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It used to be the case that the smartest thing in your home, apart from yourself that is, was the home computer sitting on a desk in the bedroom or office. However, things are changing, and almost every gadget and appliance used in the home is getting smarter. It’s all thanks to Wi-Fi and the internet. We now have the ability to keep in touch with people, wherever they are in the world, so why not our home too, or at least the devices that run our house and make living in it such a joy.
This has all come about with the emergence of what is known as the ‘Internet of Things’, or IoT for short. It’s all come about with the growth of Wi-Fi capability and acceptability, along with the broader use of broadband technology to provide access to the internet. The basic concept of the Internet of Things is to give internet access to devices that can be turned on and off, so we can control them remotely using our handheld computer, otherwise known as our smartphone. Researchers expect that by 2020 there will be 26 billion devices linked to the internet; some say it could be as many as 100 billion. So the IoT becomes a giant network in itself, where people can be connected to people, people connected to devices or things, and things can be connected to other things.
What does this mean for me, I hear you ask. Well, the main driving force for the Internet of Things is to give more control to our lives and make things easier for us. How about your alarm clock not just waking you up in the morning, but telling your coffee pot to start brewing your morning cup, so it’s ready after your shower. Wouldn’t it be great if you get caught up in traffic on the way to an important meeting, and your car sends a text to the person you’re to meet that you’re going to be late. These are both possibilities in the world of the Internet of Things.
The possibilities are endless with things connected to things, and you are having control over all of them. However, I can hear you saying, this is all science fiction, it’s not going to come about in my lifetime. Wait a minute; it’s already here, or just around the corner, and available for your own home. Let’s look at some of the great tech devices and advances to make your life at home a lot easier.
You may not even know it but there’s already a heck of a lot of stuff in your home that’s pretty smart, and you need something to control it for you. That’s why you’ll need what’s called a hub or controller to do the work for you. The most popular hub control systems come from three of the industry giants, Amazon, Apple and Samsung. Amazon and Samsung make their own devices, whereas Apple has a system called HomeKit, and manufacturers make devices and appliances that meet its standards for control using an iPhone or Mac. The retail giant Amazon has gone down the route of manufacturing its own speaker system the Echo, which comes equipped with the Alexa voice-activated control mechanism. The great thing about Alexa is that there are lots of devices already on the market which are compatible. It also works with, and here’s another of the new buzz terms, If This Then That (IFTTT).
In other words, you can create little programs called recipes within Alexa to run other devices not specifically designed for the system. It’s a sort of workaround but does open up the range of possible devices to connect and use. Once everything is hooked up, you can then control any of the Alexa-enabled appliances or gadgets in your home with your voice. Apple has gone in a different direction and put out a standard for other manufacturers to follow. The Apple HomeKit system can have a hub, but control can be managed from an iPhone. The Korean manufacturer Samsung has its own take and has come up with its hub under the banner of Samsung SmartThings. The starter kit comes with a hub along with two multipurpose sensors, a motion sensor and a smart plug so it can connect to Samsung’s own smart home products. It can also connect to other manufacturers products, and is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice control. The smartphone app to run SmartThings is available for Android and Apple iOS.
Most people will have come across home security cameras that can be linked to the internet already. They have been around for a number of years and can be bought quite cheaply. However, what’s available today is much more sophisticated. Take what’s on offer from ADT, the Pulse system is a not just a sophisticated security system but a complete automation system for your home. It also has 24/7 monitoring for extra safety. For those who prefer to go down a more do-it-yourself route, Adobe has available its Home Security starter kit that not only has cameras but can link to products using Z-wave and Zigbee such as switches, door locks and lights, along with thermostats and to top it off will connect with Alexa voice commands.
The latest smart locks, such as the August Smart Lock, keep track of the people going in and out of your home, with notifications to your smartphone. It also allows you to trigger other devices such as lights or sound systems. It even has voice activation. A lot of people like to know who is at their door before opening it, and the Netatmo Welcome is the high-tech version of the doorbell. With a built-in camera, the Welcome’s camera can learn with face recognition who are family members and who are strangers. It can record the comings and goings from your place and store the data to an onboard microSD, or via the internet to the cloud.
There is one thing that is evident with the latest connected light bulbs, once fitted it’ll be a long time until you have to change them. All the manufacturers claim that their new bulbs will last at least 20 years, and save you money in the long run. The market leader is probably Philips with its range of Hue lighting. These bulbs provide either white light or have a color hue that can give a relaxing ambience to their environment. Philips has made sure the bulbs will connect to the most popular hubs such as Alexa, and Apple’s Siri voice control for smartphones and computers.
