Forrester predicts that 458 million smart home devices will be in use by 2024, with voice assistant speakers, automated utilities, and remote home security monitoring leading the pack. - Unveiling The IT Stack To Support The Artificial Intelligence Of Things At CES 2020, Forrester Research Inc., Feb 27, 2020
People are ready to invest in smart home systems to ease the burden of daily routine, secure their lives, trim energy bills, etc. The demand for smart home apps is high, and so are customer expectations. This makes companies think of innovative and effective ways of home automation development. If you want to build a successful smart home solution, here is a step-by-step guide on how to do it.
In this article, we will take a look at key smart home technology trends and reveal best practices on how to develop an embedded system based on Internet of Things for smart home. You will discover how to approach home automation development and tap into real-life case studies.
- How to develop a smart home app?
- 4 main technology trends in home automation development
- Best practices N-iX follows in home automation development
- Success story #1: Smart home sensor hub development
- Success story #2: Ensuring controlled access to the house
- Why choose N-iX for your home automation development project
To understand how to build a secure and effective smart home system, it is essential to outline the key components any home automation system consists of and its basic requirements.
Four levels of the IoT app
- The device. This is the hardware used for monitoring purposes. This can be sensors, wearables, processors, controllers, etc.
- The ingestion tier. This tier includes software and the infrastructure to operate it. A cloud solution is usually applied at this level. The connected device sends data to the ingestion tier where it gets structured and stored.
- Analytics. Once the data has been processed, the insights can be presented with the help of dashboards, reports, notifications, alerts, etc.
- The end-user. The end-user needs a way to interact with the IoT product and receive data typically via a mobile or web app.
When designing a smart home app, companies usually focus more on functional requirements underestimating the importance of having clear business specifications. But if you fail to plan for security, scalability, resource efficiency right from the start of home automation development, chances are your solution will not satisfy the needs of modern customers in the long run.
Functional requirements for your IoT app for smart home
- The ability to manage a heterogeneous set of devices
- The possibility to store massive amounts of data
- Push notification capability
- Powerful data visualization for analytics
- Effective and fast communication
- Low levels of power consumption
Business requirements for your IoT app for smart home
- Support across diverse platforms and devices
- Simplicity and availability
- High customization
- Smart design
- Resource efficiency
- Pollution and disaster avoidance
Once you settle on functional and business requirements, think of the technology you will use in your smart home app. Depending on your needs, budget and development capabilities, you can choose from a number of different technologies.
#1. 5G and Wi-Fi 6
Real-time network performance is critical for smart home devices. Connections to the devices are often choppy with an unacceptably annoying lag. Even simple tasks like turning off the lights with a voice assistant can take a few seconds. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 bring new heights to performance and capacity for IoT devices in the home automation market. These technologies provide faster speeds, lower latencies, and increased device connectivity. In the future, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will complement each other. It will allow users to connect different terminals to the network through Wi-Fi and enjoy the high-speed network services brought by 5G.
#2. Edge computing
Edge computing helps resolve latency issues, reduce security risks, and optimize network resources. It presupposes moving computation power from far-end cloud servers to be closer to data sources. The data collected from the device is either processed at the device known as edge analytics or at the local node deployed at the periphery of the home network known as fog computing. Only a subset of data is transmitted to a remote server. Sensitive information can be processed at Edge and only non-sensitive information is sent to the server. This ensures robust security, great connectivity, and network bandwidth.
#3. Voice control
Voice technology revolutionizes the home automation industry. According to the national CARAVAN survey conducted on behalf of Syntiant, the majority of Americans feel voice control is essential in smart devices, especially in the COVID-19 times. Gen Z is most likely to increase speech control usage (60%) in smart devices, followed by Millennials (56%), Gen X (54%) and finally, Baby Boomers (43%). Voice assistant technologies like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have made voice technology extremely popular and now it is a must in home automation development.
Smart home robots will become more common, useful, and cheaper. The number of use cases where robots are applicable at home is numerous: from cooking and cleaning to providing companionship and healthcare. Thanks to advances in AI & ML, it is expected that nearly 79M homes worldwide will have a robot by 2024.
Assessing the feasibility of the solution
Before getting into home automation development, here at N-iX, we conduct the Discovery phase. We assess the total cost of ownership and the profitability the solution could bring you in the short term and in the long run. Our team helps you evaluate possible risks and define minimum business and technical requirements. Also, we collect all the project artifacts and produce the deliverables that you need to kick off the implementation phase.
