The apartment industry is nowhere near the leading edge of technology innovation, but it should be. That was how executives kicked off a session on the promise and challenges of home automation during the 2015 NMHC OPTECH Conference & Exposition.
For Patrick Sudderth, VP of information technology for Monogram Residential, the reason is simple: residents. Technology adoption typically follows a bell curve, with the Millennial generation 2.5 times more likely to adopt new technology than Gen X or Booms. Overlay multifamily demographics and the adoption curve shifts dramatically left toward the younger demographics.
“At Monogram, our median age is 32 years old,” Sudderth said. “That means greater than 50 percent of our residents and employees are Millennials or Gen Z. So what’s that mean? We are capable of getting to a 50 percent penetration rate faster than other industries.”
Technology innovation today hinges on both being web enabled and mobile. Today, the average person has 3.5 connected devices in his or her pocket. (Millennials are working with five to ten connected devices.) By 2020, it’s estimated that average figure will rise to 6.5 devices. This is why multifamily firms need to be looking seriously at the Internet of Things (IoT) and figuring out how apartment homes can be not only more connected but integrated into residents’ lifestyles.
Apartment firms are being to experiment with a variety of technologies in the area of home automation. However, the two technologies that seem to be gaining the most traction are smart locks and smart thermostats. Smart locks allow for remote access to a unit or private area and keep track of the entries and exit, enhancing security. Smart thermostats allow users to adjust room temperatures remotely and can develop heating/cooling programs to reduce energy costs. Lighting control often can be an added feature to the systems.
Karen Hollinger, VP of corporate initiatives at AvalonBay Communities, said her company was in the process of rolling out smart locks in roughly 100 communities. The existing lock systems were in need of replacement, so the company made the investment, standardizing the technology and software for an easier implementation. “The security system used to be disconnected from our property management software,” she said. “Now it’s tied together.” In addition, the smart locks are helping reduce maintenance costs and also providing for a lock-out solution when a telecom component is implemented in conjunction with the lock technology.
Similarly, smart thermostats are giving companies like AvalonBay access to community-based HVAC systems, where they can set minimum and maximum temperatures for vacant units and common areas, cutting down significantly on energy costs, Hollinger said.
However, according to Hasier Larrea, founder and CEO of MorphLab, an affiliate of MIT Media Lab, IoT is much more than just finding efficiencies in peripherals like lights and locks. For Larrea, the promise is in transforming space-literally. Larrea’s company is pushing the edge of home automation and working with architectural robotics to create convertible units, where a simple hand gesture, voice command and interactive touch elements can signal the room to transform. (Check out the video here.) Picture a Murphy bed on steroids, with walls that move, a bed that raises/lowers (or slides), a table that folds and unfolds-all in concert with what the resident wants to be doing at any particular moment in the home.
Larrea said he’s currently working with a company on three retrofits but expects to be up to 30 by June. The next phase is looking at installing the technology systems in new development projects.
“Architectural robotics expand the capabilities of our space,” explained Larrea. “The story doesn’t boil down to square footage anymore; it comes down to how we live in our spaces.”