A truly smart home should be independent and autonomous. Modern smart homes, often dependent on online connectivity, face significant risks such as functionality loss during outages and privacy breaches. There’s a need for tech companies to refocus on local, offline operability without compromising convenience and functionality.
Your smart home likely depends on an electronic brain thousands of miles away. But as we grow more dependent on home automation, it’s crucial that our smart homes continue to work even if the internet is down.
A Truly Smart Home Should Function On Its Own
A smart home should be more than just a collection of connected devices; it should be an entity capable of making life easier, more efficient, and more comfortable—all while functioning autonomously. That’s a smart home design school of thought we saw decades ago in the “House of the Future,” designed by architect Charles Schiffner in the late 1970s, but that has been lost in modern smart home design.
Built as a testbed for automation technologies of the time, the house was not only innovative but the first microprocessor-controlled home. Powered by five microcomputers, it could manage climate control, operate doors and windows, and even dial emergency services.
Schiffner’s computer, known as Tukee, wasn’t just an addition to the house—it was the house. This vision captures the essence of what a smart home should be—intuitive, autonomous, and personalized to individual needs.
Modern Smart Homes Are Too Internet Dependent
Modern off-the-shelf smart homes are fundamentally dependent on internet connectivity. From voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa to smart thermostats like Nest, these devices require a constant internet connection to function fully. This dependence on online connectivity exposes users to several risks, including the loss of functionality during network outages and even potential breaches of privacy.
A case in point is a recent incident involving an Amazon Echo user, Brandon Jackson, who found himself locked out of his own home due to a misunderstanding with an Amazon delivery driver. This unfortunate circumstance raises serious questions about the current dependency of smart home technology on internet connectivity and centralized control. While that particular case might be an isolated incident, it certainly highlights how our dependence on cloud-based smart home technology can prove very problematic when the system becomes inaccessible for whatever reason.
That doesn’t mean your only options are to remain in the technology stone age or completely bare your digital soul to our corporate overlords. If you’re willing to roll your own smart home solution, get your hands dirty with solutions that aren’t plug-and-play, and spend the time needed to research, plan, and execute a customer home automation setup, then you’ll be sitting pretty.
Of course, that shouldn’t be necessary, but as you’ll see a little later, a small handful of companies are trying to make true local home automation a little less painful (and expensive) to implement.
Always-Online Devices Are a Privacy Concern
With always-online devices comes the possibility of data leaks and privacy invasions. Our homes are our sanctuaries, the places where we should have absolute control over our privacy. But with current smart home technologies, that control is often handed over to tech companies and their ever-watching servers.
Think of Amazon buying robot vacuum maker Roomba, and all the privacy headaches this can lead to. Ditto for the Ring doorbells. What about Google’s speakers recording all the time? We could honestly keep listing these privacy snafus all day, but the point should be clear. As soon as data about what goes on in your home leaves the premises, you have no control over it anymore, and anyone should be worried about this.
The Importance of Local Control for Smart Homes
Local control in smart homes not only offers potential solutions to connectivity and privacy issues, but also, crucially, adds an element of reliability. If the smart systems are based in the house, you’re in control, not a distant server or a tech company’s policies.
Some companies, like Hubitat and Home Assistant, offer some automation from a local control, privacy-first perspective. While such platforms are veritable Swiss Army knives of home automation, there’s a reason the majority of people aren’t running them. It’s nowhere near as simple or inexpensive as buying a bunch of cloud-dependent smart home gadgets off Amazon, and it requires you wrestle with plugins, potentially dig into bits of code yourself, more deeply research products for compatibility, and so on.
But for the smart home enthusiasts who dive into it, it’s more than worth it as it results in a home that’s not crippled by network outages or requires you to hand over piles of personal data to companies (or the hackers that intrude upon them).
The Challenges to Creating a Smart Home That Works Offline
Creating a smart home that can operate entirely offline is easier said than done. Although we just highlighted some of the smart home projects, like Home Assistant, that people use to build offline smart home systems, in doing so, they leave a lot of the modern functionality we’ve come to know and love on the table.
Modern smart devices are designed to leverage the power of cloud computing with AI algorithms that learn from vast amounts of aggregated data. The onus is on tech companies to develop devices that can operate independently while still providing the convenience and functionality users have come to expect.
Then again, we’re seeing more local AI processing power in our devices. For example, Apple’s Core ML lets developers run AI algorithms locally on your Apple device, so that things like speech recognition or translation can run without an internet connection to the cloud. It’s also possible to run generative AI Large Language Models (think ChatGPT) on your home computer, which might be another component of local control for future smart homes.
An internet connection is certainly an essential part of modern life, but it should never be so essential that being disconnected means you can’t open a door, turn on the lights, or turn off your devices.