Their roots grew out of electronic innovations just more than a half-century ago, about the time the futuristic Jetsons cartoon aired on television. A "clever" electronically-operated machine could make shopping lists, control the inside temperature and turn appliances on and off, according to IoT Evolution World website. The system didn't go over with consumers, though, and home automation effectively disappeared for decades.

By the late 1990s, advancements in computerized networking would make it easier to control home equipment and fixtures simultaneously from a distance, bringing down the prices of once exorbitant gadgets and leading to the emergence of what would be called "smart homes." Built-in electronics could run the central vacuum on and off, adjust the sound system's volume, perhaps lock and unlock doors remotely -- using push-buttons or switches.

"Smart homes,  the online publication says, "suddenly became a more affordable option."

Yet the smart home of 20 years ago is like a tiny house compared with the mansion-like possibilities of today. Scores of residents own artificial intelligence devices that provide information, manage all types of conveniences and regulate safety features via a key pad stroke. The smart-home title seems uncanny now, since they typically rely on the apps and commands of smart phones. Home automation has become so wide-ranging that a single name is hardly enough to describe all the devices: Instead of  dubbing all automated abodes as smart homes, what about employing "genius dwellings" for the techiest places or "street smart flats" for less advanced but versatile locales?

"A decade ago, the idea of controlling your home's thermostat, lights and security systems remotely via smartphone would have seemed like futuristic science fiction. But 2017 proved to be the year of the smart home," a recent Forbes piece notes. The Forbes Technology Council, which the magazine says is comprised of successful chief information and chief technology officers, weighed in on the smart home industry. "Technology in this market continues to grow leaps and bounds, and Zion Market Research predicts it will reach $53.45 billion by 2022."

The available gadgets and systems can cost from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. Consumer appliance enthusiasts Eric Griffith and Alex Colon in a December article in PC Magazine unveiled their selections for "the best smart home devices of 2017."

"What if all the devices in your life could connect to the internet? Not just computers and smartphones, but everything: clocks, speakers, lights, door bells, cameras, windows, window blinds, hot water heaters, appliances, cooking utensils, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It's not science fiction; it's the Internet of Things (IoT), and it's a key component of home automation and smart homes," the authors note.

They point out that home automation is "exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house — from window to pet feeders — with a simple push of a button (or a voice command). Some activities, like setting up a lamp to turn on and off at your whim, are simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like advanced surveillance cameras, may require a more serious investment of time and money."

The writers rate home automation "hubs and controllers" that can manage gadgets using voice commands or buttons, in some cases working in tandem with "voice assistants" such as the new Alexa. They give high scores to devices that are versatile and easy to use. They look at dozens of specialized automated devices from the iconic Roomba robot vacuum to the "intelligent oven," including:

  • Surveillance cameras.
  • Locks and home security systems.
  • Heating and cooling.
  • Lighting.
  • Cooking and grilling.
  • Health and fitness.
  • Pool cleaners, sprinklers and lawn mowers.

Sign up for our new business newsletter

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.


"Robot lawn mowers don't come cheap, but they definitely come in handy," Colon and Griffith point out. One model "is good for handling up to 23,000 square feet — once you go through the process of setting up a perimeter to let the mower go on its automated cutting pattern. Its dual two-season cutting blades spin at 4,000 (revolutions per minute), mulching grass back into the soil so there's no need for cleaning up or dumping bags of grass."

Forbes, in citing last year as a watershed moment in home automation growth, says 2018 year "holds even more promise for the smart home industry, as devices like Google Home, Alexa and Amazon Echo become more commonplace and artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated."

The Forbes Technology Council offered "14 Predictions For The Future Of Smart Home Technology" such as anticipating new waves of security and privacy concerns, ensuring that smart devices all work together, seeing an increased role for artificial intelligence, expecting enhanced surveillance and appliance automation, foreseeing new diagnostics as devices "interoperate," looking for heightened efficiency and customization, focusing on customer service, fearing heightened security worries such as password leaks and hacks, hoping for a less fragmented smart-home market, predicting a surge in smart kitchen gadgets, seeing an uptick in smart home technology in office and retail properties, allowing for improved alternative devices to clear out new but untested originals and forecasting increased voice-control integration.

Experts believe the future isn't so far away, notably because businesses want to know more about what you do at home.

"Having your fridge order the food you need or setting the lights and preferred temperature for your arrival" -- likely designed to collect data for manufacturers or suppliers -- "is what is coming soon," says Forbes council member Ivailo Nikolov of SiteGround.