Top Rated Smart Home Systems and Devices
Smart home systems are becoming more relevant in our everyday lives. The way we interact with everyday smart home devices and how they interact among themselves are fascinating… and this is happening with home control.
Our home is becoming smart, but what is exactly happening inside a smart house?
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 homesmart. 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 set 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 smart house system 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 house consists of wide range of technologies that work as one cohesive system in order to automate building function.
History of Smart Home Technology
Smart house products have been part of a long developmental trajectories 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 house devices, 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 house smarts 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 controller 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 house design is 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
Despite how prominent a technology is, there will often have some disadvantages to it as well. The smart home technology has been struggling to make it mainstream, part of the reason for this is because of their technical aspect.
One of the main home automation system drawback is the perceived complexity. In addition, some homeowners have trouble with its technology or will just simply give-up on the system when they get annoyed. Smart home system alliances and manufacturers are working diligently to reduce its complexity and make user experience more convenient and at the same time enjoyable for homeowners of all technical levels.
If we want to see this amazing smart home technology to be really effective:
- Devices must be inter-operable regardless of the manufacturing company ecosystem.
- Use similar protocols or complementary solutions at the minimum.
As the market for it is very promising, a gold standard for the technology is yet to be set. Nevertheless, standard associations are working on partnering with several protocols and manufacturers to make sure that user-experience will be seamless.
Home security is another major issue that home automation is facing. According to a report of the NTT Data Corporation in 2016, around 80% of United States consumers are worried about the aspect of home security of the data of their smart homes. Once a smart device is infiltrated by a hacker, he could possibly turn off all the alarms and lights as well as unlock doors, leaving your home defenseless to any break-in. Moreover, there’s also a chance for a hacker to gain access to your network, which can potentially lead to data ex-filtration or worse attacks. In fact, in October of 2016, parts of the internet were brought down in a sequence of DDoS or Denial of Service distributed by the Mirai IoT bot net, using poorly secured routers, DVRs and cameras as its entry points.
Aside from security, data privacy is also a concern by a lot of smart home adversaries. According to the report of NTT Data, about 73% of consumers are worried about the privacy of data being shared by their smart devices. While manufacturers and platforms of the smart home technology may gather your data to better suit their products to your needs or offer improved and newer services, transparency and trust are vital to companies shaping up the trust with the users of their products.
Security Risks in the Age of Smart Homes
By integrating together various devices, the smart home technology offers the promise of control over your home security and enhanced energy efficiency as well. However, it is not free from security threats as well. A home automation system can leave homeowners vulnerable to serious risks like theft, blackmail, extortion and arson. Currently, research is focusing more on individual smart devices and the way they communicate. But, there is little research being done on what will happen once these smart devices are combined with coordinated system. On an independent test done, the two main vulnerability categories of the technology are insecure messaging and excessive privileges.
Smart apps come with administrative privileges on your device like switching your smart oven On/Off or Unlocking/Locking your smart door. The idea is similar to smartphone apps wherein it will require user-access permissions for example acquiring your current geo-location or access of your video camera.
It interacts with similar smart devices thru communication protocols that is similar to how humans talk to each other. Smart devices can send messages containing sensitive data, such as your PIN code for opening a specific lock. A smart app can obtain substantial amount of sensitive information coming from different sources. Let’ say a basic app was designed to only monitor your door lock’s battery level may also be able to obtain sensitive info such as its PIN code.
Furthermore, earlier home automation systems come with some serious failures, and in the last couple of years have come back. Since manufacturers of the technology have been focusing more on the innovation and getting their smart products on the market, rather than keeping up with the current cyber protection and security developments. Sometimes, these companies even neglect the basics in order to keep their smart products safe, that’s why it became easier for people to hack them.
A security analyst, Synack, tested some of these smart devices for cyber security and was able to successfully hack into 15 out of the 16 they tested in less than 30 minutes. Considering the fact that some of these devices may have included garage doors, water pumps and security cameras, it is easy to see how these weaknesses pose physical risks to homeowners.
These smart devices are highly available on the market today. It is very important for you to be very careful about which ones to consider purchasing to ensure risks are minimized.
Currently, the main worries for homeowners are cyber crooks obtaining personal information such as payment details and messing around with home automation systems. It is not safe from any kind of attacks especially these devices are joining the bandwagon in the Internet of Things.
Improvements of Cyber Security
Smart home security flaws have been exposed by a lot of security experts. And this is a great motivation for companies and manufacturers to invest in improving the security measures of their smart products.
Buyers of smart homes should be hand in hand in encouraging this trend by buying products only from manufacturers making the much-needed effort to keep their systems free from attacks. Two-factor authentication, strong encryption and other security protocols is crucial as the industry kept growing.
The next sensible step in making your smart home secure and safer is smart security to analyze patterns and alert homeowners when any glitches are detected, thus illicit activities will be easier to spot.
