Author: keelanbourke

Industry Competition Part 2: European Companies

While smart homes are becoming more commercialised in the US, there are a significant number of smart home companies from Europe. By 2020 the expected revenue of the European Smart Home industry is to be $13.81 billion (marketsandmarkets.com1). Some of the companies include Siemens (Germany), Schnieder Electric S.A. (France) and Ingersoll-Rand PLC. (Ireland). The main areas of smart home innovation in Europe include security, entertainment and the increasing level of government regulation. While smart home appliances are available in Europe, the cost of installation is still high and therefore adoption of these appliances to the market are slow.

Siemens are a German company founded in 1947 operating from Munich and Berlin. It is Europe’s largest engineering company. They are involved in developing the centralised management of building systems including light, heat and electricity. In compliance with an EU directive in 2002 to increase the efficiency of buildings Siemens were given certification by the EU to begin producing electric individual zone controllers ( These controllers are able to regulate building systems like heating radiators and cooling systems. These controllers are usually installed in new, large buildings such as shopping centres, stadiums, hotels or leisure centres. Siemens are looking to see how these systems can be implemented on a smaller scale to a wider group of customers.

Schnieder Electric S.A. are also involved in controlling heating and electricity in building through centralized controls. They aim their products towards customers who are environmentally conscious and do not wish to waste electricity. One product that Schnieder Electric make is their solar photovoltaic panels. These are marketed towards residential housing or small businesses. These panels can provide electricity to an entire house, reducing the customer’s electricity bill by 100%.

Ingersoll-Rand PLC is an Irish company established in 1871 who are one of the top providers of smart home systems in Europe (Wikipedia).  Its global headquarters are located in Sword, County Dublin. The company has grown from strength to strength over the years and in 2011 it employed over  52,000 people worldwide (Wikipedia). The company developed Nexia which is a control system that consumers can use to remotely control home appliances ( The product is sold in an app format that individuals can access from any smart phone or tablet. The system even includes the optional use of cameras to be able to view what is going on inside your home at any given time. This product really allows customers to streamline their daily tasks all at the touch of a button.

Eva O’Leary


Marketsandmarkets.com1  accessed on 16/03/2014 at 09:15am accessed on 16/03/2013 at 10:20am accessed on 16/03/2014 at 09:45am

Wikipedia accessed on 16/03/2014 at 10:30am

Is the smart home for everyone?


Let’s face it: Smart homes cost. Either you are super rich and can afford for the super fancy all included solution such as offered by Siemens for heating, lighting and security and let somebody connect this to your home entertainment and to your smart kitchen appliances…. Or, well – you try to figure it out yourself. You buy some bits and bobs here and there to not squeeze your wallet completely. Let’s say you have managed to get your hand on the NEST thermostat, the Samsung Fridge and vacuum cleaner and the LG oven and TV. Well – did you think about how they would work together? Is there an app that integrates them all and would let you use them inter-connectedly? Are the routers in your house strong enough to actually reach their wireless connections? Are your devices secure and cannot be hacked?

Reality shows: It is not that easy at the moment to turn your home into a smart home if you don’t have the adequate funds to get it done professionally. Samsung and LG are releasing a series of smart appliances this year and featured them at the CES earlier in January. But one issue is striking: Ones you have bought an appliance you are locked into their company. The appliances do not work with each other as they do not work with the same software. Your Samsung smart fridge doesn’t have the same features as the LG smart fridge and certainly won’t tell the LG smart oven on what temperature to preheat the oven ones you have decided for a recipe suggested by your fridge based on the ingredients in it. Your Samsung washing machine on the other hand, won’t tell your LG TV that the wash is ready. It’s those inter-connected services that allow us to derive real value from smart homes (at least in the current state of their development).

I think a few challenges have become clear: Smart homes are expensive, smart homes are difficult to integrate, smart home devices don’t work with each other unless they are from the same company, and technical difficulties may turn our lives into hell if the initial improvement of our day to day activities turns out to be time consuming and annoying because it never works the way it is supposed to work (eg.Software updates may disrupt device compatibility).

