Kitchen & Bath Design News

JAN 2018

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AT OUR LAST KBDN seminar this year, I did my usual tech talk where I show designers all about smart home technology and how it can be used in kitchens and bathrooms. In this presentation, I show how you can control many aspects of your house from your smartphone, and how you can get these smart appliances to talk to each other. Afterwards, a designer came up to me and asked about the security of these devices. Her first question was about smart locks. She asked if you have a smart lock that is connect- ed to the internet, what's to stop someone from hacking it and being able to unlock your house? Specifically, she asked what my opinion was, and whether or not as a designer it's wise to recommend internet-connected technology in the home. I've thought about this a lot, and there's no one answer. This designer and I did talk through a lot of the pros and cons of inter- net-connected devices. For this column, I thought I'd do the same. Below I'm going to make an argument both for and against connecting your home to the internet. As with nearly every decision that goes into each kitchen, it's up to you, the designer, to weigh the options and decide what's best for your client. SECURITY CONCERNS Before we can get into a discussion as to why you would not use smart home devices, it's important to have a basic understand- ing of how they work and why security is a concern. Let's say you have a smart thermostat. First and foremost, a thermostat controls the heat and air conditioning in your home. A "smart" one is connected to the internet. This means that the device can learn what the weather is outside from weather sources and adjust its behavior accordingly. It also can obey com- mands you send to it from literally anywhere in the world. Let's say you're at work and you want to turn up the heat in your house for when you get home. You pull out your phone and turn it up. That request gets sent to a server that is owned and controlled by the maker of your thermostat, and then from there to the thermostat itself. In some cases, that request (and other information) is sent to third party companies like Amazon that run back-end infrastructure for many services like this. Before this gets too technical (and bor- ing!), let's think of this example of sending a letter. When you send a letter, you're actually sending a lot of personal infor- mation to the recipient. Not only are you sending your name and address, but also the contents of the letter and even your fingerprints on that letter. This same information exchange happens in controlling that thermostat. Not only are you sending the number "72º F" to the thermostat, but your message also contains a fingerprint of your device, and the "to" and "from" digital address of your phone and your house. This process of sending all of that informa- tion across the internet is inherently less safe than having a "dumb" thermostat that only can be controlled in person. Let's say you have a different device, per- haps a security camera that is connected to the internet. The advantage of these devices is that they record everything that you have them pointed at. They can make those recordings and provide a live stream of what the camera is seeing to you anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection. The potential security risk of these types of cloud storage cameras versus a completely offline closed circuit TV system is that the data is sent not only to you, but through other third-party storage companies. You may have seen advertised lately smart speakers that are made by Amazon and Google. These are speakers that you are encouraged to place in your house. They are backed with an internet-connected artificial intelligence. This means you can say aloud, "Hey Alexa, what's the weather going to be like this week?" And she'll respond with a weather summary. These devices have arrays of micro- phones that are listening all the time for that magic "wake word." In Amazon's case, it's "Alexa" and in the Google Home's case, it's "Hey Google." These devices aren't supposed to hear anything until you say the magic word. Google recently shipped a device that had a hardware fault that caused the device to be listening all the time, and sending that information to Google (Google did acknowledge the hardware error and deleted all of the recordings). The potential failure point of all of these devices is their connection to the internet. Far more people are handling your data in different places when using devices like this. Even if every manufacturer and entity han- dling the data on these devices has the best of intentions, things can happen to expose that data to the public. Just this year we had a massive Equifax data breach. TECHNOLOGY BENEFITS Now that I've gotten all of the doom and gloom out of the way, let's talk about some of the advantages that these devices can offer. There are many obvious advantages to smart home devices. You can use a smart thermostat to stay more comfortable when you're home, and save energy when you're not. Security cameras can help make sure that your home is secure. Smart appliances can be safer and help you cook better food. I think as designers we can leverage these devices in ways that far outweigh the obvious benefits. Imagine you're working on a home for an older client. This is going to be an aging-in-place situation. Perhaps there are some siblings that want to make sure that their older parents are safe, but they don't want to create a space that feels like a hospital. Aside from the basic aging- in-place design touches that a designer would do, there's a great opportunity here to leverage technology to make the experi- ence better. A smart speaker can be used to control things like lights in, and out of, the home. This could help someone with mobility is- sues not only control the lights around them, but also outside if they didn't feel secure. Smart speakers can answer questions with your voice that you'd normally have to type into a computer. This could allow basic inter- net access for someone with difficulty typing. They can also act as telephones, so one could say, "Call my daughter," and a call is placed on a nice clear speaker. " For each client you design a project for, ask yourself, 'What's more important: The tiny risk of a hack or the added convenience and safety that these devices can offer?" The Connected Home: Pros and Cons ERIC SCHIMELPFENIG, AKBD 30 Kitchen & Bath Design News • January 2018 DESIGN TECHNOLOGY Continued

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