These LED bulbs cost considerably more than non-connected or more standard lamps, and the outlay for a complete home would be considerable. However, over time Philips claim users will save on their energy bills. The success of these bulbs has spawned competition from home furnishing giant IKEA. The new Tradfri smart lighting system was announced in 2017, and connects to the popular hubs such as Alexa, and Apple’s HomeKit, as well as Google Assistant. This is something of a pared-down version of the Philips Hue, and offers all the functionality most homeowners will require, such as switching on and off, and dimming, automatically or with voice command.
One of the first bits of home tech that got linked to the internet was the humble heating thermostat. Nest broke new ground when the company introduced one of the first Wi-Fi enabled thermostats that also looked good. The latest model, the Nest Learning, has more sensors and can even monitor the condition of the central heating furnace. However, the new kids on the block Tado are creating a stir with its Smart Thermostat and Radiator Thermostats.
This new company tries to address the problem of different temperatures in each room by offering Wi-Fi connected thermostats for radiators as well as a central controller. Reviewers claim this is one of the best all-around smart heating systems available on the market today. Unlike Nest and other competitors, the Tado uses battery power, which can last up to three years so that the controller can be placed in any part of the home. With an all-white body and display the idea of the device is to blend into the environment of the home, rather than stand out as a well designed device as the Nest.
Appliances are probably the trickiest of home gadgets to link using Wi-Fi to home hubs for voice or remote activation. There was lots of smirking when Samsung brought out its Wi-Fi connected refrigerator a few years ago, but not many people are laughing now. One of the pioneers of home robotics, Roomba has a range of vacuum and floor cleaners which at the top end have not just a camera for navigation, and smartphone apps which provide reports and mapping of the areas cleaned, but come with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control.
Elsewhere in the home Wi-Fi connectivity to a smartphone has invaded the stove top. With the trend for sous vide cooking of vacuum sealed produce in a controlled temperature water bath Anova has come up with a smart precision cooker device with can attach to any saucepan or cooking pot. The device agitates the water keeping it at the right temperature for perfect cooking, and it’s all controlled by a smartphone app. If you’re one of those people who can’t cook, won’t cook, then the June Intelligent Oven could turn you into a Master Chef overnight. The Wi-Fi connected countertop oven automatically cooks any food to perfection. If it is baking or roasting the oven has its own artificial intelligence which weighs the food place inside and then cooks appropriately. It’s amazing that you just pop something inside, the oven will ask if it has recognized what it is correctly, and then ask how you want it cooked. However, all this intelligence does come at a price with a huge premium over other countertop convection ovens, but that might just be the price you have to pay to become a Master Chef.
When the sun begins to shine, and the temperatures rise, there’s nothing better than getting outside for a good ol’ barbecue. High-tech has hit grills and smokers in a big way, with the latest models Wi-Fi enabled so smartphone apps can control them, or use a cloud database to perfect your cooking. The Traeger Timberline 1300 pellet grill is one of the latest that offers connectivity, which lets you control cooking temperatures and timing. Complete with a patented smoke control system it aims to produce perfect barbecue every time.
Leading manufacturer of grills Char-Broil has an electric smoker that has Wi-Fi connection which can be remotely controlled by a smartphone with an Android or iOS app. There are cheaper and simpler options such as the innovative Meater remote thermometer. The Meater probe is place in the meat before cooking on the grill, and the temperature and time of cooking can be monitored on a smartphone via Bluetooth technology.
While you’re waiting for the barbecue to cook, why not take a dip in the pool. You’ll want to make sure it’s nice and clean, and the Polaris 9650iQ pool cleaner will do the trick as it’s one of the first with Wi-Fi connectivity. Again a mobile app is all you need to control and program your robot to keep our pool perfectly clean all year round. Now the barbecue is ready it’s nice to sit out on a perfect green lawn to eat.
Well, it’s not going to be perfect if it’s not watered correctly, and cut regularly. We’ve got that covered with the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. The controller can look after between eight and sixteen watering zones, and has connectivity to Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, and Google Assistant. Once watered you’re going to have to cut the grass, but why take the time when you can get a robot to do it for you. After the Robomow RS622 learns the boundaries of your lawn, it’s leave and forget device. The blades spin at 4000rpm making short work of even the most stubborn grass and leaves the cuttings to mulch into the soil, so there is no need for dumping bags of cut grass.