13 juin 2019
Technology is changing our relationships with the bricks and mortar around us.
By enabling connectivity to be embedded into physical devices, the IoT has created a sort of merger between architecture and technology and, for many people today, home is not just a place of refuge, comfort, or even convenience; it is a fully connected, internet enabled box of tricks.
Yet for all its intriguing, futuristic promise, "PropTech" is still a rather nebulous albeit fast moving concept.
We're not quite into the commercial realms of a sentient, responsive home, which might read your mood and adjust its light or media sensors accordingly, but in the meantime, when is a home smart?
The race is on to install ever-expanding technology: developers of commercial space often look to install open source software in a bid to avoid costly product tie-ins and minimise built-in obsolescence, but in the residential world the proprietary tech brands still hold considerable sway with buyers.
So, while smart PropTech might mean anything from facial-recognition security to sensors that track energy usage, getting to grips with the range of products and future proofing space is a new challenge. How to keep a property marketable when expectations are changing so rapidly?
In a bid to demystify the mind boggling range of tech, there are, broadly, three "smart strands" of the revolution:
Many homeowners opt for a voice-activated assistant to act as a central control hub for their smart devices. Market leader products such as Alexa, Google, Echo or Siri often come with entry-level price points, are simple to set up and supported by various smartphone apps.
Like an insomniac butler, you can use a "wake word" to ask these devices for virtually anything, at any time. They are generally full of artificial intelligence, in certain cases plugging in (metaphorically speaking) to the power of Google search in order to generate appropriate answers.
They can translate phrases, enable voice calls, set a stop clock for your baking or even give price alerts on products you're interested in buying.
House security alarms and sensors can be monitored and controlled remotely to keep eyes on your home and your deliveries. Thermostats, air conditioners and lights can all be controlled in the home by asking your assistant or opening your smartphone app.
Some of these products require a "bridge" to talk to your router, but some have built-in Wi-Fi and opportunities for customised, scheduled preferences.
But it's not just about the mood lighting; as homeowners become increasing conscious of energy costs and sustainability, many turn to technology. In the retail world, it is possible to harness physical footfall energy on the street for electricity creation; at home, smart thermostats will detect motion to shut off the heat when you're not at home.
Smart plugs can make most appliances with a permanent on-position operable by app or voice command. Using Wi-Fi, a commonplace kettle or coffee maker is transformed into a modern, high-tech teasmade.
And outside the front door, as live/work zones become increasingly common, mixed use properties have ever more complex offers, with tailored lifestyle solutions or visitor experience apps that help homeowners engage more productively with the streets around them.
Thinking about the products in this way has enabled us to spot the hurdles as well as the opportunities for our clients.
By making it easy to complete purchases with voice commands, for example, smart products certainly stack the odds in favour of impulse buys, but in truth the homeowner installing this technology is no longer the only consumer in the house.
Every smart sensor reveals telling information about the desires and habits of the individuals inside. Every virtual decision taken within your walls adds to a tantalising repository of data that technology companies can monetise and cyber-hackers and identity-thieves can hijack in the real world.
Privacy concerns regularly take up column inches in the press. Data protection law in the UK changed last year with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
This means that the collection and storage of personal data, whether by accident or design, is heavily regulated, with serious consequences for non-compliance.
Nonetheless, privacy policies that accompany smart products and data collection and transfer are often vague, and regularly pass the buck to third party smart accessory providers.
As we all start to navigate this brave new real estate, we may well find it is harder to control our personal data than our homes; it's worth being clued up on our privacy rights.
The very suggestion bucks the apparently unstoppable trend of increased connectivity, but it is worthwhile also remembering that the smart home has an off switch.
We have all heard the well- publicised stories of unwanted purchases by too-helpful voice activated assistants, or the awkward phone calls made without intention. But we are not slaves to these machines.
The efficiency, even the aesthetic, lure of new technology is strong but our homes are our castles and with the right awareness of risks and the right strategy for security, we can be sure we are not inviting in (virtual) Trojan horses.