What Are Smart Homes and Smart Devices?
Technology is becoming more relevant in our everyday lives. The way we interact with everyday smart devices and how they interact among themselves is fascinating… and this is happening within our homes!
Our home is becoming smart, but what is exactly happening inside a smart home?
A TV automatically turns on and shows you traffic reports as you wake up each morning…
Your microwave starts heating your pre-made breakfast as you step-in the kitchen. Your smart toaster knows when you just finished a fresh shower bath so it starts toasting your tasty bread.
…Your cabinets and drawers notify you if your kids are accessing dangerous or off-limit areas.
Living room becomes smart and it knows when people are around or leave the area… and it automatically adjusts the HVAC temperature to help you save energy and money…
A camera that snaps series of pictures as soon as unexpected movements were detected. The door that sends you notification when family members or even pets come and go.
…A door automatically unlocks when you arrive and locks when you leave.
These are just few things that happen if you have a smart home. Everything is designed to make your life easier. It is not complicated, and anyone can get your home automation today. But first, it is important better understand what a smart home is, the technologies behind it, how it can enhance your lifestyle and more importantly save you money.
What Makes a Smart Home?
What was once a technology of tomorrow is in demand right now…
… Especially when it comes to making your home smarter.
Smart home or home automation provides homeowners an energy efficiency, comfort, convenience and security at whether you are around or not. The terminology “smart home” is more commonly used to define a house that have heating, lighting, air conditioning, appliances, computers, entertainment home theater system, TVs, camera systems and security that are capable of communicating with each other. They are also capable to be remotely accessed via time schedule from any room in your home or from any other location across the globe using your smartphone connected via the internet.
Smart home systems and devices are a part of IoT or Internet of Things which operate together regularly, sharing usage of consumer data among themselves and then systematizing actions based on your preferences. To sum it up, a smart home consists of wide range of technologies that work as one cohesive system in order to automate building function.
History of Smart Home Technology
Smart home has been part of a long trajectory of developments that were built-off from existing infrastructures and technologies. For example, household appliances in 1920’s such as the vacuum cleaner or automatic dish washer played similar roles as home automation – to save time, labor and increase efficiency. These conveniences paved way to a faster daily living because they freed up time to do more things within the day.
In addition to household appliances, different control technologies such as heating, cooling, and lighting have been around for a decades. These technologies utilized signals and sensors to control variables like temperature in a room. They used electric grid energies which were available in US homes by the 1920’s.
Although these control technologies have been widely available for a century, the smart home devices are now being marketed for us individually as consumers, whereas before the building functions like heating or lights would be implemented into the house when it was constructed. But, with smart home appliances, consumers can automate their home by simply clicking a button on their smartphone.
In 1975, a home automation communication protocol called X10 was released and the smart home came to life. The X10 sends burst of digital info of 120 kHz RF onto the prevailing electrical wiring of a home to programmable switches or outlets. These signals then transfer commands to matching devices, controlling when and how they will operate. For example, a transmitter could send a signal through the electrical wiring of the house to tell a device to turn on at an exact time.
Nevertheless, electrical wirings were not designed to be free particularly from radio band noise, so X10 wasn’t always totally reliable. There are times when signals got lost and there are also instances where signals would not even cross-circuits that were wired on dissimilar polarities.
The X10 technology was originally a one-way. So, even if smart devices can take-on commands yet they can’t send back data to a central network.
In 2005, Insteon a home automation firm came on the scene and launched a technology combining electric wiring and wireless signals. Other protocol such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, have since developed to provide solutions to problems inclined to X10, though this technology still remains a widely used communication protocol to date.
In 2010, Nest Labs was established and introduced its very first smart product offering in 2011 named the Nest Learning Thermostat. The company also released security cameras as well as smart carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. In 2015, the company was acquired by Google and became Alphabet Inc.’s subsidiary on that same year.
In 2012, a company called SmartThings Inc. started a kick starter campaign to fund its project for a smart home system. The campaign successfully raised $12 million and by August 2013, the company was launched on the market and was acquired by Samsung the following year. More recently, several major companies like Google, Amazon and Apple have launched their very own smart home product offerings as well as smart home platforms such as Apple Home Kit, Google Home and Amazon Echo.
Besides the buildup of infrastructure such as the power grid, which was funded by Finance years like JP Morgan in the early 1900’s, the development of communication and information technologies such as the internet, Bluetooth and the smartphone are key factors that led to and made possible the evolution of the smart home. Without these technologies, the development of the smart home would not have been made possible.
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How Does Smart Home Works?
Most newly constructed homes that built in place with smart home infrastructure. On the other hand, older homes can be retrofitted with the smart home technology. While numerous smart home systems are still running on Insteon or X10, other technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are growing more and more popular these days.
Two home automation communication protocols most commonly used today are Zigbee and Z-Wave. Both of these technologies are mesh network which use short range and low range radio signals to connect your smart home system. Both target similar home applications, the difference is that while Z-Wave has a 30 meters range, Zigbee’s has 10 meters and is often observed as more complex. You can also avail Zigbee chips from several companies, while Z-Wave chips can only be purchased from Sigma Designs.
Smart homes are not contrasting appliances and smart devices, but they work together to produce a network that’s remotely controllable. All your devices can be controlled by a central home automation controller or what is known as a smart home hub. A smart home hub is the hardware device that acts as your smart home system’s central point and is able to process, sense data and also communicate wireless. All of these disparate apps are combined into one smart home app that you can remotely control. Some examples of a smart home hub are Insteon Hub Pro, Amazon Echo, Samsung Smart Things, Wink Hub and Google Home just to name a few.
