Japanese developer brings brilliant ideas for ‘smart homes’ to US

The Japanese entrepreneur Takeshi Homma, whose startup in Silicon Valley started a project to build next-generation “smart homes” in the USA, sees himself not only as a problem solver, but also as an innovator.

In 2016, at the age of 41, Homma resigned from his senior position at Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Group Inc. to form Homma Group Inc. He did this with the aim of designing the comfort of futuristic living with smart home building technology.

A “smart home” developed by Silicon Valley-based startup Homma Group Inc. can be seen in this photo taken in June 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (kyodo)

Homma comes from a family of builders, including one grandfather who was an architect and the other who ran a building supplies business. Homma was fascinated by building houses from an early age.

“As a child, I was familiar with housing construction and I began to be interested in interior design, among other aspects of construction,” Homma said in a recent interview.

In a two-story rental home built by Homma Group in Portland, Oregon, overhead and railing lights illuminate when someone steps foot on the stairs leading inside. Around 30 sensors throughout the house detect movement and all lighting is controlled automatically.

“We made it a life where you don’t have to touch wall light switches,” said Ryo Inoue, Head of Architecture at Homma Group.

Photo taken in June 2022 shows motion sensors installed in the ceiling of Homma Group Inc.’s “Smart Home” rental property in Portland, Oregon. (kyodo)

Not only does the home automatically turn lights on and off, it also adjusts brightness and tones, blending into the daily lives of its occupants depending on the time of day. For example, the house dims the lights when someone gets up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

Homma believes that the fact that the house has automatic lighting helps reduce frustration when a child repeatedly forgets to turn off the bathroom light, for example.

“A parent gets angry at a child who forgets to turn off the light. This can happen in any household. If you leave the light on at all, the electricity bill will be higher, but if it’s controlled automatically, you can save it,” Homma said.

After founding the Homma Group in 2016, the Japanese entrepreneur relocated the center of the startup’s activities to California’s Silicon Valley, the global center for technology and innovation.

Aside from his family background in construction and architecture, according to Homma, there were two other reasons he turned his attention to the housing market in the United States.

Homma, now 47, was appointed Executive Officer at Rakuten in 2012, where he was tasked with developing business strategies for global digital content while based in Silicon Valley.

He was inspired by the emergence of IT startups there that are rethinking old industries through innovation – like Tesla, which revolutionized electric vehicles, and ride-hailing service Uber Technologies, which brought new solutions to the taxi industry.

This inspired him to get back into the world of entrepreneurship, almost two decades since he ran a startup as a web designer in his student days. “I had thought about just living a peaceful life as an employee, but then I decided I wanted to create a future and innovate, too,” he said.

The final and perhaps most important reason is that he saw a problem in the US housing market. Although residential houses had superior functionality compared to Japanese houses, such as B. good insulation, Homma realized that there was little progress in the efficiency of housing construction.

Since prefab bathrooms and system kitchens are not widespread in the US and are mostly built on-site by craftsmen, it is typical for a house that can be built in Japan in a year to take two to three years in the US.

Homma went on to explain that, in his opinion, American builders, being rather conservative in their thinking, avoid the use of new materials and equipment as much as possible, focusing only on the building itself while showing little interest in technology.

Takeshi Homma, founder and CEO of Homma Group Inc., stands near a “smart home” being developed by the Silicon Valley-based startup in Portland, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Homma Group Inc.) (Kyodo)

Unlike Japan, where houses have a relatively short lifespan before being demolished and the land redeveloped, in the United States old houses are renovated and occupied. So, if a homeowner wants to create a “smart home,” they need to retrofit by purchasing and installing various devices. Having to download a ton of apps onto your smartphone to operate these devices only complicates things, says Homma.

“So I thought incorporating Japan’s efficient building practices would represent a great business opportunity to introduce IT to US housing,” said Homma.

As the coronavirus pandemic has made teleworking more widespread, people are increasingly looking to increase the multifunctionality of their homes. The 2,230-square-foot Portland community development includes 18 units with courtyards equipped with WiFi, allowing residents to work outside in the fresh air.

A rental “smart home” being developed by Silicon Valley-based startup Homma Group Inc. can be seen in this photo taken in June 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (kyodo)

Homma Group leverages its knowledge of renting rental homes while strengthening the development of homes for sale. Homma Group is also considering providing “smart home” technology to other companies.

“Under pandemic conditions, layout requirements have changed as people want both open spaces and privacy protections,” he said.

Homma Group will now focus on the challenge of revolutionizing the US housing industry amid a demand slowdown due to a less benign interest rate environment that will depress house prices and a possible recession.

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