A lack of practical consumer feedback as to how smart home technology is being incorporated into everyday life has resulted in a major RMIT study.This is the focus of an Australian Research Council project based at Melbourne’s RMIT University, titled Automating the Smart Home, analysing how technologies are being incorporated into household practices and the expectations that they promote, sustain and transform.
Yolande Strengers, senior research fellow at RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, told ChannelNews that they are currently looking for households across Australia willing to participate in the project.
Participating households will be asked to talk about their experiences living in a smart home or using automated appliances, which will involve a home visit and seeing the smart technology in operation.
Each participating household will receive a $50 Coles/Myer gift voucher.
“The project itself really is trying to understand how people live in smart homes, how they use smart technologies, emerging smart technologies, some of which are still coming on the market, and what that’s going to mean for energy consumption, or energy demand, in the future,” Strengers told ChannelNews.
“There’s been very few studies that actually look at how people’s practices change when they get smart technologies, partly because there’s not many people who live in smart homes.”
Strengers noted that a lot of marketing skill is involved, along with promises from industry, however that “there has actually been very few studies that look at how these technologies change how people live”.
“What we’re doing in more detail, is we’re comparing the visions that are being put out by the industry, and by marketing materials, and by smart technology products – we’re comparing those ideas and the visions that are being promoted with how people are using these technologies in their homes,” she explained.
Part of the project, which is currently in its first year, has involved a content analysis of smart home and home automation magazine articles.
Strengers explained that the research team has been analysing the vision and ideas of what life is like with smart home technologies, stating that one of the themes that has emerged is that the smart home is very gendered, with most articles written by men.
“A lot of the ideas don’t include a sense of everyday domestic activity,” she told ChannelNews.
“For example, we also analysed images, the first image that appeared in every article, and a couple of things were really striking: one was that virtually none contained any domestic activity – no dishes, no laundry, no children, and also most of them didn’t actually include any people.
“We were just seeing very nice pictures of technology or really clean homes, not actually any sense that anyone was actually living in there or there was any sort of mess or chaos or activity.”
Strengers noted that traditionally it has been men who have been more interested in technology products, with industry seemingly very much aware that women need to be engaged more.
Along these lines, Strengers is keen to talk to all members of participating households about the impact of smart home technology.
“We like them to do a bit of a show and tell – we find that when we actually get people to talk about these things when we’re in the home with them, they’re a lot more open, and they think of things that they didn’t previously think of,” she told ChannelNews.
Strengers noted that while there is potential for smart homes to bring about major changes in how people live, there is a lot that is yet still unclear.
“There’s a lot of buzz words floating around about it, about it being the next digital revolution and transformative,” she observed. “I don’t think we’ve really started to grapple with what that means yet, particularly what it means for how we’re going to live.”