If a fire suddenly breaks out in your home while nobody’s there, best-case scenarios usually involve improbable things like automatic sprinklers or a very nosy neighbor. Worst-case scenarios are almost unthinkable. In both cases, some damage will be done.
But that’s about to change.
In the connected home, networked objects and the internet come together 24/7 to make your home safer, more comfortable, and easier to monitor and manage.
AXA is hard at work at the forefront of this revolution, and we’ve asked experts inside and outside the company to weigh in on how they help make this intricate web of devices, platforms and technologies work together as the home of the future, and the future of home insurance, change for the better.
Connecting the bots.
Imagine the home fire above starts as a result of a gas burner left on by mistake in the kitchen. If instead of a traditional stove, your stove was connected to the internet, you’d be alerted of the burner’s status by the connected stove itself, through an app and you could walk (or run) home to turn it off.
All this connectivity would require a single protocol, or “language”; a common platform between stove, internet router, app, smartphone, etc. This is one of the main challenges for those working in the field of connected devices.
One of these experts is Luc Julia, Vice-President of the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center. Before joining Samsung, he was one of the original people responsible for creating Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, so he definitely has insight into making sure different systems and objects work together seamlessly.
A project he’s involved in, called SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions), is a system capable of connecting various devices and successfully collecting all kinds of data, real-time or historical, from any kind of device, even those that don’t exist yet.
As Luc has demonstrated SAMI is easy to use and highly interoperable, AXA is keeping a close eye on how SAMI may help make the connected home a reality. After all, a connected home is a safer home, translating into less accidents (like fires), lower claims and more accurate insurance coverage, as data flows from customer to device to insurer and back again.
The right home protection, right now.
But what about monitoring and controlling the actual objects in a connected home, so the fire doesn’t even begin?
Yves Caseau, Head of AXA’s Digital Agency, was at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to spot exciting innovations that can help AXA better connect the home. He explains why this is important:
In a digital world… to build a constant relationship with your customers, you can’t simply sell contracts and manage claims. You need to live alongside your customers and offer much more: prevention, protection, assistance. To do this in a way that is relevant and gives value, you have to use connected objects and big data for bespoke products and services that are contextualized… the right thing at the right moment.
At CES 2016, Yves was most excited about natural language processing systems like Amazon’s Echo (consumer name: Alexa), a 23.5 cm high wireless voice command device that helps you control smart home devices across a variety of platforms and brands, simply by using your voice. A system like the Echo becomes a centralized hub for the home, and for the home insurance ecosystem, to deliver the right information, advice and services, at the right time.
Voice-activated, the Echo could quickly help prevent the fire in our example by acting as a monitoring hub to “see” into the home from a distance, while also activating sensors, cameras, smoke and air quality detectors in a coordinated way to detect an anomaly like a fire.
It would also be a gateway for home services like AXA Assistance, creating an always-on, direct communication link between customers’ homes and operators, providing a remote monitoring system that actively and passively collects data for future analysis, and can also send someone to the home to take action on any detected anomalies. It’s easy to imagine how a home protected by these features will lead to lower premiums on home insurance than an unprotected home.
At home with the internet of things.
Véronique Letellier, Head of Digital Services and Open Innovation at AXA France, spearheads several home IoT initiatives at AXA and is part of the development of a nascent, ongoing business strategy.
The company has been deeply involved in IoT for some time, she says, with AXA in France launching a pilot program in October 2015, to improve the overall approach to the technology. Featuring partnerships with companies making connected sensors, cameras, lights and power outlets, including Nest, Myfox, Kiwatch, Philips and Orange, the devices are managed by MonAXA, an app that brings AXA protection and assistance to mobile devices in France.
Participating customers are offered significant discounts on these devices (up to 40% in some cases) and MonAXA gives them integrated access via the app, including the ability to pull up video surveillance, switch alarm systems on and off, contact AXA Assistance, any time, right from the app.
AXA customers were happy to be part of the effort, says Yves Caseau, and, following the pilot program’s success, a new connected home initiative is set to kick off in this summer in Switzerland to further gauge how IoT plays with AXA customers.
Eventually, control of a connected stove could be integrated within apps like MonAXA (and its English-language equivalent, MyAXA), so the burner could be disabled remotely. And future insurance bundles would reflect the exact advanced security features present in any individual home, meaning more benefits for users.
If this, then that’s great.
Thibaut Loilier, Business Development Manager at AXA Lab San Francisco, also attended CES 2016 to explore innovations in consumer tech before they hit the market, and to identify potential partners for AXA.
“We saw hundreds of new IoT devices and platforms this year. It seems inevitable that IoT (Internet of Things) will be the way of the future. However, interoperability among connected devices is paramount to the future success of the different players”. says Thibaut. “We see platforms like IFTTT (if this then that) as the ideal way to connect all platforms and technologies, as there is a need to have a common factor. This simple but effective technology platforms are quickly becoming a standard as big players are starting to use them, as illustrated by the recent integration of LG with IFTTT.”
Groundbreaking IFTTT-related devices that will have a serious impact on the home include smart-home buttons like Flic and Fibaro, connected bulbs featuring motion sensors or that can be controlled by voice (and the likes of the Kuna Toucan, a weatherproof camera and motion sensor that connects to existing lighting sockets), and other sensors such as a connected water leak/freeze detector by Honeywell. In a smart home, these “action buttons”, camera and sensors create a better protected home that can be covered by highly tailored insurance policies for better coverage and, in some cases, lower premiums.
IFTTT is also a strong area for investment according to Laurent Benichou, AXA’s Director of Innovation, as this technology is fully decentralized. Decentralization seems to be the mindset on everyone’s mind. Naturally, when one object talks to another directly, without having to go through a central hub, connections are quicker, more secure, and simpler, just like in a block chain (for an example of how decentralized block chains impact everything from home security to insurance, see Slock.it).
This decentralized approach is entirely different from that taken by Amazon’s Echo (above) and it will be interesting to see which approach will eventually win out with customers in the home. The game is still on.
Source: Gartner "Information 2020 - Beyond Big Data" 2014
Source: PwC UK "My Home Connected" 2015
The future of devices is data.
However, these devices aren’t just for consumers to take home, install, protect their home and move on. They’re an opportunity to collect huge amounts of data that will benefit insurance providers and customers alike.
“The difference, in the future, will be the service, not the equipment” Véronique claims. “It’s important for us to develop smart services, starting from IoT devices and their data.”
Data collected from across the connected-home user base will lead to development of algorithms able to identify risk independently, she continues, via data collected from millions of sensors, from the homes of millions of users. Sensors, IoT and IFTTT won’t be innovations for the sake of innovation, they’ll contribute to better, cheaper, more tailored home insurance.
For example, algorithms may be able to predict our fire before it even happens, simply by looking at previous sensor/event patterns (rising temperature, ambient humidity, etc.), possibly even acting to prevent the fire via remote access to IoT connected objects (i.e. controlling heating/cooling/sprinkler systems, locking/unlocking doors, activating alarms, etc.) or by contacting a service like AXA Assistance to get someone on site to gauge and/or resolve the issue before it happens, allowing AXA to totally protect your home, rather than just insure it.
And on a more individual level, data gathered for each specific home could reveal overall usage patterns (i.e. do homeowners lock their doors when away, turn off their heating and burners, activate their alarm, etc.) for tailored policies that feature even lower premiums for homeowners with better ongoing habits.
All this means we’re at the cusp of an insurance revolution in the home.
Yet it won’t take long for things to change.
The data is already pouring in.