A former engineer is building the smart homes of the future

Robots are everywhere in the U.S. economy--even in our homes. But the promise of home-based AI is gentler than its workplace counterpart: rather than displacing humans, the most it might do is make them a little more comfortable.

One home in Choctaw, Okla., demonstrates the potential of "smart" features, like motion-activated floor lights that turn on when a sleeper gets up in the middle of the night. There's a remotely operated lighting and heating system with a Nest thermostat, which can adjust energy use to when the owner is away. That includes the water heater--often a home's most energy-intensive application. And the LED lights use one-tenth the energy of conventional light bulbs.

Prinston Wilson, a former Air Force technologist who now runs Legacy Construction & Development, has built about 50 of these homes, ranging between $200,000 and 1 million.

The "smart" features help a home use less energy -- costing up to 35 percent less to run than a typical house, according to Wilson. Another home he has in the works will have even less power usage, he said. The home will be equipped with a Tesla battery and solar panels; the battery will store energy to power the home when the sun isn't shining.

"If the cars work, I expect it to work in a house," Wilson told News9.

Last year, smart homes made up 15 percent of all U.S. houses, according to S&P Global. But it's a sector that's growing, with interest coming from venture capital, Silicon Valley and, of course, the real-estate sector.

Earlier this year, Utah launched its first net-zero energy community--a cluster of five homes that generate all the power they consume. These types of buildings, of which the U.S. has about 14,000, are a step up from their conventionally powered "smart" counterparts. They, too, have energy-saving features like adjustable thermostats and low-energy lighting, but are also built in a way to preserve as much energy as possible, with airtight walls and windows that maintain a steady internal temperature. Solar panels provide the little power these homes need.

One reason smart homes aren't more popular could be security concerns. In a world that sees a high-profile data breach practically weekly, homeowners can rightly fear that a connected home could fall prey to hackers. Items from smart light bulbs to smart TVs to parts of the U.S. power grid have been shown to have security flaws making them vulnerable.

But with buildings consuming 40 percent of the U.S.' energy, solving the security conundrum could have a big environmental--and financial--payoff.