This is much related to the actual smart home apps that allow us to control all those devices from our smart home. The problem starts already with the fact, that often all devices have their own apps depending largely on the manufacturers. As connection to apps and inter-connectedness increases the possibility for hackers to access those devices,many device makers haven’t opened up their systems to home controllers. Now, as you may imagine, having a different app to control your heating, your lighting, yourTV and your security system – that’s not really easy. There are some attempts to provide integrated apps, such as Smartthings or Revolv. While Smartthings provides good software that builds commands through specific needs and moments, it is not wireless and the router needs to be centrally located to reach all the appliances and it turns out to be difficult to sniff out compatible smart devices. Revolv seems to be the exact opposite: it has good sensing abilities and with more radio transmitters than the competition it was able to deliver on all the tasks asked for, but it wasn’t able to understand conditions like time and day. So overall: Experience shows, that either there are technical difficulties, of the app not recognizing appliances, or the settings do not allow for enough customization. Samsung and LG may have at least some competitive advantage in this regard: firstly, they offer significant interconnectedness with their devices and their own software protocols should be able to recognize their own appliances. In terms of their usefulness..well as they aren’t on the market yet, it is difficult to judge their ability to customize your specific needs. Though, even they have to deal with some very real challenges: Software develops quickly and updates continuously, while technological devices are often bought for several years at the time. How will smart appliances manufacturers integrate this problem? Or have they thought about it?  Basically: Smart homes aren’t smart enough just yet to significantly ease our lives. They don’t recognize our moods and know what music we would like to hear, they don’t know our appetite in that specific moment and well – they probably don’t work the way we planned anyways. They are trying, but currently they are still too dumb – and expensive.

Another important point to consider, are families. If you are single – well, there is exactly one way the home should function for you to like it. But in a family, people may well have different ideas of when they’d like the light to turn on in the morning or at what temperature the house should be heated. How are smart homes going to adapt to those circumstances?

Consider it yourself: Are smart homes worth it for you just yet?



Privacy, A Luxury of the Past

Over the past decade we have seen the gradual erosion of online privacy. Recent revelations of a world-wide monitoring system being carried out by the NSA have confirmed this fact (Guardian, 2013). The average internet-user generates a great deal of unsecured personal data. Indeed, organisations such as the NSA are capable of building rather sophisticated profiles of almost all of us. From our personal e-mails to our favourite TV shows and books, all data provided by internet-users can be obtained by organisations of significant means. This is not limited to government agencies, internet giants such as google and Facebook collect data on hundreds of millions of users world-wide. Whenever data is stored on a server there is the potential for this data to be hacked for nefarious purposes.  In a world where internet use is playing an increasingly significant role in all of our lives this is matter of great concern. While a great deal of our personal information is already at risk, the proliferation of smart-home technology represents a major expansion of this information and potentially the greatest threat to personal privacy of our age.

     In order to fully appreciate this threat you must first understand the type of data which smart-home technology is capable of generating. Many aspects of domestic life are likely to be impacted by smart-home technology. Home appliances which we take for granted, will be transformed into sophisticated Wi-Fi enabled devices capable of transferring information. For example, your fridge may eventually be capable monitoring the type of food you eat and automatically ordering groceries based on these preferences (Samsung, 2014). It has been suggested that Smart homes may be capable of playing the role of medical physician and carrying out basic health tests on a daily basis (Marsh, 2001). This would involve the transmission of highly private information to the service provider’s servers. Smart thermostats are capable of analysing user’s energy consumption patterns and turning the heat on and off depending on previous user behaviour (Nest, 2014). It may be argued that these are relatively innocent pieces of information and no one in their right mind should care if their taste in food can be hacked. However, this is a misleading argument. While such pieces of data may individually seem trivial, when taken together with other information already being provided via the internet they provide a highly descriptive profile of an individual. Smart home technology has the potential to substantially widen the pool of information available about us all.

     Beyond profiling, abuse of the data generated by smart homes is capable of producing far more sinister outcomes. Smart security systems, such as Xfinity provided by Comcast, will offer users home surveillance and door-locking capabilities via smartphone. Consider the risks of such data being acquired by third parties. The private domain would be utterly compromised, with the most intimate aspects of a person’s life exposed. This also represents a major security risk, any hacker capable of accessing this information would not only have a window into your personal life but also the means to enter your home at will. While it would be unfair to suggest that Comcast will not do their utmost to protect this data, information of this nature would be highly appealing to hackers world-wide and some government agencies. When such groups set their sights on a piece of information it can no longer be considered secure.

