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Smart Home Technology - What Smart Products are Available?

Is it time to smarten up your home? Many of us will have heard of the terms smart home or intelligent building. Maybe surprisingly, they are not completely new concepts. Since the 1930’s, ideas for home automation have been introduced at the World’s Fair venues.

We have seen glimpses of the future in films when, as if by magic, doors are opened by command or lights are switched off with a click of the fingers.

Most people will have some idea of the benefits of automation in the home but what is currently available and how can smart technology actually improve your lifestyle and save you money and energy? Firstly,

 What is smart technology?

In the last decade, smart home automation has developed considerably, particularly in Western Europe and the U.S.A, leading to the introduction of upgraded devices and technology. 

The Internet of Things (IoT), a network of connectable devices, has enabled the development of products that are used to control everyday features of the home. In a nutshell, these devices are connected via a router to the cloud, allowing users to control these products from any mobile device. If you are unsure about the whole concept of smart technology, why not check out this youtube link ?

(This Tech With Brett US video explains the concept thoroughly, and is applicable to UK as products are universal)

 

This technology has allowed the control of home features such as heating systems, lighting, safety, security, and entertainment remotely from anywhere in the world. With one touch, users can dim the lights, turn down the heating or play their favourite music. Pressing a ‘Goodnight’ button can put your house to sleep, turning off all lights, locking doors and arming the security system. With most of the population owning a mobile device, start-up companies realise the value of this technology and are now jockeying for position and consumer attention.

You may want to start creating your smart home by buying and installing one smart product yourself. Or maybe you wish to work with a professional company who can install and programme a whole system of smart products. ( Cyberhomes  and Smartn can offer such services). Either way, you need to know about the range and types of products available.


What is available?

 

Lighting: 

Lighting

Automated lighting means that information about your fixtures can be viewed on a number of user interfaces, including the screen of your smartphone, a tablet or smart TV controlled by you.

At the touch of a button, you can dim all downstairs lighting or switch on the outdoor lights. Users can check, for instance, whether kids have left the light on in the bedroom or if all downstairs lights are switched off at bed time. The system could be programmed to enable one button on a tablet to turn off all lights at night or to turn on when away, to make it appear someone is home.

Lighting products (bulbs, dimmers, switches etc.) 

These are a popular starting point as they are relatively cheap and easy to install. For some time, smart light bulbs have been sitting next to the regular bulbs in D.I.Y stores but have you actually given them any serious consideration? 

Rather than buying and assembling different products, a good idea is to buy a lighting starter kit, available from a range of manufacturers. Kits should include several bulbs, light switches or plug-in modules and a remote control or interface panel. A basic Philips Hue starter kit, which includes two bulbs, can be bought for around £60 (Jan 2019). In time, you can add more control to your home as budget allows.

Heating:  

Heating control can be extremely useful and particularly energy saving, ensuring your home is warm when you want it to be whilst not burning energy when empty. Users can access graphs displaying temperature, patterns of use and energy efficiency. The Nest thermostat is a popular good example of smart technology and costs just over £200 (Jan 2019). Connecting directly with Wi-fi, it can react accordingly to your habits.

Users can start heating their homes in time for their return from holiday or monitor heating when out of the house. Schedules can be set for certain days of the week to suit routines.

Widely used by British Gas, the Hive thermostat is another example of useful smart technology. Hive also produce window and door sensors which allow the triggering of heating to come on when a door opens or go off when a window closes. With Geolocation, it can detect when you’ve gone out and left the heating on and send you a reminder to turn it off.  

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It can ensure heating is always off when family members are at a certain distance from the house. Over time, never heating an empty home could save you considerable funds.   

Home Security:  

The massive advantage of automating your home security is that it shares information with you wherever you are, instantly, providing a higher level of safety. For instance, you can receive a text message the moment there is unauthorised access to your property. The system can locate the breach immediately and, if you have them, link the nearest surveillance camera to your mobile device. Even if you’re miles away, you can view the situation and react accordingly. If you link keyless entry to your home automation system, your doors can be locked or unlocked from anywhere. You can unlock your doors before you arrive with your heavy shopping bags. If your adult child returns home late at night, you can open the doors from the comfort of your own bed. ( We especially appreciate this aspect!)


Why not link your light fixtures to your security system? Programme your hall or porch lights to come on whenever the front door is unlocked or switch off once a door is locked. 

Add a smart doorbell with camera and answer the door from your smartphone. Get alerts when anyone comes to your door, so you can see, hear and speak to visitors from anywhere. The popular Ring Video Doorbell can be bought for £89.99 on Amazon. Even cheaper is the Modohe Wireless Doorbell which is currently available for £69.99 (both Jan 2019).

There are so many options available to give you peace of mind and convenience when it comes to your home security.  

