Smart home technology isn't a completely new idea. Thermostats are perhaps a good example of an early demonstration of such technology. Thermostats would operate according to the temperature the unit recorded and adjust temperatures accordingly. Indeed, Bill Gates famously started building his own smart home more than 30 years ago. His home would turn on lights as you entered a room, your favourite song would follow you as you walk around the house and if more than one person was present in a room the system would try to find a compromise by finding music which all those present would like.
Today, there are many ways that smart homes can operate and two principal methods they can be controlled by: central control systems and app-based systems. Also, today's smart home won't cost anywhere near the $100 million that Gates spent on his futuristic home.
App-based control: this system works by using your phone or other device to connect to smart devices using Wi-Fi or cellular data. This allows for control of your smart system from anywhere and is much easier to set up and use although a plethora of different apps may be confusing for some users and an unstable internet connection may make it difficult to operate. However the use of touch screens and familiar functions make them suitable for less tech-savvy people.
Central control: this describes one system which will control your whole home. From this single system you will be able to operate phones, lights, dish washers and other devices. Traditionally, such systems were operated using a wall-terminal but can often be controlled using mobile devices too. A centralised system does mean fewer problems but they can be expensive to install and vendor-lockout is an issue should you ever wish to use different brands.
SMART HOME SOLUTIONS
The list of smart home technology applications is pretty much endless today but some of the highlights include:
Light automation - this tech can allow you to easily control your lights remotely with options like power, dimming, color lights and light intensity.
Smart sockets - these plugs are fairly simple and mean that anything plugged into them can be turned on or off using a smart device.
Smart speakers - these have become famous over the past few years especially Alexa. Your smart speaker will be able to tell you who's on the phone, who's at the door, what the weather will be like in the next few days as well as being able to turn off other devices by voice command.
Smart vacuum cleaners - robot cleaners have been available for a while but the next generation of smart vacuums extended their use by mapping rooms to be more efficient and streaming videos of their work to your mobile phone.
Smart garages - these systems will open and close automatically when your car is nearby while remaining shut for other vehicles.
Smart fridges - from simple things to reminding you to close the door to automatically ordering items when they are running out; smart fridges may become the number one smart device that people feel they need in their homes.
Smart washing machines - being able to remotely start and stop a wash and be notified when a cycle is finished could help with time management in the home.
Smart toilets - these have been around for decades in Japan and are becoming popular elsewhere these days. Their functions are famous and include music, seat warming abilities, washing systems and touch-free flushing.
Smart scales - these devices work by taking the users' weight measurements and feeding them into an app where they can be monitored over time and provide useful weight management advice.
Smart baby monitors - this is another concept which has been around for a while but smart technology has extended monitors' functions by transmitting a video stream onto any device or integrating with smart lights if the baby needs more or less light.
Smart pet care - self-cleaning litter trays will please anyone who hates the chore of removing soiled litter and these devices often do the job in a tidier way than we might.
Smart pet flaps - the perfect way to stop neighbours' cats and dogs coming in through your pet door. Using smart collars, this system only allows access to certain pets as well as allowing you to lock or open the door when you wish.
Smart shades - these devices will open or close at set times or when sunlight or darkness is detected as well as allowing you full, remote access.
These are just some of the many devices. Others include smart beds, smart floors, smart pet feeders, smart baby sensors, smart showers, smart mirrors, smart cookers, smart coffee makers, smart door entry systems and smart TVs.
Insurance premiums are constantly rising and with all the smart home systems nowadays that means that our homes and workplaces are full of more expensive devices than ever before. Smart security can help protect us.
Remotely-accessed video surveillance can ensure we react quickly to potential break-ins while also avoiding overreaction to false alarms. Sensors can be applied to doors to send an alert when opened (technology like this has been used in China and Korea to notify the authorities when quarantined people try to leave their homes). Automated locks can mean an end to wondering if you've forgotten to lock the door as you can easily lock or unlock the door remotely while fire and CO2 sensors can send a notification if fire, smoke or gas is detected.
The potential for smart health technology is huge as hospitals and healthcare workers try to encourage more people to pay attention to their health before they need help from professionals. Activity sensors like Fitbit and other devices can inform us about how active we are, heart rates, sleep patterns, etc. while more medical-orientated ones will remind us to take pills and advise us on what to eat (or what not to eat). Alert buttons can provide an immediate connection to health workers or family members for the elderly or infirm in case of falls or medical emergencies.
things to consider
There remains much skepticism about whether we can trust smart home technology.
Concerns about smart homes include that data may be transfered to third parties which may then be sold to other companies and used to sell you more things - but this isn't a flaw which is unique to smart living, we have the same worries when we surf the internet or use store fidelity cards.
People do need to properly password protect their systems and ensure that hackers can't gain access and it is important to regularly check online for vital security patches or to be notified about security breaches or hardware upgrades. Ensure that you are not relying on these systems totally and consider what you will do in the case of internet failure or power outages.
Making sure that you know what to do if the system fails is also key - if you're not able to make changes or fix issues then who will help you? Familiarise yourself with who can help in emergencies like this and consider extended warranties or support packages when purchasing your kit.
Deciding where to start and how much to do can be a challenge but many people start small by focusing on lights first. Once you feel comfortable having a smart lighting system it may be time to expand. A simple lighting system can be installed for a few hundred dollars and in the long-run savings could be made if lights turn off automatically when you leave the room or lighting levels adjust according to the time of day.
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