New research  from ABI says 1.8 million home automation systems will ship around the entire world this year. Given the number of homes in the world, that's really not that many. Things are about to change, though--ABI's five-year prediction sees the figure rising to 12 million. It's all about new providers enabling the tech, the rise in smartphones and tablets, and the push to save energy by wiring our homes into the smart grid.
Phone companies, looking for regular subscriber income, see home automation technology as a natural fit for the future of their business: Smart homes are all about remote control, and now that we're all carrying smartphones and tablets, the phone companies want to be the channel for that data. Communications tech makers see an avenue to build their tech throughout your home, in a totally new market--it's why Cisco, better known for making routers and wireless tech, has invested  over $10 million in Control4 (which automates heating, air conditioning, and lighting) this year, and also made a deal with maker Zigbee to sell its home automation gear around the world.
Verizon is also pushing the technology --back at the end of 2010 it announced its Verizon Home Monitoring and Control service, then demonstrated it at CES2011. It lets you access IP cameras scanning your property when you're not there, switch on and off lights, lock doors, turn appliances on and off and so on. The entry level costs you $9.99 a month, though you have to pay for and install all the individual pieces of smart electrical gear yourself. Verizon's system is powered by Motorola's technology, the product of acquiring 4Home--an expert in home automation engines--in 2010.
Equipping your home with the technology also doesn't come cheap: A single X10 light dimmer switch via retailer Smarthome.com, for example, can cost upward of $45  compared to only a handful of dollars for a regular dimmer from your local hardware store.
But the tech is actually capable of saving you money. That dimmer switch will consume a tiny amount more electricity than a regular one, to power its own electronics, but the ability to turn the lights off by remote control could save you money if you check in from your iPhone later and find you left them on. Home automation experts Symbrant also note  that a Control4 dimmer actually flicks your lights on and off at a rate higher than the human eye can see, rather than controlling the current like regular dimmers, and that actually means it burns less energy. They quote the American Lighting Association's study saying lighting is about 12-15% of home energy bills, and that 50% of lighting is wasted on empty rooms--a problem home automation quickly fixes.
Google has also looked into the tech, and as part of an experiment a Google employee in this video notes that by better controlling his home electrical uses, he's saved over $3,000 in a single year.
That figure may not be attainable for everyone trying to implement a home automation solution, and the large cost of installing a complete system would probably take many years to pay itself off in annual savings. But the convenience of the technology, the potential savings, the advances in home security it can offer, and the eco-benefits (boosted by the drive toward the smart grid , which by its very nature requires a degree of home automation) are so evident that more and more folks will soon be living in a robot.
[Image: Flickr user Marcin Wichary ]