From smartphone to Smart Home: Technological progress will change not only the way we communicate, but also how we live and furnish our homes. In the Performance Materials business sector at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we are intensively exploring innovations that could someday be part of the standard furnishings within our own four walls.
Now, for the first time, we have combined all these technologies in a transportable Smart House that visitors can experience first-hand. The broad spectrum of applications — from windows that darken at the flip of a switch to a façade that supplies solar energy — can be experienced in a home of just 28 square meters.
Automatic window ventilation
Even today, the industry uses the term smart home to promise technologies that are intended to make daily life more comfortable, more efficient, more sustainable and safer. Also known as intelligent living, smart homes encompass a holistic house concept in which household appliances, lighting and multimedia electronics, security technology and energy supply are digitally networked. The people living there manage all these functions from a local controller, such as a smartphone.
In the area of home automation, networked heating, blinds, lighting and household appliances are intended not only to make living in the home more comfortable, but also to save energy. A future scenario: Sensors monitor the individual temperature in every single room in the smart home, while a central controller processes the data. Depending on the measured values, the system automatically opens individual windows to let in fresh air where needed. Working in parallel, the thermostat turns down the heaters in those rooms to conserve energy.
According to a study by the Dresden Institute for Building Systems Engineering, intelligent household technology could save as much as 15 percent in heating energy alone. In addition to enhanced energy efficiency, smart-home systems also promise greater security. In future, intelligently networked motion sensors, lock systems and surveillance cameras would provide better protection against intruders.
Our response to the smart-home trend
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is also working on how the home environment can be made more comfortable and especially more sustainable in the future. In the Smart House that we developed, visitors can marvel at these technologies as a total experience for the first time. The everyday innovations from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are presented in a realistic setting, made tangible in the truest sense of the word.
Our Smart House, developed in cooperation with a company that specializes in “tiny houses,” incorporates a façade made of flexible organic photovoltaic cells (OPV) that can support growing plants. In addition, some of the windows are printed with transparent photovoltaic systems to help minimize the Smart House’s CO2 footprint. The entire interior lighting of this futuristic home is based around economical LEDs whose color temperature automatically adjusts to the respective position of the sun. One of my own favorite features in our Smart House is its liquid crystal windows. Depending on the light exposure, the individual LCD windowpanes darken, not only optimizing the light conditions, but also providing a comfortable indoor climate with low energy consumption. I described this innovative technology in detail in a previous blog article. In addition to solar cells, reactive LED lighting and liquid-crystal windowpanes, the Smart House offers a variety of digital touchpoints that give visitors a glimpse of many additional products of the Performance Materials business sector — features that simply wouldn’t fit in this Smart House, ranging from smart factories to implants for the human body.
“I believe it is crucial for industry to concentrate its efforts in the area of intelligent living on developing technologies that make our daily lives not only more comfortable, but especially more energy-efficient and more sustainable. What is the advantage of operating a coffee maker by voice command via a smart speaker — when the touch of a button does the same thing, but consumes much less energy? Smart should always be sustainable as well.”
A market with great potential
With our technologies, we fit in perfectly with the overall smart-home concept. The smart-home sector has enormous market potential. The German Productivity and Innovation Center (Competence Center), a nonprofit research and development organization supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), expects that by the year 2020, more than one million German households will be equipped with smart-home technology.
According to a study commissioned by the BMWi, sales in the smart-home sector in Germany alone will rise from € 2.3 billion in 2015 to € 19 billion in 2025. By far the main factor making the smart-home concept increasingly attractive for consumers is the steady progression of digitalization. However, the growing trend of cocooning, or retreating into one’s own home, as well as society’s increasing environmental awareness also play a role. Political leaders have also recognized the importance of the smart-home sector and focused on incentives to promote its growth. In March of 2017, more than 40 leading companies and associations launched Smart Living, an economic initiative coordinated and supported through a separate agency commissioned by the BMWi.
The focus must be on sustainability
Despite all this enthusiasm, it is important not to charge blindly ahead; instead, we must carefully weigh every business decision. Uniform technological standards do not yet exist, and there are still questions regarding data security that need to be answered. This is also noted in a current study by McKinsey.
Furthermore, I believe it is crucial for industry to concentrate its efforts in the area of intelligent living on developing technologies that make our daily lives not only more comfortable, but especially more energy-efficient and more sustainable. What is the advantage of operating a coffee maker by voice command via a smart speaker — when the touch of a button does the same thing, but consumes much less energy? Smart should always be sustainable as well.
Our Smart House proves that we at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are on the right track. I’m proud of how many technologies for Everyday Life in the Future we can already let people feel and touch: They not only are functional, but also make an important contribution to a more sustainable way of living.