Choosing the development strategy
Now that you have a clear vision of a smart home IoT app, we help you define what is the best way to implement it. Our specialists will evaluate what technological stack is the best for your project and choose the tools for back-end and front-end development. We advise on the IoT platform selection according to the client’s needs and requirements. There are a number of ready-made smart home platforms you can choose from: Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, AWS, Oracle IoT, Google Cloud IoT, etc. They will provide you with virtual IoT devices and infrastructure that manages and updates the firmware on those devices.
Also, we help to select the connection protocol, hardware as well as define and prioritize the list of devices the client needs. Choosing the connection protocol like Bluetooth, LoRa, Ethernet, NB-IOT, etc. and hardware devices with low power consumption and embedded OS are the key factors to consider. Besides, our team provides help with figuring out what platforms the solution should be developed on: desktop, web, mobile, and plan the development process accordingly.
Developing a security strategy
The security threats in home automation development range from device hijacking, payment fraud to private data and identity theft. An IoT app for smart home is a complex system consisting of many parts including physical devices, IoT gateways, protocols, data processing and data storage solutions, user-facing apps, and many more. And there’s a wide range of security issues in every part of the IoT solution. To get unauthorized information about users, hackers usually look for vulnerabilities in your server, infrastructure, network environment, databases, APIs, etc. To ensure your smart home app is well defended against criminals, you should implement security into every step of your home automation development:
- plan for security across heterogeneous environments and devices;
- conduct regular audits;
- avoid shadow IT;
- perform risk assessment;
- implement necessary controls;
- configure a Firewall;
- encrypt data in transit and at rest;
- implement reliable authentication and authorization procedures;
- leave sensitive data on-premises, store it in some particular region, depersonalize it, or use a secure chip;
- isolate individual workloads to minimize any damage an attacker could cause;
- don’t underestimate testing;
- enable multi-factor authentication and set up user access policies;
- apply the secure boot chain mechanism
Also, it is important to educate all users on basic security rules such as:
- change default configurations;
- regularly update passwords;
- don’t use one password for all tools;
- set up automatic updates of software;
- don’t open susceptive links.
Building the MVP
Developing a smart home app is a time- and cost-consuming process. Thus, before investing heavily in home automation development, we advise testing whether your future product is viable, feasible, and usable.
It’s important to start small: check what is the required budget for MVP, how many features you can develop in the first 3 months and what can become an MVP at the end of the day.
First, you need to start with the UI\UX prototype. It should be clickable, so that you can share it with your investors, C-level management and test it on potential customers. It’s the bare minimum you should kick off your new project. Also, as a part of UI\UX exercise, you need to rely on your UX scenarios, brand book, style guide, and much more. Finally, it’s always good to show your prototype end customers and get their feedback before starting with any development activities.
The next step is to work on your backlog, validate each feature on a set of criteria: Do you really need it?; How much time and money will it cost to develop each feature?; What can be cut off for a successful MVP? The goal of MVP is to make it minimum viable. Each feature needs to be estimated and fitted into the development roadmap, so you can easily control your budget.
Next, when the preparation is over, you need to set the ground for your application: the architecture, infrastructure, and technical stack that will give you the power to implement all features with minimum effort and maximum quality. It is a robust first brick in your new software.
After these 3 pillars are done, you are ready to start with home automation development.
Setting up the effective development process
To achieve success in home automation development, you need to:
- Gather a solid project team with relevant expertise in IoT, embedded software development, Cloud, AI, DevOps, UX/UI, QA & testing, etc.
- Set up Agile processes: sprints, stand-ups, demo sessions, one-on-one meetings, retrospective meetings, etc.
- Establish the right success metrics and key milestones.
- Set up infrastructure properly
- Incorporate security policies into every aspect of home automation development
- Introduce QA and testing early in the project.
- Establish an effective CI/CD pipeline.
6. Integrating the solution into existing systems
The concept of a smart home presupposes that all devices should be designed in such a way that they can be easily integrated into other systems. Customer expectations make development companies build highly flexible solutions that integrate devices from numerous manufacturers. The home automation market is highly diverse with many well-known as well as emerging brands competing for the title of the best home automation provider. People tend to use different types of devices produced by different vendors at their homes for a number of purposes: safety and security, lighting, entertainment, heating, ventilation, etc. The main thing is that these solutions can be combined and used together with each other to satisfy the needs of the customer. An experienced home automation development company will help you make your smart home app compatible with customers’ existing ecosystems.
