Hardware hits 88mph

Pioneering new home automation products

Tim Ferkin, Sales and Marketing Director at Caldwell UK, discusses the rapidly expanding home automation market and how automated hardware will be integral in developing the ‘smart houses’ of the future.

A few decades ago the concept of a fully-functional smart home was implausible. Indeed, Marty McFly’s kitchen in Back to the Future II was, at the time, merely every technophile’s unobtainable dream. But while we may not have hoverboards or flying cars, it’s surprising to look at the strides we have made in technology and innovation in the home.

Basic beginnings

The first allusions to technology in the home began in the 1920s when machines such as sewing machines and vacuum cleaners were introduced to households.

In the 60s and 70s, home automation systems were developed which could control a home’s temperature and communicate between appliances. These early prototypes were clunky and in some cases susceptible to electrical interference. Over the following decades, many similar systems were launched but it wouldn’t be until the 2010s that home technology as we know it burst onto the scene.

Rise of the ‘smart house’

The rising popularity and usage of Smartphones saw companies like SmartThings launch to the market, which allowed homeowners to control gadgets and appliances through an app. Now homeowners have complete control of home appliances and furniture – from lighting and heating to home entertainment systems – using a single device anywhere at any time.

And it doesn’t stop there. Technology leaders anticipate the integration of technology into everyday items you wouldn’t normally think would or could be automated to make the ‘smart houses’ of the future a reality.

Expansion into fenestration

Home automation has also extended to electronically operated windows and doors. ‘Smart-houses’ now use intelligent sensors to automatically control windows to open and close to maintain consistent room temperatures, and can even alert homeowners to potential threats such as a fire or break-in.

Automated windows and doors offer improved convenience, comfort, energy efficiency and security – all highly desirable benefits to the homeowner that make home automation a lucrative market not to be overlooked by manufacturers.

Opportunities in the UK

We have invested significant time and resources in researching this market and developing products to meet demands. We spotted an opportunity in the UK for automation and took our products – which have achieved commercial success in the states – and scaled these down to make them more accessible. We displayed three prototype automated products – a parallel opening window, a top-hung casement window and a vertical sliding window – at the FIT Show.

While we had high interest in all three windows from manufacturers, people were leaning more towards the casement and VS windows, which are specifically developed for domestic use. What we took away from the show is that the interest is there, we just need to find a route to market.

Cost-effective fabrication

One of these routes to market is the retrofit market. Our casement window uses the Omnidrive system, which operates wirelessly with a long range on a 900MHz frequency. Our VS, on the other hand, operates using Ingenuity – a slimmer unit that can easily be fitted into the frame. This means the unit can be fitted later if needed, at the convenience of the manufacturer or the homeowner.

Manufacturers can incorporate the operating unit during or after the manufacturing process – without having to invest in additional machinery or facilities – which is more cost-effective in the long-term.

The future of automation

Fully automated houses are no longer a distant dream. Although automated windows and doors aren’t currently mainstream in the UK, they will play an important role in the future of ‘smart homes’ – presenting a lucrative growth market for manufacturers. Early adopters of this technology will have a significant advantage and Caldwell is focussed on developing products that will help manufacturers break into, and capitalise on, the emerging home automated hardware market.