One only need walk into a Lowe’s or Home Depot to see what is happening in the Smart Home and Smart Office business segments. Formally stand-alone devices and systems—from heating and air conditioning, to smoke and CO alarms, security systems, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, and water heaters and water softeners—are all getting linked together via a PC, smart phone or other connected device. Electric utilities not only supply the power, but “smart meters” report and monitor energy use, and the newest Smart Home network includes back-up power systems, solar panel installations, net metering, and other emerging technologies.
Every new technology has winners and losers. It creates jobs for some, but some will be displaced. Who should be most concerned about Smart Home technology putting them out of work? Who are the Luddites of the Smart Home Revolution? There are only two groups we can identify: All those teenage girls who are no longer needed for babysitting since Mom and Dad can babysit the kids remotely from anywhere, and all those thieves for whom it’s just not practical to try to break into homes any more looking for loot they can fence.
As we do in each installment of Follow the Patents, we look into the crystal ball of the latest Smart Office and Smart Home patents to see what the Smart Home and Office technologies of tomorrow could be.
U.S. Patent No. 9,723,388 for a “Dynamic Intelligent Bidirectional Optical Access Communication System with Object/Intelligent Appliance-to-Object/Intelligent Appliance Interaction“ addresses the critical connectivity issues created by Smart Home and Smart Office installations. All those devices and systems sending and receiving data can quickly create a data stream overload. And each new device or appliance that is added to the Smart Home or Smart Office network just makes it worse. And when the data jams up the system, there is the risk that vital communications will be missed when the system times out.
U.S. Patent No. 9,723,388 is one patent in a four-patent and one-open-continuation-patent-application portfolio from independent inventor Mo Mazed. All of the patents in the portfolio share a 2006 Priority Date, so there is considerable retroactive patent protection. This portfolio shows what the next generation of Smart Homes and Smart Offices will include: An intelligent subscriber subsystem that will provide substantially greater bandwidth at a very modest cost and without adding new hardware. It will enable home and business owners to create their own intelligent, interactive networks without having to subscribe to Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Smart Home or Smart Office owners can add voice command software such as Nuance Dragon® to create a voice-activated management of their Smart Networks. It also provides for intelligent, self-learning appliances such as a self-learning telephone.
This figure from U.S. Patent No. 9,723,388 is a block diagram configuration of a bidirectional optical access communication network (100) with a super node (101) as it communicates via a single node optical fiber (280) with a local node (102) and/or a remote node (103).
U.S. Patent No. 8,890,871 for a “Method and Arrangement for Monitoring the Path of an Animal or a Human in the Home“ addresses a very real problem: How to monitor older people who live alone. Every person with an elderly mother or father living on his or her own faces the challenge of keeping an eye on grandma without being too intrusive. Just because you have not spoken to your dad in a few days does not mean he is unconscious on the floor and cannot reach his telephone. Or does it? And what if you call, and no one answers? He is out for a walk, or seriously ill? This patent from Norwegian technology development firm Domuset Oy shows how the next generation of Smart Homes will address an issue that grows as the segment of the population that is elderly and living along steadily increases.
One option for discretely monitoring grandma or grandpa is to track the movement of their pet. This patent—which is part of a portfolio that includes a second U.S. Patent, a Great Britain Patent, and European and PCT Patent Applications—very cleverly monitors the well-being of a person via his or her dog or cat. If the dog is running around and jumping up and down and barking, something is obviously wrong. However, when there is no movement from the dog, does that mean grandma has fallen down? Or she could be taking a nap. Is she ill? Or just watching TV?
The technology in this portfolio uses sensors to track the movement of either the resident or the resident’s pet based on what works for the owner and installer of the system. The technology makes critical assumptions using a set of algorithms to analyze the data and make such determinations. If Dad always takes a nap around 2 pm and his dog sleeps by the side of the bed with him, such inactivity is taken into account. Anomalies to the daily routine are noted by the algorithm and the monitor is notified.