     “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” (Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google), such sentiments are commonly espoused by organisations which collect our data. This statement, which bears an eerie resemblance to a press release from the ministry of love, can easily be exposed to be fallacious by applying the most basic levels of scrutiny. There are a great number of behaviours which are not illegal that a person may not wish exposed to the public domain. The onus should not to be on citizens to justify their preference for privacy but rather it ought to lie on the corporations who threaten this fundamental right.

Alan power


  1. Eric Schmidt quoted by Newman, B (2014), My Favourite privacy quotes, Available at (Accessed 9 March 2014)
  2. Jarvis,J (2013), The Guardian, Available at (Accessed 8 March 2014)
  3. Samsung (2014). Samsung. Available at ( Accessed 8 March 2014)
  4. Marsh, J (2001). Rochester. Available at (Accessed 7  March 2014)
  5. Nest Lab (2014). Available at

(Accessed 9 March 2014)

  1. Newman, B (2014) My Favourite privacy quotes, Available at (Accessed 9 March 2014)

Learning From The Past – Another Perspective

In the first “Learning from the past” blog post we examined the arguments of those opposed to automation and technology throughout human history, and explored the notion that what is perceived to be a step forward for technology may be in reality a step back for society. While it is important for us to remain vigilant, and to question the real value of a change in technology, it is equally important that we do not not understate the significance of those changes that have added unquestionable value. We must recognise when technological advancement should be welcomed with open arms, as oftentimes a step forward in technology is a leap forward for society. As such the second post in this history series takes on another perspective and examines the argument for automation and technological change.

     It is easy to identify the fundamental advantages of automation. Machines are consistently productive in manufacturing higher quality goods, and neither the productivity, quality or robustness afforded by these machines can be matched by their human counterparts. Moreover, the bottom line for businesses is that adopting automation reduces human labour costs and expenses – due to the benefits just mentioned machines effectively make processes and jobs redundant. In my last post this was at the heart of the argument against automation, but conversely I would also argue that this is at the heart of the argument for automation. Automation does invariably remove the need for various jobs to exist, devaluing skills and creating unemployment, but automation also creates the need for new skills, and for new jobs that did not exist prior to automation. While they do remove the need for labour intensive occupations they allow us as a society to advance and refocus our efforts in doing so.

     In development economics the Luddite belief that technology results only in workers jobs being lost is referred to as the “Luddite fallacy” – economists believe that technological advancement will always create more jobs than it destroys.

“There is, say they, a certain quantity of labour to be performed… The principle itself is false. There is not a precise limited quantity of labour, beyond which there is no demand.” (Rasbotham, 1780)

     While it is undeniable that the increased adoption of automation has indeed led to jobs lost and devalued skillsets, as we have previously examined, it is important to note that employment is not the factor that changes in the long run, it is simply what we perceive as constituting work that changes. Technology causes jobs to become redundant but requires new jobs to take their place. In a sense it frees us as a society to chase other pursuits, explore different avenues and build society onward and upward safe in the knowledge that our needs are being dealt with for us, without the need for us.

     Take the case of the croppers of West Riding, mentioned in the previous blogpost. During the industrial revolution automation made the croppers work redundant, and these workers soon found themselves working in the new factory model these same technological changes gave life to. Today these factory workers are again falling prey to technological change. Like a cycle, advances in technology and knowledge demand the need for new jobs to arise, until eventually we reach a point that technology can perform these jobs for us. Our knowledge continues to grow and new jobs replace the old ones – at least until the next technological advancement makes them redundant. Farm machinery replaced the need for farmers. Factory machinery replaced the factory worker. Clerical machines replaced the need for clerks. But machines can never replace the human desire for more choices and better products. Sometimes these insatiable desires are seen as an affliction of the western world – that we are never satisfied with what we have, we always want more, but this is simply human nature and as long as there are people there will always be a need for other people to innovate.

