“I don’t feel the need for a smart fridge. I mean, do you really need to talk to your fridge?”
On the face of it, this is a bold statement from Kass Hussain, Director of Connected Home at British Gas.
During a preliminary chat ahead of the fascinating British Gas Smart Street project (more about this later), Kass was happy to talk candidly about the real benefits of home tech, while puncturing the hype surrounding some of the products currently available.
What is a smart home?
For the less tech-savvy, a smart home is one that’s equipped with network-connected products – by WiFi, Bluetooth or another system – for controlling and/or automating functions such as temperature, lighting, security or entertainment. This can usually be done via a phone, tablet or computer and British Gas is a leader in this fast-growing area with its selection of Hive products. These include a remote controlled thermostat, smart plugs, lights and window and door sensors.
Unsurprisingly, given he describes himself as at “the geeky end of the scale,” Kass’s own home is super smart.
“I have a professional wireless network running through a mini server room. All the smart TVs are connected to the media server and there are contact sensors throughout my home, a Hive thermostat and even leak detection capability. I can’t say too much about the last one at the moment as it’s a product I’m testing,” he says. “Oh, and I’m thinking about getting smart toothbrushes for my kids. They help turn brushing into a game.”
The Smart Street experiment
To find out how other families feel about smarter living, the Smart Street experiment was born. With the latest smart technology installed in their homes, a selection of families would be filmed trying it out over the course of several weeks to find out how it makes them feel. Is it all truly helpful, or is some of it strictly for tech geeks like Kass?
“I think a lot of people still don’t really know what the connected home is. A project like this helps to bring it to life,” he says. “A product, no matter how clever it is, has to solve a real problem. Does it make my life run more smoothly? Or perhaps it helps save on home insurance? That’s what people will relate to.”
What the project will do, he says, is offer participants different ways of interacting with the technology. Some may appreciate lighting that can be controlled remotely, while others will find the smart vacuum a ‘how did I ever live without this?’ product. In other words, everyone will find their own route into the technology.
But where does he think those ‘eureka’ moments will come from? It could be something as mundane as sitting on your sofa after a long day and turning the heating on. Or maybe it’s when someone flicks all their house lights on from their phone while approaching their home?
“The smart TV is a no brainer,” he says. “Everyone will see the benefit in that immediately. Other products, like the smart pillows or the iKettle, might take a little longer to gain traction, if ever. It really depends on what use cases they solve for customers and whether they value them enough.
Take Hive Active Heating ” he says. “When I first had it installed in our house, my wife rolled her eyes and said ‘not another gadget’. Now she uses it more than I do. She didn’t get the utility of the product until she used it herself.”
But is Smart Street really a reflection of how we’ll all be living very soon? Will tomorrow’s homes really be so tech-heavy?
“In 10 to 15 years, all of this connected home kit will just be part of the natural fabric of your home. It’ll be as exciting to talk about as your microwave,” laughs Kass. “If you walked into a house today that didn’t have central heating you’d think ‘that’s a bit odd’. It’ll be the same with our smart homes in a decade’s time.”
Of course, besides Smart Street being a fascinating social experiment, Kass is also hoping to get some insights that will help his Connected Home team develop new and improved products.
“I’m really interested to see how the families react and respond to the smart tech. We always use customer feedback to improve, and new products have emerged from it. In fact, we use a system called User Voice that allows customers to vote on new features. It’s brilliant and has helped us no end. The new geolocation feature on the Hive app is just one of many great suggestions we’ve received and acted upon.”
Like any new technology, there will be winners and losers. Little wonder then that Kass and his connected home team will be watching the results of the Smart Street experiment very closely indeed.
The project will help him figure out the fab from the flops and we’ll all watch with interest to see if the families involved start demanding those dastardly smart fridges.
Looking to learn more about the latest tech? Take a trip to Smart Street and find out how three families are seeing their home lives transformed, one smart gadget at a time.