Future of Smart Home Technology
Over the past years, there has been more concern over the pollution of fossil fuels, which are our main source of energy to power our homes. The need for alternate energy sources like solar or wind power has become more prevalent in today’s society. Therefore, the smart home exhibits the idea that invention is the mother of necessity by creating technologies that utilize fossil fuels for energy. We run into the dilemma that these fossil fuels might run out. Thus, the smart home aims to use greener energy sources as well as less energy in general through data analysis of utilities and home appliances.
People today are becoming more and more about the environment and increasing carbon dioxide emissions which lead to global warming. Research is being done to help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced. One of the best ways to do this is by reducing energy usage. The smart home will help to achieve this by for example, keeping the lights off and temperature cooler throughout the night while people while people are sleeping.
In the future, you will be able to depend more on your own home to regulate the environment for you, based on your own needs and wants as well as the capabilities of the smart appliances you use to learn and understand about your preferences and habits. The smart home technology and home automation system are predicted to become one of the biggest consumer trends, with a revenue set to go up four times to around $65 million by the year 2020.
Smart home applications and devices should not just make your life safer and easier. It is vital for them to make your living environments more efficient and healthier as well.
How Much Does a Smart Home Cost?
A smart home could have a massive impact in your life. Not only can the system provide you plenty of free time to enjoy and spend somewhere else, but it can also help regulate your everyday routine so you are not weighed down of losing track of what needs to be accomplished in your home. But exactly how expensive is it to automate your home?
For many of us, cost is the biggest issue. Who would not want minor things in our everyday lives improved and automated? That’s an offer most of would not turn down, as long as we can afford it, of course. Fortunately, the cost of converting your home into a smart home doesn’t have to bend your wallet, as long as you’re also smart about it.
Here’s a breakdown of what a typical homeowner would most likely use:
Beginners to smart home systems usually stats with lighting since it is the least risky and easiest to modify. The two functions of smart lighting include energy efficiency and automated relative lighting. A Philips Hue starter pack for instance is cost under $90 and is very user-friendly and rich with lighting features. It already comes with a bridge as its central controller as well as four bulbs to replace your 60-watt traditional bulbs. You can buy extra bulbs for $60. Using your Hue mobile app for Android and iOS, you can control around 50 bulbs in a single system support from anywhere around the world.
You also have a choice to smarten up the current lights in your home rather than installing new equipment by opting for something like a WeMo Switch Smart Plug which will cost you around $30, not including the installation fee of your technician.
Smart Climate Control
An average home uses around 40-60% of energy to regulating its temperature. And keeping your home warm during winter and cool during summer can cost you a lot. You can drop a little money and save plenty on energy costs in the long run with energy hacks of a smart home. One of the most popular smart climate control in the market today is Nest Learning Thermostat. Installing this will automate the temperature of your home while maximizing comfort and cutting down your energy costs. When you’re away it’ll turn itself off and you can control it manually by touching it or by connecting it to your Wi-Fi.
If you do not have a centralized climate control, an alternative is the Aros Smart Air Conditioner for $465. It can track all types of data like usage, location, schedule and even your budget. It will also accordingly alter its behavior; hence cooling costs are lowered.
Enhancing your home with a smart security will not just increase its safety but it is also for your peace of mind. Keep in mind though that any security device will not be able to provide you with 100% protection, but everything does add up. For example, August Smart Lock which costs $229.99, may not provide you more protection compared to a regular lock, but it is very convenient to manage and use. You can access lock using any smartphone as long as you give permission, which you can also revoke. The smart device can sense when you’re approaching and unlocks. When you leave your home, it will lock again. It is designed brilliantly and yet deceptively simple.
If you will combine the smart security, lighting and climate control, the cost will all add up to around $1,400. To give you an overview of what you can save, here’s the average home renovation cost in the US:
- Remodeling of bathroom will set you back $9,000 – $14,000
- Lawn regarding costs around $700 – $2,000
- Replacing warm air furnace cost is $2.500 – $4,800
- Septic system replacement will slash your budget of $4,000 – $6,000
- Replacing each of your windows can cost $350 – $700
Converting your home into a smart home is not that expensive at all. Even if you will opt for luxurious smart devices, the cost will roughly be just $3,700.
New and emerging technologies such as smart homes are challenged with significant investments particular to time and money. Manufacturers of smart products are ramping up their offerings hoping that the smart home technology will one day hit the mainstream.
There’s a huge probability for this new market to hit the trend thanks to artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, robotics & droids, quantum & parallel computing, computer vision, wearable tech, virtual reality, augmented reality, natural interfaces, machine learning, 3D printing, mixed reality and internet of things (IoT).
Video: Jetson – The Family of the Future
But, achieving a home like The Jetsons may still be decades off. Even with numerous technological advances we still lack gold standards for the automation of these devices. Without such standards plenty of consumers are doubtful whether their expenditures on these gadgets might become obsolete in a matter of short periods.
By 2022, smart home technology is predicted to have a market revenue of $53.45 billion.
Its appeal is very clear. We will have more automation and control with our homes. It will grant us the chance to make better decisions and improve usage of our limited resources.
The smart home technology concept is appealing. Unfortunately, security threats such as privacy intrusion and hacking are major challenges for this new technology. Until they are addressed with a sound solution then this technology will still face deep challenges before truly reaching its full potential growth.