    Bearing this in mind I ask you to once again examine the case of the smart home. The benefits to us are obvious – once time consuming tasks can be dealt with by our home itself, leaving us free to devote more time to our work and to ourselves. Does the adoption of automation then warrant contention and worry? Consider the information on smart homes provided in this blog, consider the advantages stated here, but consider also the disadvantages mentioned in “Learning from the past”, then come to your own conclusion. But do not blindly accept change without weighing up the pros and cons.

Dan Flynn




N.V. , 2011, Difference Engine: Luddite legacy

Rasbotham, Dorning, 1780, Thoughts on the use of machines, in the cotton manufacture: addressed to the working people in that manufacture, and to the poor in general. Manchester: J.Harrop

Cocooning: Will we all end up like this?

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Who hasn’t seen the funny cartoons of fat people sitting in their chairs while everything around them is managed by technology? We all laugh at a thought something like that could actually happen – but aren’t we in many ways a society that already behaves like that?

Just think about it:How often do you go out for dinneror do you get food delivered instead? Or are you already using a smart fridge that analyses the food in your fridge, tells you what you can cook with it, prints you the recipe and times the oven and even orders food that is needed? That new shirt you ordered online suits you very well – but guess what – you got it without leaving your home.  How often have you been to the cinema lately or did you watch the latest movies/football match online?  I am sure your TV is absolutely fantastic with great sound and it (almost) feels like you are at the match/cinema… without having to face cold and rainy weather or hooligans. Home entertainment is also facilitated by Wii, Xbox or PlayStations. Check out this clip about the Microsoft IllumiRoom:

Safety is another good example: Whether it was the garden fence or technological security systems that we can even control when on the run through our phone, or sensors that help recognize the health of a person living in a house… We are spending more and more time at home – even for work – , constructing our own space, totally controlled, and safe and somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. This trend is called “Cocooning” a trend that was first discussed by Faith Popcorn, a Marketing Consultant in the 1990s.

She defines Cocooning as “the impulse to go inside when it just gets too tough and scary outside.  To pull a shell of safety around yourself, so you’re not at the mercy of [the mean and unpredictable] – those harassments and assaults that run the gamut from rude waiters and noise pollution to crack-crime, recession, and AIDS” (California State University, 1995) or in somewhat clearer words: “Cocooning is the act of insulating or hiding oneself from the normal social environment, which may be perceived as distracting, unfriendly, dangerous, or otherwise unwelcome, at least for the present”  (Definition Cocooning).

Cocooning can be broken down into three further parts: There is the social cocoon, which is characterized by retreating into the privacy of one’s own home. Secondly, the armoured cocoon, which establishes a barrier to protect oneself from external threats. This can be aligned with the garden fences, security systems or even firewalls. Finally, the wandering cocoon is characterized by a technology isolating you from the environment for example through earphones (Definition Cocooning). There are also combined cocoons, such as the one of armoured and social, through wireless technologies: You are occupied with Facebook while on the go and therewith let selected others into your wandering cocoon.

In her article “Super Cocooning – Cocooning: It’s back and thanks to tech it’s bigger” (2013), Faith Popcorn states that “Cocooning is not a new behaviour. Born out of a mix of fear and fun, it became a trend identified with cold War unease that led to stay-at-home entertainment such as the first home video game systems, rec rooms and the adoption of home swimming pools and trampolines”.  Ever since, terror attacks, public shootings, pollution and even immigration are all triggers for such behaviour (Lane and Gorman-Murry, 2011).

