The Best Devices for a Smart home – and what to do with them
Smart homes are here to stay. Right now, you can decide whether you want to turn your lights on manually or with your voice. Already, household electronics are being designed for Internet of Things so that one day soon, your home appliances and fittings will automatically adjust themselves to fit in with your lifestyle.
These devices will collect information, analyze the information, and respond to this information. This will make your home a smart home.
The promise of smart homes is an easier life as well as more efficient use of scarce resources like water and energy.
Defining Smart Homes
When the gadgets in your home are connected wirelessly, they operate in smart ways. The lights might come on when you walk into your home. Your entire home may even be able to secure itself at night without you doing anything – doors locking, curtains closing, thermostat dialing down, and lights going off. The whole routine goes on without you lifting a finger.
‘SMART’ stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology, which means that a smart home is not just automated – it actively gathers information and amends its behavior accordingly. All these are possible features of an automated home. Pre-determined triggers prompt the home to do things. For example, lights can go off at a certain hour, or in response to a verbal instruction. Thermostats can dial up or down depending on the temperature. Soon, smart homes will feature cutting-edge artificial intelligence.
All the home automation options available rely on programming to connect all your devices into a truly smart home. Programs are designed to respond to voice commands, the location of the home owner, and other triggers.
Smart Devices for a Smart Home
Smart lighting is a good place to start if you want to achieve a smart home. Besides energy savings and convenience, smart lighting instantly makes your home cool. Smart bulbs can adjust intensity, oscillate between warm and white, even change color. Smart switches connect all the lights so that they are easy to control.
Smart locks add convenience and let in visitors securely. They save you from the hassle of carrying keys – or hiding them under a rug. A fingerprint, code, or phone is enough to let you in. They can also trigger other features like light or shut everything down upon departure.
With a little help from your phone, the locks, or presence sensors, your thermostat can know whether you are home and turn itself down or up. This saves energy. The thermostat can also adjust to more heat from the sun.
You may not have CCTV, but a smart home allows you to keep watch using cheap wifi enabled cameras that are motion activated. They are simple enough for anyone to install and use.
Burglars are more likely to avoid a home under surveillance because they provide evidence. They help you watch your pets, elders, or teenagers home.
The video doorbell is a special device that functions like voicemail on your door. Visitors who turn up in your absence can record a video message for you.
With a smart security system, you can monitor your home from anywhere using your smartphone.
Smart TVs are already present in most homes. Smart speakers are also super cheap and serve such a variety of uses as to be indispensible.
They can play a specific song on demand even enable your TV to receive voice commands.
You can connect your speaker to Alexa, Google, or Siri and it will take instructions like read the news or set a timer in the kitchen.
Why you should think about a Smart Home
There are three major reasons why people invest in smart homes. Smart homes offer efficiency, security, and convenience.
The interconnectedness of devices in a smart home makes it possible to manage your home more effortlessly. You can create a morning routine that involves setting off your alarm, getting the coffee maker started, turning on the lights, tuning into your preferred radio show, and starting off the shower.
With cameras and an internet connected smart home, you can always monitor the goings on while you are away. Someone showing up at your front door, any movement in the home, doors opening, can all trigger smart sensors to alert you. Smart locks can even tell you who it was that came in through the door, making it possible to keep tabs on your kids.
The smart thermostat drastically reduces energy consumption. But every aspect of the smart home contributes to energy efficiency. You can remotely manage your energy intensive domestic gadgets using a smart phone. You can ensure that rooms are only warmed and lit when they are being used. Smart plugs monitor home energy consumption and allow you to discern opportunities for cutting costs.
How the Smart Home Works
Smart devices are easy to install and use because they depend on wireless connections. You will not have to lay down untidy cable wires across your home. They run on Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, or Thread protocol most of the time. These wireless radio protocols make it possible for your electronic devices to communicate with each other and with the Cloud.
In a smart home, devices may communicate with each other through a hub within the home and only use the Cloud to store data and process commands. This data includes video footage, photographs, etc. This data is relayed to the Cloud over Wi-Fi.