U.S. Patent No. 8,478,450 for a “Power Control System and Method“ directly addresses better management of the energy consumption by a network of devices and appliances in a Smart Home or Smart Office installation. An emerging key player in the IoT sector is the CEM (Certified Energy Management) system that integrates the electrical, mechanical, process, and building infrastructure in a home or office by determining the optimum solutions to reduce energy consumption in a cost-effective manner.
This patent comes to us from Advanergy, a Smart Grid and IoT technology development firm. U.S. Patent No. 8,478,450 is what is called a “foundational patent” because it has 180 Forward Citations. That is, despite the fact that it is a relatively new patent, it has already been cited by 180 newer patents that were filed after this patent was. U.S. Patent No. 8,478,450 is one property in a ten-patent M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT (Internet of Things) energy management portfolio from Advanergy that also includes smart appliance controls and advanced battery management.
The future of Smart Homes and Smart Office is an Internet Protocol-based system that is secure, yet non-intrusive and inexpensive. It will use a global standard, be Plug-and-Play user-friendly, and be compatible with all third-party technology including the latest electric utility “smart meters” and all ZigBee system components and devices. This portfolio indicates that the next generation of Smart Homes and Smart Offices will include energy management systems that include full monitoring and control of all smart-enabled devices from any location via Internet access, a smart meter control panel that reports smart and non-smart energy usage, detailed consumption reporting by individual device, control of devices (manual turn off or turn on either on-site or remote, or user-scheduled turn on and turn off), customizable display options that enable Smart Home and Smart Office users to have data reported to them in multiple formats, and a smart battery control that insures that rechargeable devices will have optimal life spans since the system prevents them from being overcharged.
This next-generation technology will communicate with its managers via an IoT network using any smart device (PC, tablet, desktop, smart phone, etc.) by broadcasting messages, images or video across an internal network or via an encrypted Wi-Fi intranet.
This figure from U.S. Patent No. 8,478,450 is a block diagram that shows the configuration of the Consumer Load (0104), Power Switch (0111), Energy Meter (0112), and Microcontroller Unit (0113) with WiFi communication modules.
U.S. Patent No. 8,284,056 for a “Product Management System and Method of Managing Product at a Location“ is part of a two-patent portfolio from independent inventor Annette McTigue that does for the Smart Home what UPC (Universal Product Code) labeling did for retailers. Prior to the introduction of UPC labeling on products way back in 1974, retailers really had no idea what was on their shelves or in their warehouses. They had to take periodic physical inventories that were time-consuming, disruptive to their businesses, and wildly inaccurate.
Today, virtually every retail product is identified with a unique 12-digit UPC so retailers know exactly what has come into their inventory and what items are being sold in real-time as each product’s UPC bar code is scanned at the check-out register. U.S. Patent No. 8,284,056 shows us a similar emerging innovation in Smart Homes: Tracking of commonly used bulk items so the homeowner knows when to buy more. A small, inexpensive, weight-sensitive RFID tag is attached by homeowners to large or bulk items such as dog food and cat food, cat litter, laundry detergent, flour and sugar, shampoo, paper goods, and other items so that as each product is consumed, and it reaches a re-order level, the RFID tag notifies the homeowner that it’s time to start shopping around for more of whatever is running low. When the home owner throws out the old bottle of laundry detergent, he pulls off the RFID tag and sticks it on the new bottle, and the process begins all over again.
One application for the technology is to have it notify homeowners via their Smart Home systems. In a more sophisticated, really smart application, the RFID tags can trigger a re-order mechanism that shops for prices and availability on the items that need to be re-ordered. No more bringing home a car load of groceries only to discover that you have no laundry detergent. And by using the re-order mechanism, the Smart Home owner can avoid stocking up on dog food on Saturday only to see it go on sale Monday!
Next time: Electric utilities all face the challenge of line loss — electric current that is lost in transmission between the power plant and the customer. Superconductivity was discovered over 100 years ago, but practical implementations of superconductive transmission lines are just now becoming available, so we will peer into the future of superconductivity via the latest superconductive wiring and cable patents.
About the author: Alec Schibanoff is Vice President of IPOfferings LLC, a leading patent broker and IP consulting services firm. He can be reached at alec@IPOfferings.com.