Now, one might wonder what all this has to do with Smart Homes.There is an easy answer to that question: Technological progress facilitates such behaviour. The simple facts of using a telephone instead of talking to a person directly, or the smart fridge or pay TV, are good examples.According to a JP Morgan Chase Analysis, consumers where spending 65% more on consumer electronics such as TVs and Tablets in the last quarter of 2012 than in the year before while spending less on hotels or car rentals (Popcorn, 2013). This and the fact that people upgrade their pay TVpackages with about 23% of households paying more than $100 monthly indicate that home entertainment, and staying at home – or cocooning – is rising. This trend is obviously facilitated through falling technology prices which make the products more affordable for the wider public. Another important indicator is the Smart Home market value, that is expected to double until 2018 to $71 billion— up from $33 billion in 2013, and $25 billion in 2012 (Weber, 2014). Through the Smart Home we are able to design our house to our liking, smart heating systems make the house warm and comfortable before we come in, we are woken up by a set alarm and the lights turn on automatically, the fridge tells us what to cook and orders food, and home entertainment is as good as in the outside world. It is a house totally aligned to our individual likings and we have control over it – even when we are not there, which may give a sense of security.  We are connected to it and can see what is going on, or turn on a wash even when we are outside through our phone. It is like our own little bubble that we carry around and that isolates us from the outside world. Effectively, it is a way to bring our home with us in a certain way and increase the wandering cocoon, while on the other side decreasing the necessity even further to even leave the house – That’s super cocooning of the 21st century.

Cocooning also has a very interesting effect on our economy. While Hollywood responded to the trend by bringing movies quicker into pay TV (Popcorn, 2013), it is noticeable that certain industries do not suffer under extreme economic downturns during crisis. Industries like that include: furniture, chocolate and home appliances. Companies such as Lindt (chocolates) or LOEWE (premium TVs and multi room solutions) stated in 2009 that they accounted for increased revenues during the economic downturn of the previous years(Haslauer, 2009), as they are the kind of products you buy to increase the homeliness of your house – a great indicator for cocooning.

Now as can be noticed, people like to create a safe environment: their home, a place that is reflective of an individual’s identity to create a sense of difference between the public and private domain (Guihen, 2013). While home technology can facilitate much of this identity and make the home place more homely, it also comes with certain implications for Smart Home use.  For example, the sensors used may be unacceptable for individuals living in the house as they may be received as taking away part of the control. “It is important that Smart Home technologies and home modifications do not erode the sense of identity of the home environment. However, they must also find a balance between providing the distinction of the public and private space, while not making the resident feel like they are closed off from society” (Guihen, 2013:39). Especially the last notion of being “closed off from society” is a very severe problem that may be caused by cocooning and be facilitated through technology. You may remember I had already mentioned this problem in my last blog “Big Brother is Watching You”. While Smart Home technology may increase the ability of isolated people through increased connectedness (communication technologies, etc) it should not become a substitute for face-to-face contact and further worsen social isolation, which is aligned with several health implication such as and increased possibility of dementia especially in later ages (Guihen, 2013). As Michael Greeson of The Diffusion Group puts it: “With all the information and entertainment at arm’s reach at home, why get out and meet up with a friend when you can chat on Facebook? Why go shopping for a book at Barnes Noble when you can search through a virtually unlimited bookstore like Amazon and never leave your couch?” (Popcorn, 2013).

I think it is important for us to consider the implications of cocooning in combination with Smart Homes on our social interactions. Who want to end up like our two friends in the picture – seeing through screens and isolated from the real world and trapped in our own little bubble? Cocooning to a certain extent may be to our liking and Smart Homes can certainly be to our benefits – but it is important to get the balance right J




California State University, 1995, ‘Cocooning – Future Lifestyle’, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at:

Definition Cocooning: accessed: 01.03.2014, available at

Guihen, B., 2013, ‘Human Issues related to housing design for elderly and Smart Homes‘, Value Ageing, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at:

Haslauer, 2009, ‘Cocooning: Daheimistesdoch am schöneste’, Focus-Money, accessed: 03.03.2014, availbale at:

Lane, R. and Goreman-Murray, A., 2011, ‘Material Geographies of Household Sustainability’, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., accessed: 01.03.2014, available at:

Popcorn, F., 2013. ‘Super Cocooning – Cocooning: It’s back and thanks to tech, it’s bigger’, Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at:

Learning From The Past

           Have we as a society reached a point where we are now too lazy to flip a light switch, adjust a thermostat, or lock a door? The recent welcoming of automation into our homes presents the question of whether or not these technological advancements are truly necessary, oreven valuable, for our society. Indeed the question of whether or not this new technology should be applauded is a question that has been asked of countless major technological advances throughout our history.