Most devices need to be controlled and set up via an app installed on a tablet/smart phone. The app enables smart home users to interact with their devices at home. They can schedule things or hook up to their smart home network to automate your home and put in place routines.
Choosing a Smart Home Ecosystem
You can buy smart gadgets like video doorbells that can do their job autonomously but a smart home is a lot more than just a single gadget. Your gadgets have to coordinate with each other to create routines, automate functions, and generally adjust to your lifestyle.
You can achieve this with a Smart Home Ecosystem which connects to all your home devices and allows them to be programmed, manipulated, and coordinated to create routines.
There are now four leading smart home ecosystems in the market: Homekit from Apple, Home from Google, Alexa from Amazon, and SmartThings from Samsung. They are all easy to install and set up. You do not need to hire someone else to install them, unless you want to.
You are already on the right track if you have a digital assistant combined with an ecosystem like Apple’s Homekit. To start setting up a smart home, you have to first have a clear picture of your priorities. Elements like lighting, temperature, security, and entertainment all need to be modified to fit in with your lifestyle as it is. Your lifestyle and preferences should inform your Smart Home design.
Start by looking for devices that enable you to control the elements you need to control, like heating. Once you have the device, you now need to put in an ecosystem to support the devices. Anything else will come as an add-on.
Most devices are capable of functioning within multiple ecosystems. You will not have to spend too much money on hardware. And apps are free on the Playstore or Applestore. You can switch from one ecosystem to another or even use them simultaneously. They are not designed to be mutually exclusive.
HomeKit from Apple
Pros and Cons of HomeKit from Apple:
HomeKit is simple and reliable, as well a secure solution for people who care about their privacy. The HomeKit processes all your data locally and encrypts it before uploading it to the Cloud. This ensures the privacy of your personal information.
Apple’s HomeKit is ideal for Apple users because it works with iPhones, Macs, iPads, and Apple Watches. Siri provides voice control. The HomeKit runs on Thread, WiFi, and Bluetooth.
The downside of working with HomeKit is that it is only compatible with iPhones and iPads, not Android devices. Users will need to deploy the HomePod Mini, Apple TV or other Apple Hub. This drives up the cost of the Apple HomeKit.
Pros and Cons of Alexa from Amazon:
Alexa is named for the voice assistant called Alexa. Alexa is affordable and offers the widest range of compatibility with the devices in your home. This range has been enhanced by the addition of Zigbee radio to Alexa’s Echo speaker (it already has Bluetooth and Wifi). This means that it works well with everything from light bulbs to motion sensors.
Alexa makes it easier to create a voice-control enabled smart home system because so many affordable smart speakers, thermostats, displays, and light switches come with it already inbuilt.
Even though it is compatible with more devices than HomeKit, there are some devices that do not necessarily work properly with Alexa. Do not purchase any electronic device before first testing how it works with Alexa. One more downside to Alexa is that it is harder to access using a smartphone compared to the other smart home solutions.
Pros and Cons of Google Home from Google:
The app for controlling this smart home system is also aptly called Google Home and you can use your smart phone to run it. Google Home’s answer to Alexa is the Google Assistant and it enables a voice controlled home. You can operate the Google Assistant from anywhere because it is in your smart watch or Android phone.
Google offers two smart displays: Nest Hub Max and Nest Hub with a touchscreen for a control panel. You do not need your voice to adjust your thermostat, lights, speakers, and locks.
The range of home devices that work with Google is growing fast, but still relatively small. Google Home does not offer users the option of using sensors to trigger routines. It only has voice command, phones, and automated schedules. Plus, Google Home only has Thread, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. It does not support Z-Wave or Zigbee.
Pros and Cons of SmartThings from Samsung:
SmartThings is one of the premier smart home solutions and is compatible with more smart home gadgets than the others. This includes most Samsung appliances, of course. SmartThings is capable of controlling Wi-Fi as well as Zigbee and Z-Wave devices.