Maintaining the solution
To keep your smart home running smoothly and up to date, you should support and maintain all the hardware and software. This includes timely identification and resolution of issues, downtime prevention, asset inspection, regular updates, etc. Home automation development companies will help you take care of your smart home apps ensuring they operate according to customer expectations while meeting industry standards.
About the client
Our client (under NDA) is a leading electronics and embedded solutions development company. They chose N-iX as a partner as they were looking for a vendor with solid expertise in IoT and proven experience in embedded software development. The N-iX team helped the client successfully develop a solution
Embedded Linux, RTOS, C++, Boost, Multithreading, IEEE 802.15.4, Altium Designer, IoT
- Smart home sensor network with a custom wireless protocol based on IEEE 802.15.4
- Sensors provide data to the cloud via a hub for further processing
- Hardware is based on Linux (hub) and RTOS (sensors)
- Project is optimized for ultra-low power consumption
The N-iX approach
The project goal was to develop a system prototype, which allows gathering different metrics for smart home (temperature, humidity, light, Carbon Oxide, voltage, etc.). The system consists of several parts. Hub is a root device which was developed on the basis of micro-PC running Embedded Linux. It manages sensors and provides a bridge to cloud services. Sensors periodically collect and send data to the cloud using wireless connection and hub. These sensors are based on Real-Time OS.
The system can be extended using wired sensors that allow sampling data in an aggressive environment, for example with high temperature, humidity, etc. We made a set of wireless and wired sensors for measuring temperature, humidity, light, Carbon Oxide, voltage, etc. Wireless sensors can be powered using external power, batteries, or rechargeable batteries.
Since the installation of such a system typically occurs in environments that are not specifically designed for it, it was necessary to develop a solution that can work long enough without having to supply additional power lines. We managed to achieve working time up to 5 years in low power mode using a regular AA battery. All hardware and software were developed by our team.
About the client
Locinox is a global manufacturer and supplier of the gate and fencing devices. With more than 25 years on the market, the company develops innovative outdoor access control products.
The N-iX approach
Locinox partnered with N-iX to design and develop an efficient and secure outdoor hardware for fences and gates from the ground up. The scope of our cooperation encompasses prototype design, firmware development, and hardware development. Our team has been also responsible for developing technical documentation for the project.
We have provided testing and quality assurance services during every stage of firmware and hardware development. Our experts have applied a wide range of best practices and industry know-how to meet complex technical requirements of the project.
- N-iX employs more than 1,100+ experts and has the capability to gather and scale up the team quickly.
- N-iX is trusted in the global tech market: the company has been listed among th
- e top software development providers by Clutch, in the Global Outsourcing 100 by IAOP for 4 consecutive years, recognized by GSA UK 2019 Awards, included in top software development companies by GoodFirms.co, and others.
- N-iX has been named No. 72 on the 2020 CRN Fast Growth 150 List for the substantial growth and performance over the previous two years.
- N-iX is a Select AWS Consulting Partner, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, a Google Cloud Partner.
- Our embedded expertise covers hardware and firmware development. N-iX specialists are skilled in embedded firmware development for consumer electronics, wearables, industrial and non-industrial automation solutions, etc.
- N-iX experts have proven experience working with AI & ML, IoT, 5G, robotics, which are essential in home automation development.
- We have profound cloud expertise and employ 300+ cloud engineers. Our cloud experts are certified by industry leaders. Our expertise in cloud computing includes cloud-native services, on-premise-to-cloud migration, cloud-to-cloud migration, as well as multicloud and hybrid cloud management.
- We offer professional DevOps services, including Cloud adoption (infrastructure set up, migration, optimization), building and streamlining CI/CD processes, security issues detection/prevention (DDOS & intrusion), firewall-as-a-service, and more.
- N-iX has broad data expertise to design different kinds of data solutions: Big Data / Data Warehouse / Data lake development, Business Intelligence, Data Science, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, etc.
- N-iX is compliant with PCI DSS, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, and GDPR standards.
- We will accompany you through every stage from prototype to delivery and support. With our Centers of Excellence, we will allocate the right specialists and ensure top quality level at all stages of the project delivery.