It seems that nowadays just about everything is “smart” – phones, homes, transport … you name it. The word is being overused to the extent that it is losing its impact. To keep describing everything as smart is becoming, well, slightly stupid!
As a teenager, the word smart was applied to two things – your appearance or your intellect. The latter, being clever, was rarely applied to me. Indeed, it also wasn’t often that my dress sense would be described as smart, either.
Now I am smarting (sharp stinging pain) over reading the word at every twist and turn. Sure, I am knocking the overuse of the word, but the fact is that I struggle to suggest acceptable alternatives.
Would I ring you from my ‘very clever’ phone?
Would I live in a ‘technologically advanced’ home?
Would I travel on a ‘bang up to date’ transport system?
The fact is that smart has become an easily recognised short form for very clever, technologically advanced, bang up to date and many more alternatives for the word “modern”. Indeed, I prefer “smart” to terms such as “state-of-the-art”.
Rant over! This month, the editor has asked me if I have the smarts enough to write about smart homes. Let’s give it a go…
Early on in my writings for REm I came across several instances of developers trying to give their projects a unique selling proposition (USP) by specifying smart technology. I recall that the one that earned my interest was having the ability when, say, 15 minutes from home, to turn on the air-cond remotely to allow things to cool down before you got there. That seemed and still seems, very civilised to me. Reason enough to buy the condo? Well, probably not. But it certainly did no harm.
I first encountered this technology at low-rise condos on the beachfront at Naklua Bay and a housing project out towards Siam Country Club golf course. I would image it is available at many more places now.
A few years back REm teamed up with the folk at Euro Design Furniture to produce a magazine called Design Desire. In it, we featured some of the furniture innovations that were hitting the market.
At the time, the emphasis was on clean lines, avoiding things that jut out such as door handles, hiding wires, storing things better. Little has changed in the interim.
I wrote that smart furniture:
* enables you to do things like charge your equally smart phone without attaching any cables;
* allows you to conceal a vacuum cleaner in the plinth (we used to call it a skirting board) at the base of a wall;
* allows to effortlessly raise an island in the middle of your kitchen;
* means you can conceal your audio speakers (not just the wires) and get even better sounds by putting them in cavities in your cabinets and wardrobes.
In short, smart furniture is in tune with, and on the same wavelength as, the buying public.
Nowadays furniture makers are more like magic lamp genies – your wish is their command. And, if they can’t accommodate your wishes now you can be pretty confident that some manufacturer is giving thought to your desires and seeing if they can be addressed in a cost-efficient way for future buyers.
Well, that was then. But how have things moved on? It seems that hardly a month passes without a new innovation.
Smart doorbells are all the rage in the UK. With the help of your smartphone, you can see who is at your door and talk to them. If somebody is intent on being up to no good, I would put a question mark about how effective a smart doorbell is as a security device. Talking to someone through a speaker on the door suggests to me that you are not in.
Would a thief see this as a positive? I’m sure the doorbell makers have answers to this. But I can’t think of one.
Advances in remote door-opening devices are gaining in interest, understandably. As letting systems such as Airbnb gain in popularity the question of easy, but secure, access to a property increases in importance.
I was made sharply aware of this on my most recent trip to Pattaya. I was letting a condo for a month, but my arrival and departure times were not exactly convenient. I arrived at about 9 on a Sunday night and left at about 2 to catch an early flight on a weekday morning. The letting agent was a friend. He was okay-ish with the Sunday night meet-up to let me in, but I decided not to push my luck on the 2am departure. Instead, I dropped the keys with another friend for passing back to the letting agent later.
I thought how much easier it would all have been to have had an app where the insertion of the correct code would have allowed me access at all times. A device that property owners with just a few units to let might consider.
Then, of course, we have these virtual assistants such as the Amazon Alexa. When they were in their infancy, I recall an incident when I thought that my son’s then-girlfriend had taken leave of her senses and had started talking to a wall. It turned out that there was an Alexa device there and she was just trying to change the mood by asking for some Christmas songs to be played. Panic over!
I am a little more used to them now. Indeed, I even have a Firestick with Alexa capabilities, how switched on is that? Probably not very, given the rate at which technology is progressing. It wouldn’t surprise if soon there will be no need to talk. All you will have to do is think “play Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song” and you will hear the line “And so I’m offering this simple phrase” emanating from the speaker. If that technology already exists please don’t tell me as I would find it both depressing and worrying.
To conclude, let’s talk about carbon-negative homes – places that produce more energy than they use – very smart in my opinion. One way of doing this is to install solar panels though, that said, one of my main objections is that most solar panels do not look aesthetically good. But people are working on this even as I write. Solar panels that look like roof tiles are becoming available but they are expensive.
At 888 Villas Park in central Pattaya they have installed solar panels on the roof of their townhouses but with a surround which means they cannot be seen from the road. A good compromise, I think.
In the UK, there are methods of “selling back” excess energy generated by these panels back to the National Grid to earn money. Does such a system exist in Thailand? Frankly, I don’t know. But, if it doesn’t, perhaps it is something for the authorities to consider because within a few generations, cars will be all-electric and the power needed to charge them will have to come from somewhere.
Carmakers, such as Nissan, are currently developing vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology which, at its most basic, means cars with excess power in their batteries can sell that excess back to the electricity-generating people.
Thailand is slowly embracing electric cars that will eventually see the internal combustion engine (ICE) petrol and diesel cars disappear. The UK intends to ban the sale of new ICE vehicles after 2035. I wonder what date (if any) Thailand will aspire to?
There is little doubt that the smart homes of the future will incorporate dedicated charging points in their design. The UK Government is planning to introduce legislation requiring the installation a charge points for electric vehicles in all new property developments though a start date for this is yet to be set.
I understand that some developers in Pattaya are already embracing the charge point idea. It’s great that they are doing this before they maybe have to!
• This is the first in a series of occasional articles about smart homes. In future issues, we will be tracking or introducing new tech as word reaches us.
By Dave Buckley