This is an advantage because Z-Wave can work with smaller devices using less power. And it responds faster because it communicates to its hub and not the Cloud.
SmartThings can work with Alexa as well as Bixby voice assistant from Samsung. You can use both.
The downside is that SmartThings is the most complex system, especially when paired with Zigbee and Z-Wave devices. This is the downside of working with such a powerful and multifaceted system.
Building your own Smart Home System
What if you want a Smart Home but do not want to give tech companies access to your home? You could consider creating your own smart home. Use open-source software for your home assistant and Raspberry Pi.
This approach calls for the type of people who enjoy the challenge of building computers. It is rewarding and allows you to customize it and protect your private information.
Adding Voice Control to your Smart Home
All smart home systems can be voice-controlled. You should not have to get up from your couch to turn off the light (or adjust the temperature) after installing a smart home.
A smart speaker will give you the best voice control. Each of these systems has compatible speakers which have radio for wireless protocols. These speakers do more than just add voice control.
Smartphones, smart watches, tablets, and smart speakers have digital assistants. Only Siri from Apple works from a desktop computer.
Voice control works when you equip each room with a speaker which will automatically know which room it is placed in.
Putting it all Together
After installing your smart home gadgets, you want to create routines and scenes and automate functions. Thankfully, the ecosystems we have discussed are nearly similar.
You start by picking a trigger which will prompt the automated functions. The trigger could be your location, the time, or an event – like a door being opened.
You then decide on when or the ‘conditions’ under which these functions will happen. It could be daily or on weekends, or when you are away. You could put in place one condition or multiple conditions.
You can now decide what happens next. For example when someone opens a door, a camera comes on or the thermostat is adjusted. Multiple actions can happen at once. They are called a Scene.
To trigger a scene, you may use the app or voice command. For example, a ‘movie’ scene will turn up heat, dim lights, and start Netflix.
Here are some routines you can start with: Goodbye, Good Morning, Welcome home, and Goodnight. These are all fully customizable.
The key to smarter robot collaborators may be more simplicity
Maybe if self-driving cars did not have to process all the details of every move they made, they might be able to more around more nimbly.
When we are driving on the road, our brains are processing so much information sub consciously. We are scanning the surrounding vehicles, anticipating their next move, and contemplating how we might respond. We even wonder how our moves might influence other drivers to act.
Robots have to do the same things that we do to operate in our world. Researchers have come up with new ways of enabling robots to better model our behavior. The researchers from Virginia Tech and Stanford University will be presenting their innovation to the annual International Conference on Robot Learning which takes place next week.
They plan to make robots more efficient by designing them to only analyze the major moves of other drivers on the road instead of analyzing each detail. This will enable them to predict their next actions faster and to respond swiftly.
A Theory of Mind
Robot makers are usually guided from Psychology’s theory of mind which posits that people are guided by their understanding of other people’s beliefs in their effort to empathize with and interact with them.
According to the Theory of Mind, young children master this skill and use it throughout their lives.
If robots can come up with a system for predicting the next moves of other actors, they can operate more efficiently on the road.
According to Stanford Professor Dorsa Sadigh, when two people are doing something simple like moving a table, they go by simple things like their discernment of the force from collaborators as they push or pull to make their next move.
A robot store could use this to remember basic descriptions of the actions of the agents surrounding. For example a robot playing a team sport could take note of the movements of its opponents and classify them as right, center, and left.
This data is enough to come up with two algorithms: one for predicting an opponent’s next move, and another for determining its own response.
The second algorithm will also track the opponent’s responses to the robot’s own responses, in order to allow the robot to learn how to influence its opponents.
The key feature of this innovation is that the robot handles minimal data and is therefore able to train itself as it goes along.
Usually, a robot in such a situation would remember not only the exact coordinates of every one of its opponent’s steps but also the direction in which they were moving.
This might seem like an approach that will yield greater accuracy, but that is not how the human mind operates. The human mind goes by simple clues and does not process too much information on the fly.
