By Marie Chan, CID, ASID, GREEN AP
Recent news broke that Google is buying Nest, a smart thermostat company for $3.2 billion in cash, 28.5 times Nest’s estimated revenue. This has prompted jokes like “If your house is burning down you’ll now get gmail ads for fire extinguishers”. Whichever way you slice it, Google apparently sees the potential of integrating the Smart Home with its smart web. A clear trend from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show indicates that industry is trying to help us connect everything to everything else and create an ‘internet of things’. Phones are being reinvented as ‘sensor hubs’ that collect, interpret and analyze data. Tablets are slapped onto appliances to expand their capabilities – so they can leap tall buildings at a single bound…
For years, I keep hearing that the Jetson-like Smart Home is around the corner. It’s largely an empty promise until recently. Cost and technology integration have been the major hurdles. Aside from the cost of buying the system and subscribing to online services, you also have to set everything up. If programming the lowly TV remote triggers heart palpitations and anxiety attacks, imagine trying to get your Smart Home control panel to talk to your smart appliances, security, entertainment, and environmental control systems! For those who aren’t tech savvy, hiring professional installers mean additional cost.
However the price of home automation components has come down and manufacturers are dumping expensive control panels in favor of smartphones and tablets that control their systems over wi-fi networks or internet connections. In fact standardized wireless protocols such as ZigBee and Z-Wave which allow users to control lighting, door locks, heating and air conditioning, without rewiring the house have spurred product development exponentially. For example AT&T and Comcast both offer service to control door locks, thermostats and video cameras in addition to basic security protection. ADT has a new feature that locks and unlocks doors with voice command over a smartphone.
For home appliances, Samsung has rolled out with great fanfare a smart fridge that keeps inventory of what’s inside, tracks expiring foods, makes recipe suggestions based on fridge content, allows real time sharing of the grocery list via Evernote, and even dispenses coupons online! Its latest offering unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show features a compartment that can be used as either a freezer or a fridge. This split personality can be handy during the holidays but comes with a hefty price tag.
LG continues to push the envelope by offering its HomeChat service which allows homeowners to text and ‘talk’ to their appliances so the robotic vacuum cleaner, range, fridge and even the washer/dryer can be activated remotely based on user input. So in the near future, aside from texting friends and family, you can be sharing a tete-a-tete with your washing machine!
Other practical new Smart Home products include an automated valve that can shut off the water pipes if the system detects a leak – great for houses with bad plumbing – and a controller that alerts homeowners if their garage doors are open and allows them to close the doors remotely.
Lowes also started offering a series of ‘home automation kits’ like a senior-focused system which allows one to monitor a family member’s habits & routines and sends an alert when help is needed. Another kit has moisture sensors so home owners can start sprinklers remotely when the lawns are dry. There are even automated pet doors that ensure secure access for your pets while keeping out the neighborhood strays.
The brave new world of the Smart Home is here. Question is how smart do you want it to be?