More than a decade ago, while driving home in the evening, Bill Gates was able to fill his bathtub to the desired temperature from a remote control in his car.
When that (true) story did the rounds back in 2003, people thought it was the height of excess and an example of “rich man’s toys”. Well now almost anybody, with a little adjustment to their homes and the installation of a few very cool networking systems, can do almost exactly the same thing.
Having a Smart House is not only entirely possible today, but also not that expensive or difficult to do. Here are a few ways you can convert your present home or your new house, if you are moving, to a smart home totally connected by IoT (Internet of Things).
First, let’s demystify the concept:
A smart home incorporates advanced automation systems that allow inhabitants to control the building's functions and monitor and operate everyday appliances.
IoT is based on a very simple principle: all appliances and devices are potentially receivers, while remote controls, smartphones or pads and tablets act as transmitters. All you need do (in principle) is send a signal from a transmitter to a receiver to execute a command; if you wish to turn off a lamp in another room, simply hit the button on your transmitter device and it’s done.
Today a house truly is “...a machine for living in,” as stated by legendary architect Le Corbusier back in 1923.
Gartner, in a survey from 2015 of the US and Canadian markets, is predicting that within six years or so, a typical family home could contain more than 500 smart devices. The market is expected to be worth more than US$120 billion by then.
The main areas where the IoT can already help quickly turn your home into a Smart Home, are:
Smart security cameras will track your home's interior with motion sensors, sending an alert when there's activity around your house. And it can even learn what is normal and what is not, so it can tell the difference between pets and burglars. If you’re not at home, or on a trip anywhere in the world, auto alerts from your security system will immediately go to your smartphone, so you instantly know if there's a problem at home.
Automated Door Locks:
Using keyless technology on your smartphone, you can open up for guests or deliveries; check to make sure that you locked up before leaving home, check who's entered and exited, and unlock your door if you have an armload of groceries and can’t access the door handle. Garage doors can open automatically as your smartphone approaches.
A video doorbell allows you to screen and video chat with callers before you open the door. If you’re not home the system can takes a snapshot whenever the doorbell is pressed, and even take a message. Many newer houses and apartment blocks already have this system built in.
2. Heating and Air Conditioning
Smart thermostats will learn your preferences and heat or cool your home intelligently, meaning big savings in bills. From an app on your smartphone, you can activate your home’s heater or air conditioner at your desired temperature the day before returning from a long trip, or instruct a fan heater to start up in the kitchen before getting out of bed in the morning. A smart thermostat can even turn on your HVAC system automatically by detecting that you are 10 or 15 minutes away from home, according to the GPS on your smartphone.
Smart lighting systems can set your lights to brighten gradually in the morning to wake you up naturally, or to dim at night as you fall asleep. You can also recreate the quality or color of light for a particular mood from any photo on your smartphone/tablet by using a “dropper tool” on the palette. Wi-Fi enabled bulbs can even be controlled by wearables, saving money over the old incandescent bulb.
Smart kitchen devices are now commonplace in the IoT revolution, with a whole host of cool connected accessories and appliances available, ranging from smart stoves to forks and plates that help you manage portion control, and everything in between.
Smart Coffee Brewer
If you’re a coffee aficionado, the smart coffee brewer allows you to grind and brew your coffee on-demand, activated from your smartphone or tablet. You even have the option of selecting the strength of your brew.
Once again, your GPS can alert your coffee brewer to get bubbling in time for you to walk in the door and grab a cup of fresh-brewed Joe.
A smart refrigerator is programmed to sense what kinds of products are being stored inside it and keep a track of the stock through barcode or RFID scanning. Imagine a large screen mounted in the door, featuring various apps such as:
- A shopping list app
- An app for displaying photos
- A whiteboard app for writing a quick note
- A calendar app that gives you a heads-up on expiration dates of produce
Fridge cameras can snap a picture of your groceries inside and when you go shopping, you’ll be able to view the inside of your fridge – and all the data on your inventory – from your smartphone!
Horticulture has caught up with high-tech, too. Your garden can become a “hive” of IoT systems connected to apps on your mobile devices. These systems can monitor the soil pH and moisture, turning on automatic sprinklers, fertilizers, insecticides, and give you a full report on the condition of your garden, be it floral or vegetable.
There are even systems that you can use to synchronize your sprinkler system with weather reports, so it will not automatically water the garden if the weather forecast calls for rain. They can also consider the soil and plant types and light exposure when setting watering schedules.
Entertainment IoT apps allow you to cast content and control it from your laptop, smartphone or tablet onto larger television screens, essentially turning your standard TV into a Smart TV.
You can also obtain high audio quality Bluetooth speakers which can be placed anywhere in the house, provided you have a stable Bluetooth connection, to stream music from your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Alternatively, you can also opt for voice-controlled and artificially intelligent hands-free speakers that enable complete home automation. With these automation systems, you can stream music, manage everyday tasks, and control other smart applications, like the light or air conditioning.
It can cost relatively little to bring your home into the 21st Century depending on your wants and needs. But if you want to get super sophisticated, then expect a huge bill. A home network can be based on existing wiring in the walls or wireless options with no infrastructure costs at all. Alternatively, you can install a whole system from scratch, obviously at a higher cost.
Some of the basic costs for networking your home, covering costs of components and installation are suggested below.
Home theater (TV + surround)
Intercom system (standalone)
If you have been dreaming about living in a Smart Home ever since you saw Back to the Future II, then dream no more. The future is here, and you can transform your house into a Smart Home, now!