   

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Smart Plugs/Appliances:  

With a smart plug plugged into any existing regular wall socket, everyday appliances can be controlled from your device. Again, you do not even have to be in that room or anywhere near the house. Using an App, you can basically control any appliance plugged into your smart plug. Turn on your oven from the office or switch on the coffee machine from the bedroom when you wake up. The Amazon Smart Plug has recently been deemed the best of its type (see shopping guide at https://uk.bestreviews.guide) costing £24.99 and works with the Alexa App and Alexa-enabled devices, (mentioned below).

Some smart plugs will take things a step further and provide you with information about your energy consumption. A companion App can be used to see a running total of how much energy each device uses. You can see which lamps should really be fitted with energy saving lightbulbs or which appliances just aren’t worth the amount of electricity they consume.

Home Entertainment: 

Smart TVs are also connected to the internet and allow users to access content online, just like smart phones or tablets. Users can access Apps, web browsers and their home file networks. This expands a TV’s capabilities from being a one-way receiver to an interactive user interface. Rather than using your mobile phone, you may decide to use your smart TV to view and control your heating, lighting or security fixtures. You can pause a movie to check out who is ringing your doorbell late at night. As with all TVs, there is a huge range in price and something to suit everyone.

Whatever you decide to do to smarten up your home, devices used tend to be small and unobtrusive. No changes are needed to the infrastructure of your house and, providing you already have a router in place and access to Wi-fi, smart products can be installed extremely easily. Learn more about the best latest smart products for 2019

   

Voice Automation

Source : Unsplash (Jason Rosewell)

We’ve all seen the glossy TV adverts showing families instructing their radio to turn on or telling their lights to dim. In the kitchen, they can ask for the best recipe for Victoria sponge cake or treacle tarts. 

Voice automation is another aspect of smart technology, another option for you to consider. Not everybody likes the idea of talking to a metal box, let’s face it.

But are there some advantages to be had?

Adding voice activation to your home automation system can be as easy as installing a computer software program and adding a microphone. If you place a microphone in every room and combine the signals through a mixer, the system is then able to respond to your voice from anywhere in the house. Alternatively, you may want to place microphones in the main living areas of the house only, like kitchen or living room. One thing to think about is whether you want your children controlling features of the system from their bedrooms!

Voice control systems can control virtually anything your system is programmed to operate. If your security system is included in your automation system, you can use your voice to enable or disable the alarm system before going to bed. Because systems download information from the internet, storing it in the hard drive, the information is instantly available when you ask certain questions like, “What is the weather like today?” or “What is the capital of Dubai?” You can even request information such as train times, order pizza or an Uber.

You programme the software to trigger an action every time it hears the set command. It stores a library of your voice commands alongside the corresponding action.  To ensure the computer doesn’t respond randomly to every question asked at home, it requires a ‘wake-up’ word or phrase to kick-start it. The command, “Hey Google good morning” can be programmed to trigger a combination of actions, such as adjust the thermostat, turn on lights, show the weather, news and commuting time.

Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit are the three leading software devices using voice activation. The software comes with speakers: Amazon Echo Smart Speaker with Alexa costs £89.99. Google Home with Assistant costs £129 and the Apple HomeKit can be bought for around £300 (all prices Jan 2019). If most of your devices are Apple, it makes sense to buy the Apple HomeKit. 

When buying new devices for your smart home system, you must make sure they are compatible with the system you already have. So, if you have Google Assistant set up, for example, check any gadgets you buy show the badge, “Works with Google Assistant”.

As well as having speakers like Amazon Alexa in your home, you can add a display screen. The Amazon Echo Show (£179.99, Jan 2019) will display information and videos or make video calls to friends and family who also have the Alexa App or Echo Show. It can show your baby sleeping upstairs if linked to a compatible camera or can stream some particular music. The scope is massive; you can take it as far as it suits you and your home.      

In summary…   

It is important to plan your smart home to utilise the best technology to make your home safe, comfortable, convenient and fun. 

For bigger projects, experienced integration professionals will help you get the best out of your smart home, helping you achieve your vision whilst giving you value for money long-term. 

Developments are happening fast with this technology and more and more companies are working to further integrate it into home appliances. 

The smart appliances of the future will allow for even better control and automation, with more connectivity.

Energy efficiency will continue to be developed, with a focus on environmental quality (including comfort, air and light). More homes will automate shading systems in the summer for cooling and allow houses to utilise more natural light effectively. Manufacturers will increase the intelligence of our devices and continue to minimize product size so they are more discreet.

     

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And finally, as you are building your smart home, do not forget security and safeguarding. Your Wi-fi enabled devices and home network need protecting from intrusion and security risk. To learn more information about cyber security, look at the government website.  




 





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