You might have heard about 'smart' homes and wondered what on earth they're all about. Simply put, smart homes are about connecting various domestic devices to the Internet of Things (IoT) with the goal of making life more convenient, efficient and controllable. What's the Internet of Things? It's when everyday objects or devices such as fridges or thermostats are connected to the Internet, communicate with data, and are capable of being controlled automatically or remotely via a smart phone or a hub such as Google's Alexa. Without knowing it you've probably got devices that are part of the IoT, for example a Smart TV, Xbox One or an activity tracker such as Fitbit.
The easiest and most commonly cited way to imagine what this all means is the example of driving home from work. Rather than arriving to a cold and dark house, you'd be able to set your heating and lights to go on so that when you pulled into the driveway your house would be cosy and welcoming.
The best thing about all this tech, is that there is an option for every kind of budget or enthusiasm level. You can test the water relatively inexpensively through smart lights such as Philips Hue Bulbs or thermostats such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. Let's see two of such devices which can convert your house to a smart home.
The Philips Hue bulbs is a personal wireless lighting system that allows you to control your light wherever you may be, be this in the bedroom, garden or even if you're abroad. You can automate them to come on at specific times, and at different ambiance levels. It is perfect for those who want to fall asleep or wake up gently. It's also possible to play with different color settings, sync them to music or movies for a truly immersive experience. Starter kits consisting of four bulbs, and the bridge controller start from $99.
If you don't have any Philips Hue lights yet, a starter kit is probably the best way to begin.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is a bit more expensive but has the potential to save you serious bucks and achieve payback in two years through energy saving. The thermostat adapts and learns your scheduling preferences within a week, before programming itself taking into account the changing seasons. It uses sensors and your phones GPS signal to know when you?re not in so automatically switches itself to the ECO setting to conserve energy. If you have an unexpected guest arriving at the house, you can also adjust the temperature from your phone.
For those looking to take the plunge and invest in an all-round system, it's best to consult a company to set the whole thing up for you. For DIY enthusiasts the most important thing to bear in mind is that all your kit will need to play nicely with one another. With several major players in the market and no agreed or standardized language for objects to communicate with one another, a possibility is that some devices will end up being incompatible with others. The way round this is deciding early on which of the big ecosystems you prefer or already have gadgets from, and then sticking with products that work within that. For reference the major players are Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Home Kit, and Nest.
As for security and/or privacy concerns, there are always risks with any device that collects data and can be compromised via the internet. On the security side, the most important thing is to make sure your network connection is secure, so no connecting onto public networks and the like. On privacy, unfortunately in this day and age, company business models are based on the usage and/or selling on of data they collect. If this is a concern for you, read the fine print on privacy policies to see what they'll be doing with the data you share with them. Some will make sure it's anonymous, others will promise never to sell it on, while others will share it with third parties. It's a personal decision whatever level you're most comfortable with.