It is amazing to consider how many things that we assume have modern origins are actually quite old. That’s because we have a tendency to live in the moment. For most of us, our frame of reference for history goes no further than our own memories. With that in mind, it is interesting to note that the idea of the smart home isn’t a modern idea at all. When did the whole smart home thing really start? A long time ago.
As with so many things of this nature, deciding how far to go back really depends on how you define smart home technology. You could make the case that the invention of home appliances in the early 20th century was the start of the smart home. After all, an electric stove required a lot less effort than a cast iron stove.
Nonetheless, those early home appliances more or less introduced electricity to the equation. There was very little automation involved. So if we define smart home technology as technology that involves some sort of automation, we can only go back as far as the 1960s.
The ECHO IV (1960s)
In the late 1960s, a Pittsburgh scientist and inventor built his own home computer system called the Electronic Computing Home Operator (ECHO). It could control the temperature, turn lights on and off, and do a few other basic things. His system eventually became the ECHO IV and gave birth to a secondary machine known as the Kitchen Computer, a machine that could store recipes and do other basic data-related tasks. Westinghouse and Honeywell were heavily invested in these early systems.
Neither the ECHO IV nor the Kitchen Computer really took off for the simple fact that they were huge. Back in the day, you needed an entire room full of computer equipment to do what are now basic calculations on a laptop or tablet.
The Internet and Personal Computers (1990s)
The next giant leap forward for smart homes was the introduction of the internet in the early 1990s. Along with first-generation personal computers introduced in the late 80s, we suddenly had the framework for building smart devices. In the early 1990s, engineers began experimenting with controlling electric appliances via the internet.
GPS was introduced to the masses in 1993. A few years later, the internet gave birth to a variety of e-commerce sites and search engines. eBay and Google were among them. It was 1999 when the phrase ‘internet of things’ was first introduced by MIT’s Kevin Ashton. Topping it all off was a decision by Apple to include wi-fi as a standard protocol on all of its computers.
Mobile Phones and Smart Homes (2000s)
According to Vivint Smart Home, the devices we now associate with home automation were birthed in the 2000s. They were given life by the smartphone and its ability to make people more mobile. Former Apple engineers created the Nest Learning Thermostat and introduced it to the buying public in 2010.
In the decades since, players too numerous to list have gotten involved in the smart home industry. Google and Amazon are perhaps the two biggest competitors thanks to their vast reach. But even home security companies, like Vivint, are heavily invested in smart homes. And of course, telecoms and cable operators are competing as well.
The end result is competition that gives consumers access to all sorts of smart home devices. From smart thermostats to lighting controls and remotely accessible video cameras, what began as a quest to automate the kitchen in the 1960s has become a global industry in the 2020s.