Increasingly, our homes are becoming centralized networks. Household appliances are being connected to the Internet, and are becoming part of a digital device ecosystem. When connected, devices can track usage, automate processes, and provide remote control from userfriendly interfaces delivered on tablet or mobile devices.
The Internet of Things first entered the home through its backbone: lights, locks, and electrical outlets. When lights, locks, and outlets are connected to the local network and controlled via smartphones, homeowners can capitalize on energy savings, automate processes, and access their homes from anywhere in the world. Several companies have rolled out connected light bulbs, including established players like Philips and Insteon and crowdfunded projects like LIFX and iLumi.
Lockitron and SimpliciKey are connected solutions that allow homeowners to remotely lock/unlock an electronic deadbolt on their homes through a connected mobile app. Homeowners can let people access their homes with temporary codes rather than keys, and the app lets homeowners set alarms to tell them when people are opening and closing doors.
The Nest thermostat, which was recently acquired by Google, is arguably the most well-known connected home device, selling itself on the ability to learn from homeowners’ behaviors in order to save energy. Keen Home also promises to keep consumers’ energy bills in check with a connected air vent that allows homeowners to remotely close and open vents to better manage their heating and cooling.
While connected lights, locks, thermostats, and air vents provide a homeowner with measurable benefits, the impact of these benefits is substantially lessened because the various lights, locks, etc. are not connected to each other.
Multifunctional devices like the Belkin WeMo or GE Spotter give homeowners unlimited options for automating their homes, letting them choose what to connect. Packed with a variety of sensors that can monitor motion, light, sound, and humidity, the devices make it easy to program personalized functions from a mobile phone.
These customized solutions are becoming even easier thanks to services like IFTTT. The company provides a simple interface for creating conditional statements called recipes between web services through a simple statement: If this then that. Most recipes streamline the syndication of digital media, like automatically backing up an Instagram image to Dropbox. However, individuals can also trigger physical actions around the home; for example, a Philips Hue light bulb can be programmed to turn on when homeowners walk through the front door.
Where IFTTT provides a shoestring solution to home automation, a number of other companies like Almond+, ivee, or Revolv provide a more robust solution for connecting devices, no matter the protocol or make. These companies provide a centralized hub that connects to a home’s Wi-Fi network as well as the owner’s smartphone, allowing him to remotely control devices.
This ability to connect a variety of devices from different manufacturers addresses one of the biggest challenges in creating a networked home. Whether it is a connected light bulb, television, or garage door, unless the same manufacturer makes the devices, they won’t be able to communicate with each other. Dedicated to solving this issue, the AllSeen Alliance, a nonprofit consortium of 23 technology companies, is attempting to advance the smart home by building an open-source communications protocol so that all devices, no matter the manufacturer, will work together.
Until then, our dreams of living like George Jetson might need to be put on hold.
–JS & AW