Articles & stories

Smart Living in the Digital Age

Consumers worldwide await the release of smart devices with enthusiasm, yet many are slow to convert their homes into intelligent spaces. With the aid of innovative software, companies are competing to make the home as sleek and accessible as a smartphone.

Since the mid-nineties, smart devices, ranging from phones and music players to organizational tools and car navigation systems, have become commonplace with consumers on a global level. Yet, smart homes, either due to their "futuristic" slant or cost, have been a digital lifestyle area that has been slow to gain popularity.

After ten years of working for Yello Strom, an independent, energy retailer in Germany, Martin Vesper resigned to assume the role of CEO at digitalSTROM, based in Switzerland and Germany, in 2011. At digitalSTROM, a company which credits itself as "an intelligent, easy way to connect all household appliances," he appreciates the challenges of the evolving smart home market.

Why Digital?

Vesper highlights that the driving force behind digitalSTROM's mission is the transformation of the home by connecting appliances with a small and intelligent terminal block. How devices work together in the home is then based on software and even more flexible. He explains that due to the terminal block and the digitalization process, a standard light isn't just a light, but a computer with access to algorithms and with which the technicians setting up the system can communicate. "We're coming from a digital background, so we think about things differently. We are a smart home platform with Open API's, so we can integrate very easily through the technologies which are currently available – also on the web," he elaborates.

For a smart homeowner, the home can be programmed and guided like other smart systems, i.e., GPS, phone, watch, tablet or any other digital device. He continues, "In the technology sphere, the most exciting thing we see for a smart home now is cognitive systems, which will allow applications and functionality we haven't even thought about, which includes the whole area of automation."

Creating a Digital Home

Whereas in a classical home, a switch has one function: to turn the light on and off, in a smart home, the switch functions in numerous ways. By networking lamps and digital devices with each other, the functionality of a light switch increases, while retaining its classical look. It also becomes possible for a homeowner to remotely regulate the lights in their home, activate appliances with a tap, and modulate the temperature of a room from inside or as far away as another country.

For those highly engaged in a digital lifestyle, the attraction of a smart home is evident. However, for the average person who uses digitally devices minimally, Vesper notes that the idea of a smart home may seem futuristic. He states that homeowners tend to choose what they're accustomed to, which is classical electrical wiring, over software. He states that customers prefer to put extra tiles in their homes, rather than investing in functionality, which he believes will change over time. "Functionality becomes an extra value for homes and that's what we're picking up on," he asserts.

Living Spaces With Intelligence

Smart homes are not a millennial idea. Vesper emphasizes that the concept behind smart homes predates the founding of digitalSTROM. Yet, with the development of new software in the early millenium, what was once a concept could now become real. "2004 brought changes that allowed the house to be outfitted in sleek and efficient ways," he recalls. The device became smaller and energy efficient, which enabled its easy integration into the house's infrastructure.

He explains that the key to smart homes was the invention of a patented mains terminal block with an integrated processor. "The problem before was that in the past, you would have extra wiring, which is not really usable for a house," he continues. Thus, with hardware becoming smaller and lighter plus existing software, the possibilities for the home have become infinite.

Spreading the Word

The company is a competitive player in the smart devices arena, alongside companies like Honeywell and Nest Protectors that offer technologies that regulate the home's thermostat with the swipe of a smartphone. Therefore, to acquaint their target customers with their product, digitalSTROM plans to continue their end-consumer marketing. Of their strategy, Vesper states, "We do our website, advertisements, and videos to get the end-consumer excited." Additionally, they have relationships with electricians and wholesalers to prepare and train them to successfully implement the system. 

However, the cost of kitting an apartment or home digitally, ranges from $4,000 for an apartment to $9,000 for a house, a cost which he contends may be affordable for many homeowners, but could seem off-putting when assessing their home expenditures. He estimates that digitalSTROM's customer base currently stands at about two or three percent, because of the company's major competition – the homeowner's budget.

The Future's Bright

With markets growing in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, Vesper appears to be confident about the company's potential. digitalSTROM plans not only to make further inroads in stable markets, but to expand to megacities like Istanbul, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi to gain large-scale apartment buildings.

Vesper praises digitalSTROM's small team for embracing competition, as they move upward, and across the globe. "Silicon Valley is not about a location, it's about a state of mind, and you can have this state of mind in Switzerland, he concludes.