            As such the first two entries in the history section of this blog will focus not on the rather brief history of this fledgling industry, but on the history of those who argued both for and against technological change, and the rationale behind their respective arguments. In a bid to help us uncover whether or not smart homes offer us real value without hidden drawbacks, and in order to construct our own informed decisions on the matter,we must first consider the reasoning of those who both resisted technological change and those who ushered it in before us.

            While it may seem like a contradiction, it is never wise to blindly presume all advancements or changes truly take us forward, not backward. To explain the notion that technological advancements can take us backwards we must first look in that direction; backwards. To the contention of increased automation that has persisted throughout our history.

            The Luddite movement is one that is both well documented and closely tied to the topic of this blog piece. In fact, the movement is so linked to this topic that today the word Luddite has become a moniker for those who oppose technology. The movement was seen initially in 1811 in response to advancements (primarily machines) brought about by the industrial revolution as well as financial difficulties following the Napoleonic war. (Who were the Luddites and what did they want?, N.D)The Luddites are of particular relevance as they formed in response to two effects of technological advancement that remain two of the major driving forces of contention of change to this day; unemployment and wage reductions.The adoption of automation effectively eliminated the need for skilled workers in various trades, such as the croppers of West Riding, and as such these workers soon found their once highly touted skills devalued, and their wages drastically reduced. (The Drama and Tragedy of West Riding Luddism, N.D)

           These same workers previously held a great degree of authority over their working life, and “shaped their work around their lives, rather than their lives around their work.”(Sale, 1995) The advent of various technologies resulted in their skills becoming redundant while also allowing for the introduction of a new factory model, which we are told “meant regimented and unprecedented work hours, horrific pollution, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary living space with virulent diseases, early death, a starvation diet and a total lack of freedom.”(Sale, 1995) Not exactly the most pleasant effects of technological evolution for society as a whole. Today some of these conditions sound all too familiar, even in the western world. Is it bold then, for us to deduce that past technological changes can be directly linked to the increasingly long work weeks and the emphasis on labour so prevalent in the capitalist model today? Whether this is seen as progress or not is very different depending on whom you ask.

            Neo-Luddism is a more recent movement in the opposition of technological change. The manifesto of the second Luddite Congress branded Neo-Luddism as “a leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age.” (Sale, 1997) Neo-Luddites are not entirely opposed to technology, but are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially hazardous problems. This is not confined to the major changes similar to those seen in the industrial revolution but changes in all areas of life. John Philip Sousa for example regarded the introduction of the phonograph with suspicion and predicted: “a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste”. (Graham, 1999) Anyone who has overheard a Nikki Minaj or Justin Bieber song can certainly attest to the validity of that predicition.

           In 1953, German philosopher, and Neo-Luddite,Martin Heidegger asserted that modern technology had already taken centre stage in society, and that we had now reached a point where all elements of the natural world; land, plants, animals, even people were viewed as mere resources, losing all value but that which can be exploited. Heidegger uses the Rhine river as an example of a previously unadulterated natural beauty that technology had reduced to nothing more than a power source, a resource. (Wheeler, 2013) As before, with the luddite movement, there is a relationship between technological change and capitalist society today, that advances in technology have altered our very perception of the world to fit this view of nature as a source of wealth. Nothing more than resources to be drained until the profits dries up, only to be mercilessly replaced by the next resource in the queue. A rather pessimistic outlook then is that technology may be the root cause of what may ultimately be a self-destructive society.

           That is not to say Smart Homes are guaranteed to turn our world into a scene out of the movie “2012” but should serve as a reminder to us to learn from our past. A brief look at the history of technology tells us no change should be adopted and welcomed so blindly.


Dan Flynn




2) What is a Luddite? & The Drama and Tragedy of West Riding Luddism:

3) Who were the Luddites and what did they want?

4) The Luddites war on Industry –

5) Wheeler, Michael, “Martin Heidegger”, TheStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)


 6) Kirkpatrick, Sale Americas New Luddites, 1997

 7)Kirkpatrick, Sale Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age, Addison Wesley, Boston, Mass, 1995.

8) Graham, Gordon The Internet: a philosophical inquiry. Routledge.p. 9. 1999