Operation and Implementation
The smart thermostat works by learning behavior patterns and desired temperatures for certain days and times during the week to save energy. For example, the temperature of your house goes down at night while you are sleeping.
Also, you can set the desired temperature from your smartphone which connects to your house…
…Let’s say on a cold winter day, it will be warm when you arrive home after a hard day’s work.
The company Wink created an app that connects all your smart products. Through this app, you can control your home’s lights, locks, blinds, climate, and so much more. The company describes themselves as open, affordable and easy because you can easily connect to different smart home brands and technologies, as well as have the ability to control a wide array of home functions using only one app directly from your smartphone.
Security is another very important factor in today’s society. People fears that cyber-attacks on smart home technologies will occur. However, efficient security mechanisms are being developed and standardized to prevent this. In addition, wireless video cameras can be installed that can be directly connected to your phone for remote access and heightened security.
All of these technologies and devices work together to create a network that can effectively communicate between you, the user and the smart home. The smart home cannot be considered as one distinct technology but as a system, consisting of human interaction with different technologies that work in cohesion with one another.
The smart grid is a different type of power grid that uses two-way communication technologies, control systems and computer processing. It meshes well with smart home devices to reduce the number and duration of blackouts across the United States, as well as reduce energy and fossil fuel usage. But, the current lack of widely accepted standards, hinders this type of grid from being implemented.
The smart home hubs are described as a digital revolution because it is equipped with information technology which anticipates and responds to you and your family’s needs. However, this is not too different from other seemingly revolutionary technologies, which all provide similar goals, to address conflicts or alignment values that fit the political, economic, cultural and environmental context.
Human values of security connection for operating routines and energy efficiency are instantly solidified in the built environment of the smart homes. Without the creation of systems such as the electrophorus, communication technologies and household appliances — smart homes would not be possible.
Creating your Own Smart Home
You can also create a smart home system from scratch using prototyping board like Raspberry Pi. There are also others that you can buy as a smart home kit bundle, more commonly known as smart home platforms, that include essential pieces to start your home automation project.
In a simple smart home scenario, you can time or trigger events. Timed events are centered on a clock, say for example, your blinds will be automatically lowered at 6:00 PM. Triggered events on the other hand will depend on actions in your automated system. For example, when your smartphone approaches your door, the smart lock will unlock and the smart lights will turn on.
AI or artificial intelligence and machine learning are growing in popularity in terms of smart home systems, which allow home automation apps to familiarize to their environments. Voice activated systems such as Google Home or Amazon for example come with virtual assistants that personalize and learn your patterns and preferences.
Benefits of Smart Home Technology
Providing you peace of mind is one of the most hyped benefits of having a smart home. It allows you to monitor your home remotely, countering dangers like when you left your coffee maker on or your front door unlocked. Elderly people will also benefit greatly from smart homes by providing monitoring that will be able to help them remain safely and comfortably at home instead of moving them to nursing homes.
Managing your home devices has never been easy and more convenient than ever. All of your home’s technology are kept connected via a single interface, which is a giant step forward for home management and technology. Ideally, all you need to do is to learn how to use the app on your tablet and smartphone, and you will be opening a world of endless devices and functions throughout your home. The learning curve of new users are cut down, making it easier for you to access functionality you only want for your home.
Smart home systems are very flexible in terms of accommodating new appliances and devices as well as all other technology. Even if you have the most current state-of-the-art appliances, newer models that are more impressive will be developed sooner or later. So you will probably add that to your collection of devices as you may want to replace older ones or discover newer technology to go with your outdoor and indoor spaces. With the smart home system, you will be able to integrate these new additions seamlessly making your job so much easier and it also lets you to keep on upgrading to the hottest lifestyle technologies.
Furthermore, you will be able to maximize your home’s security by incorporating the surveillance and security features of the smart home system. There are plenty of options for you, but currently only a handful are being explored. For example, your smart home network can be connected with surveillance cameras, motion detectors, automated door lock and any other concrete security measure all over your home so you can activate all of them in a single mobile device before you go to bed. Aside from this, you also have an option to receive security warnings on your different devices. Depending on your preferred time of the day, an alert will go off and you can monitor any activities in real-time, wherever you are in the world.
Your appliances’ functionality will be improved as well. For example, a Smart TV can help you find better channels and apps to locate programs that you favor. A smart oven will be able to assist you with cooking your dishes to perfection without the need to worry about under-cooking or overcooking them. An audio system and home theater that’s intelligently designed makes managing your music and movie collection effortless when you’re entertaining guests. Eventually, connecting your appliances with automation technology will not just improve their effectiveness, but overall, it will make your life at home so much easier and pleasurable.
Additionally, home automation can also help you improve efficiency. Instead of leaving your air-conditioning on the whole day, your smart home system can learn your activities and ensure that your house is cooled down by the time you’re home from a tiring day at work. This goes the same with your appliances as well. Plus, a smart home irrigation, your home’s lawn will be watered only when required and with just the right amount of water needed. Water, energy and other resources in your home are used more efficiently with home automation, helping you save both money and natural resources.
Disadvantages of Smart Home Technologies
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Security Risks in the Age of Smart Homes
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Future of Smart Home Technology
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How Much Does a Smart Home Cost?
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