By Emily Kathleen Alberts
The average U.S. home has eight connected devices, and that number is expected to reach 31 by 2020. Home automation technology is finding its way into kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms of homes worldwide. Devices such as Amazon Alexa-Enabled Echo and Google Home are becoming the backup brains of many American homeowners, helping prepare grocery lists, song playlists and even dinner. Connected devices can turn off lights, the stove and that pesky flat iron – all while we are miles away from home.
In a world where we are increasingly tied to our phones, these hands-free helpers eliminate the need for a phone altogether. In “always listening” mode, the Echo is ready to solve problems 24/7, so we can get answers and move on with life. For the homeowner who wants a fully integrated smart system, there are dozens of smart hubs, such as the Samsung SmartThings hub. “The variables are nearly infinite, but as an idea of what’s possible, think of a system that detects when someone is home, turns your lights on and off, adjusts the thermostat depending on the time of day or room to room when people are present, interfaces with your home audio system, monitors your house when you’re away, and sends notifications should something seem amiss” (The Wirecutter 2016).
With today’s advances in smart technology, devices such as the Nest Cam deliver a functional high-res, wireless security camera at minimal cost. Primarily used for monitoring what’s happening inside the home, the Nest Cam can deliver peace of mind. New parents can pair the NestCam with the Fisher-Price Newborn Rock ‘n Play Sleeper (with SmartConnect) and comfortably and conveniently rock the baby, even remotely, for hours a day.
For outdoor home monitoring, the Kuna Toucan is a popular outdoor smart camera, and it retrofits to existing outdoor wall lights via a USB cable, which means no batteries, no wires and no fuss. The Toucan includes a Smart Socket adapter to “make a dumb bulb smart,” and cool extras like an alarm and two hours of free cloud storage. Even the neighborhood kids who like to ding-dong and ditch will think twice when they see this virtual eye in the sky.
Speaking of smart light bulbs, the Twist is a light bulb that doubles as a portable speaker. The bulb streams tunes from any app, with high quality sound to boot. This “two birds/one stone” gadget eliminates the need for yet another thing to plug into the wall.
Another outdoor security camera option is the Canary, which was the Better Homes and Gardens 2017 Editor’s Choice for DIY home security. When it detects motion, it records HD video and sends an alert to your phone. You can even sound an alarm remotely. For people in real estate with multiple properties monitor and manage, smart home devices can save thousands of dollars, not to mention costly insurance claims. If a landlord provides tenants with free heating and cooling or a flat rate electric bill, there are devices to track energy usage for all kinds of things, even the laundry. The Wemo Insight Switch sends energy and cost reports to a smartphone and provides tools for saving cash on your next bill.
For personal use, one can use Wemo to set a timer to turn off holiday lights or air conditioning or heat after you fall asleep. It can set a schedule so kids can’t watch more than an hour of TV. Hunt down the power hogs in your house and see if it would be better to hang your laundry instead of dry it. You can ask for notification then the dryer stops to avoid wrinkled clothes.
How much longer until we feel like we are living in an episode of “The Jetsons?” The popular 1960’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon was actually set in 2062, exactly 45 years from now. We already have the smart watches, tablets and 3D printing capabilities that were popular on the show. The Roomba isn’t too far off from “Rosie” the maid. The latest version of the Roomba can clean for 120 minutes, find its way back to the charging station, recharge and continue to clean until the job is done. Apps like iRobot HOME let you clean, schedule and set custom cleaning preferences all from your smartphone. Did “Astro” the dog ever shed? Not sure, but the Roomba can handle the heaviest of shedders, handle tight corners and turn like a pro.
In “The Jetsons,” George is often seen walking Astro on a treadmill, but for dogs who like to wander, Smart tags, such as LINK AKC, use AT&T’s cellular network and GPS technology to track your dog’s location anywhere in the U.S. The LINK AKC collar has a remote turn on sound to aid in training and an LED light to be seen at night.
Get Yourself Connected AND Protected
In this Internet of Everything (IoT) world, securing your Wi-Fi is becoming just as important as securing your front door. Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020. That’s just 3 years away! Preventive measures like making your Wi-Fi invisible, updating software whenever possible, and changing passwords regularly can prevent hackers from intruding into your virtual (and possibly physical) space.
Visit www.haveibeenpwned.com to see whether you have been hacked and get a sense of just how often hacking happens. If you’re not quite ready to take the Smart Home plunge, the website https://ifttt.com/ is a great way to get started on linking your favorite services together and becoming a part of the IoT. There are Applets for everything.
Emily Kathleen Alberts is an NRV freelance writer and regular contributor to New River Valley Magazine who is very comfortable with science and technology topics.♦ End