A smart nation starts from the home

Recently, the Housing Board sent workmen to install new LED lights in my apartment block.

I'm sure that these lights are cheaper, brighter and more energy efficient. I've noticed that the stairwell lights are now connected to a sensor. When you approach, the lights dial up the brightness.

This serves as a great safety feature. If the lights are brighter than usual, it tells me that someone has recently used the stairs. If the lights brighten up before I get close, I know that someone is approaching.

This prompted me to dig up my old set of Hue smart lights that Philips launched about two years ago. The lights connect to your router via a bridge, and can be controlled via a smartphone app.

You can set them to switch on when your phone is near your home, or set them to blink when you receive an e-mail message. You can also set the lights to wake you up in the morning, and control the colour of each light to match any mood.

Playing with the Hue lights got me wondering why Singapore has not been at the forefront of smart-home innovations.

When Belkin, D-Link and similar brands boast about smart homes, and the efficiency that their smart-home tools can bring to households, it makes me roll my eyes.

Such tools can heat up and cool down your homes remotely, control your lights, electricity and doors, and possibly activate your alarms and video cameras.

But they just don't work here. Unlike in the United States, most homes here do not have central air-conditioning or heating. Each air-con unit here has its own remote control.

Unless brands such as LG, Daikin, Samsung and Mitsubishi introduce remote access to air-con units, switching one on or off with an app cannot be so simple.

For this to be possible, most smart homes will need some form of existing infrastructure that Singapore homes do not yet have.

Singapore's push to be a smart nation must start at home.

I am currently testing Smappee, a device that measures your home's power use and provides real-time update via an app.

It can read and record the power consumption of each and every electrical item in the home, and note when it is in use. The app can tell if the computer, fan, light or TV has been left on when you've gone on holiday, or gone to work. So, maybe, you can get someone at home to switch them off. That is for basic users.

For the next level of users, Smappee can do a lot more. It can tell you if the TV or computer was switched on as soon as your children got home from school. It can also tell you if someone switched on the lights and is taking a shower at 11pm, when the person was supposed to be home by 7pm.

Most importantly, it gives you a readout of each month's electrical bill and lets you know which items are the power guzzlers.

Smappee costs 215 euros (S$325) and this bundle comes with an AC socket. With the app, users can power on and off any device connected to the socket (when plugged into the power point), turning any power point into a smart one.

In Singapore's quest to be a smart nation, the HDB and Singapore Power first need to form a partnership to create a smart home and convince home owners of the benefits of a uniquely Singaporean connected home.

While government agencies mull over the use of big data analytics to improve healthcare services and research, transport planning, urban systems management, municipal services, urban planning and so on, the journey should start from the home, where both organisations can have unique statistics on power usage, and also help residents monitor and control their home appliances.

Tell me if this isn't a light bulb moment worth exploring?


This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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