In a move that could cause a slight tinge of Orwellian panic in some, Telecom Digital Ventures (TDV) has confirmed that it is trialling a SmartHome prototype called DigiLife to determine if it has a place in the Kiwi market.
Headed by Will Farrell-Green, the DigiLife team will over the next month monitor 20 to 30 Kiwi homes using the technology.
“We haven’t made any decisions as to whether DigiLife will be offered commercially,” says Farrell-Green. “This is really a test to see if we can launch the venture at some stage in the future.”
He says that the trial is being used to determine the efficacy of the system in terms of the main areas of utility for SmartHome systems.
“We’ve defined three macro groups or areas of focus that we will consider during the trial. The first is security and monitoring in terms of cameras and motion sensors. In this regard, we aren’t interested in professional systems. It’s more just a case of basic video being streamed or a still image being sent to a mobile phone. And the other two areas we will be investigating are home automation and energy management.”
He says that automation involves controlling electrical devices and appliances in the house through a centralised operating system. This includes simple applications such as turning lights or heaters on and off, and more complex examples such as logging onto the internet to stream a show on the television.
The energy management aspect is based on the premise that it will give Kiwis more control over what they spend on power in a given month. Being able to keep track of monthly expenses will allow users to avoid the bill shock that often accompanies over-usage.
While such a system might sound expensive, Farrell-Green says that his team aims to minimise the costs of DigiLife to make it affordable enough for the average consumer.
“Traditionally, SmartHome systems have been every expensive, but we want to develop a mass offering. So what we aim to do is make everything connected via a smartphone.”
If this mobile-centric strategy does come to fruition, then it could open the doors to a wide range of additional uses for smartphones. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine homeowners turning on their heaters before arriving home; a push notification on their mobile phones could serve as a reminder that their lights are on; a message alert could notify them of activity at their homes; and they could monitor your power usage throughout the course of the month.
While all these possibilities are still only speculative, such technological wizardry is already being rolled out abroad.
Farrell-Green says that Telecom’s focus on innovations such as DigiLife and Aircade is part of the company’s aim to set itself apart from the competition in terms of what it can offer consumers.
And while Vodafone’s consumer director Matt Williams has been trumpeting the benefits of being part of a global network, Farrell-Green says that Telecom’s strength lies in the fact that it's a New Zealand-owned company.
“We don’t have to receive authorisation from an international head office in terms of what we bring to the market. And for this reason, we have a bit more flexibility when it comes to innovation.”
He also says that the small size of the DigiLife team makes it nimble enough to change an approach if something isn’t working.
“We operate on a very lean structure. It gives us the ability to move quickly without spending much money or time. We have tiny team of about five people, so it’s pretty easy to brainstorm and change things on the spot. This setup is really helping us to stay creative and continue innovating.”