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Staying Ahead with Tech Part 2: The Smarter Home

In the last edition of Beaches|life, we featured Augmented Reality as part of our three part series: Staying Ahead with Tech. In part two, we are looking at the Smart Home. Smart home gadgets let you turn your lights on using your smartphone, stream music to a speaker, remotely lock your doors, clean your house, and much more. More than just about convenience, these devices can also help you save money on heating and energy, let you know if someone’s trying to break in, or if there’s some emergency. Although in its infancy, smart home technology is growing at an enormous pace. 

Home automation or a smart home is a house that has a system to control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances. It may also have home security and alarm systems.

A smart home system typically connects controlled devices to a central hub or gateway, via a wall-mounted terminal, tablet or desktop computer, mobile phone application, or Web interface.

Applications and Technologies

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
  • Lighting control system.
  • Appliance control and integration with a smart grid and smart meters. 
  • Home robots and security system integrated with home automation to provide remote security cameras surveillance over the Internet, or access control and central locking and unlocking of all perimeter doors. 
  • Leak detection, smoke and CO detectors.
  • Home automation for the elderly and disabled.
  • Pet and baby care, for tracking the pets and babies’ movements and controlling pet access.
  • Air quality control to monitor air quality and pollution levels.
  • Smart Kitchen and connected cooking using voice control devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home or mobile applications to manage coffee machines, ovens, fridges and multi-cookers, such as Instant Pot. 

Historically, systems have been sold as complete systems where the consumer relies on one vendor for the entire system including the hardware, the communications protocol, the central hub, and the user interface. However, there are now open hardware and open source software systems which can be used instead of or with proprietary hardware. 

Concerns

In a review of home automation devices, Consumer Reports found two main concerns for consumers: 

  1. A Wi-Fi network connected to the Internet can be vulnerable to hacking.
  2. Technology is still in its infancy, and consumers could invest in a system that becomes obsolete quickly (a.ka. abandonware). In 2014, Google bought the company selling the Revolv Hub home automation system, integrated it with Nest and in 2016 shut down the servers Revolv Hub depended on, rendering the hardware useless.