Sooner or later we will all have smart homes – as featured on a World Cup ad. But is that realistic now? How much does a smart home cost – and would we be better off ordering our own groceries?

By Mark Richards

If you have been watching the World Cup – and my wife has even forsaken Poldark for it – then in one of the many ad breaks you will have seen a technology ad, hiding between the beer, pizza and betting ads and Chris Kamara saying, “Unbelievable, Jeff” for the 4,745th time…

The ad is from South Korean company Hdac and starts off by talking about blockchain technology controlling your home. The family go out – and the home appliances shout “whoop!” and get to work.

The heating controls the temperature, the fridge orders the food – and boasts about how much money it has saved – and a clever watering system waters the houseplants. The family come home and they sit down to a meal – and what do you know? Grannie and Gramps are there too, courtesy of what looks like Darth Vader’s hologram machine.

On the face of it, the ad is ridiculously misplaced – especially as your first question is ‘who on earth are Hdac?’

So we have taken a look behind the ad – and asked two simple questions: is what’s going on in the ad possible? And is it worth it?

First things first though: what’s Blockchain?

Blockchain is the technology that is going to change everything. We have touched on it several times in recent articles, but the fundamentals bear repeating.

Simply put – or as simple as I can manage – blockchain is a continuously growing list of records (called blocks) which are linked and secured using cryptography. Once it is created a block – which has a time stamp – cannot be retrospectively altered. What this means is that blockchain is secure – and it is going to change everything.

Pop ‘how blockchain will change…’ into Google and it auto-completes with ‘the world,’ ‘everything’ and ‘your life.’ It is, for example, going to revolutionise the banking industry.

But for this morning, let us concentrate on your home. ‘The internet of things’ will be wonderful people told us a few years ago. ‘Why, you will be able to control your heating from your phone.’ We scoffed at such a ridiculous suggestion and secretly agreed with the sceptics who warned us that hackers would be able to access our bank accounts by hacking into our kettles…

But blockchain changes all that. The security it offers means that a scenario like that portrayed in the Hdac ad becomes a real possibility – and we can let the fridge order the food without worrying about our bank account being emptied.

So who is Hdac?

Hdac actually stands for Hyundai Digital Asset Company and – although the company has its HQ in Switzerland – it is part of one of South Korea’s big three conglomerates (the other two being Samsung and LG).

The company says it is an “Internet of Things contact platform based on blockchain” and it recently raised $258m through an initial coin offering (ICO). Since then, though, the company’s mining pool has been hacked, and according to one recent report, it is ‘taking a break from Twitter as it restructures its social media channels.’

That’s all very curious: it is hard to escape the feeling that the ads are someone’s vanity project. But whether they are or they aren’t, the ads have captured people’s imagination: after all, there is the daughter choosing her clothes in a virtual wardrobe and – thanks to blockchain – the house is totally secure.

Hdac blockchain

The chain with data. 3D illustration

So could it happen in your house?

‘Yes’ is the simple answer. There is no reason at all why your fridge should not scan its contents and order what you need. And yes, it will be capable of comparing prices from several different suppliers.

Total security as your devices talk to each other – or at least, security that is more secure than Hdac’s mining pool was? Back in February Comcast revealed that it would offer a blockchain-powered security service for smart home customers. Essentially, this would allow all the smart devices in your home to have ‘permission’ to talk to each other and, presumably, certain members of the family and the relevant suppliers.

Everything in the Hdac ad is possible and the technology exists. The big question is …

Is it worth it?

How cool is that? You come in from an evening out and the fridge tells you that it has re-stocked itself, the delivery will be here in the morning and what is more, it saved £1.89 by shopping at Asda instead of Tesco. Meanwhile, the watering system has watered your plants and tells you that it used 10.8p worth of water and has already paid the water company for you.

Life cannot get much better – except that you paid £1,000 for the smart fridge and another £1,000 for the smart watering system.

Maybe you could have done it yourself and saved some money on the smart appliances…

It is very difficult to get an accurate estimate of what a ‘smart home’ costs. It is almost like asking, ‘how much does a car cost?’

But researching on the web for a system that includes the ‘basics’ of a smart home – a thermostat that adjusts according to your work schedule, a sensor that calls your smartphone and gives you an image of who’s ringing your doorbell, a fridge that keeps a running inventory and suggests healthy menu choices – I came up with a national average in the US (for the system, not the appliances) of $1,140 – with a range quoted from as low as $400 up to around $2,000 (although go for the Full Monty which also takes care of your pool, water your garden and control the speakers in your home cinema and you’re heading up towards $15,000. Converting that to the UK we have an average cost of £860, with a top end of £1,500, going right up to £11,500 if you have just won the Euromillions…

And then you add on the monthly running costs: £100 per month seems a reasonable starting point. Which means that most of us we would be better off ordering our own groceries and watering our own plants.

But as the old saying goes, “Nothing can resist the power of an idea whose time has come.” The cost of smart homes will unquestionably come down, and my children will undoubtedly turn to each other and laugh: “Remember how Dad used to go to the supermarket?” The only question is, will they invite me round to dinner? Or by that time, will I just be a hologram?