Patrick L. O’Toole is the former editorial director and publisher of Professional Builder, a 77-year-old publication that is read by 112,000 builders each month. Previously, O’Toole served as editor and publisher of Qualified Remodeler magazine. He started his career as a reporter for the Associated Press in Chicago. He holds a B.A. from Miami University and a masters degree in journalism from Columbia College.

Internet of Things

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February 26, 2014

The volume of technology news from the Consumer Electronics Show held last month in Las Vegas was enormous. For our team of editors, viewing this stream of tech news from the perspective of builders has been like trying to drink from a fire hose. There is so much that builders should know. In these situations, I find it helpful to take a step back and focus on the important macro trends and let the smaller ideas attach themselves to those bigger movements.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a macro trend worth understanding. Driving this trend are new tiny and powerful computer chips—named Quark and Atom—from Intel and other manufacturers. These chips are rapidly being specified into stand-alone devices like thermostats, lights, and appliances, and included in home networks to deliver increased energy efficiency, expanded monitoring capabilities, and greater control over long distances using smart phones. Much of the IoT discussion centers on other industries, primarily healthcare, retail, and industrial sectors. But the residential implications are quite substantial and were put into greater focus two weeks after CES when Google announced its $3.2-billion acquisition of networked thermostat-maker Nest.
 
For those who don’t own a Nest thermostat, this is not your average programmable of old. Designed and built by a team of ex-Apple engineers, the device learns patterns of behavior and use that over time creates substantial energy savings in homes and offices—up to 20 percent cost reduction within the first year it is owned.
 
Why would Google pay so much for a company with only $300 million in revenues? The answer lies in a large and rapidly growing base of installed users. Data from these devices is not only helpful for each user, affording greater control of energy consumption via mobile devices, but is also extremely useful in aggregate; for example, allowing real-time information from whole communities to be transmitted to the engineers who operate power grids, and permitting them to create new and more efficient networks.
 
Another common term for the Internet of Things is embedded devices. Intel estimates that the number of embedded devices will grow to approximately 15 billion by 2015 and to 200 billion just five years later in 2020. The Germany-based appliance manufacturer Bosch recently announced the creation of an entire new division of its company in a bid to become a major player in the field of embedded devices. It is called Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions. They are betting that the Internet of Things will happen gradually, one appliance upgrade at a time.
 
Sensors in a host of electronic devices can not only help put a homeowner’s mind at ease about refrigerators being left open or stoves being switched off, but the sensors also will have the power to initiate actions. One example given in a ComputerWorld blog is the notion of windows and shutters connected to a weather-monitoring device. Bad weather will signal motorized shutters to roll down.
 
Homes will become increasingly connected to the Internet of Things over the next five to 10 years. Your jobs as builders and community developers will require more assessment of new technology as standard items and as options. One big risk is falling behind, and another is failing to meet the needs of a new generation of tech-savvy buyers, the Millennials, who will undoubtedly opt for the latest and greatest in new technology.

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