There are still a lot of questions that will only be answered in the long run. At the moment for example, researchers are working with the assumption that robots only interact in finite interactions.
Researchers assumed that robot cars involved in simulating self-driving were only experiencing single interactions with other cars in every training session. But that is not how driving works.
Cars interact with each other continuously and a self-driving car needs to keep learning and adapting its actions with every interaction.
Sadigh explains that the approach assumes that robot designers know how best to describe the behavior of other actors on the road. They thought of using ‘left’ ‘center’ and ‘right’ to describe the actions of opponents in an air hockey game.
These labels will become much less obvious when the interactions are not as simple. Researchers are still optimistic about their innovation being a game changer. By bridging the gap that separates human-AI interaction and multi-agent learning, scientist never stop learning because it is an important new field of research.
Smart Home Gadgets That Are Worth Investing In
As the years go by, even homes are now getting smarter. A smart home is a dwelling place that uses electronic devices that are connected to the internet allowing it to be controlled and monitored remotely. This innovation has greatly improved the home owner’s life because, with the ability to take control of everything with lesser physical interaction, the owner can do worthwhile things while having the control system right in front of him.
If you own a home and you would want to consider installing some of these gadgets, here is a list of the most useful devices you can invest in for your home.
Upon entering your home, you can start introducing a smart doorbell to take care of those visitors coming to your home. Can you imagine being disturbed by a visitor or a delivery man while you are enjoying watching a movie? A smart doorbell can actually make you undisturbed. You can opt to install video doorbells that have a built-in camera, speaker, and microphone so you can see from your phone or a monitor who is outside and you can directly speak to that person without opening the door. Being able to respond to your visitor remotely can be very convenient. It also allows you to keep a record of their faces, imagine if it was a suspicious visitor at your doorstep.
This can be best paired with a video doorbell. If you wish to let a visitor enter your house, you can open your door with just a click from your phone, or the other way around, if it’s a stranger you see from the monitor, then you can activate all your security locks and make a call and report to the authorities.
Smart Light Bulbs and Lighting Control
One common thing that you want to automate is your light system, it should be able to switch out, brighten or dim itself as you move inside your home. You can easily control it using your voice, a Bluetooth device, or a mobile application that you can easily download on your phone. Installing a smart light bulb is easy, they can replace conventional light bulbs that you may have installed initially or you can just install it like any other ordinary light bulb in a newly built home. Then you just have to connect it to your home Wifi through a smart hub. A smart hub can be purchased when you get the smart bulb. Just keep in mind that you need to read the instructions and follow each step when syncing your lighting system.
Smart temperature controllers can give your home the perfect temperature setting depending on the time of day and the number of occupants inside a room. It allows you to set the time you desire when cooling or heating the rooms in your home. Thus, offering a convenient and efficient way of controlling your heating and cooling system and giving you a reasonable cost on energy consumption.
If you love to cook, this smart cooker is a piece of must-have equipment in your kitchen. It is a programmable multi-cooker and it can be controlled using your mobile phone. You can use your phone to set the cooking duration time, adjust heat settings, and monitor what you are cooking. You do not need to stand and check the status of the food, instead, you will just receive notifications from your phone. There are also smart pots that give you pre-installed recipes that even those who are not gifted to cook can learn using this smart cooker.
Smart TVs have been very popular since streaming became a trend. With your smart TV, you can enjoy watching movies, series, and music videos, too. The fast growth of models has enabled gaming also accessible as well as social media access using a smart TV. Many of these TVs are now integrated with the smart lighting system and smart locks. Using your TV to monitor and control is now available because of these upgrades.
There are several benefits we can get when we invest in these Smart gadgets for our homes. One of which is the ability and convenience of controlling your devices with an app that may be on your phone, tablet, or a voice-controlled assistant. Smart devices can also provide you with real-time data, for example with security information and energy consumption. These investments may not yet take away all your chores but one thing is for sure now, they can make you save time and money.
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