwhile Indian customers who are already used to home WiFi and smart TV are saying: Why only TV, we want smart controls all across our home!” This is both a challenge and an opportunity for a new and emerging segment of the consumer electronics trade, a challenge whose mantra is Let’s Get Smart!

This story is submitted by Anand Parthasarathy. His rich experience, reporting ACE (Appliances and Consumer Electronics) stories encompasses working 15 years with The Hindu as its IT Consulting Editor. He is a qualified instrumentation systems engineer who has worked for 20 years as a scientist on numerous defence R&D projects, and as a project manager for surface-to-air missiles at DRDO.

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