There are a number of new technology items that could make your home a little smarter. One of the most heavily marketed, approaching ubiquitous, smart devices is the smart speaker which can fill the role of a smart home hub. This is typically an audio device similar to a Bluetooth speaker though newer offerings also sport a touch screen. This device uses an ‘always on’ microphone to listen for commands to be carried out by the supported digital assistant. You will want to thoroughly research which one is right for you as this device serves as the heart of your home automation and is responsible for turning your spoken commands into actions to be taken by your smart devices. A slew of different options are available for purchase from the usual suspects, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Google among many other lesser known brands. If you don’t like the idea of voice control, there are also handheld universal remote controls that can work with smart systems to place control at your fingertips.
Now that you’ve picked out the brains behind the operation it’s time to put that genie to work. The hub you’ve selected can now serve as a sort of universal voice remote for literally thousands of smart devices. The devices you choose will determine the level of control you’re able to achieve.
One of the most universal smart devices you can purchase is a smart outlet. This is a small device that plugs in between the wall outlet and the electric cord of any device, even a ‘dumb’ device. Placing this outlet inline gives you the ability to hand control of the outlet over to your smart ecosystem, making any device—to a limited extent—voice controllable. Granted this won’t work for every gadget because just powering up the outlet doesn’t always turn things on, but things like a lamp, coffee maker, or crockpot could work. Depending on the smart outlet you choose you could even set it up to send you a notification when your load of laundry is completed. Think of how relieved you’d be if you could turn off the iron you left on at home from work.
This doesn’t work for everything though, you certainly wouldn’t want to plug your alarm clock into a smart outlet. This would be a recipe for becoming a 12 o’clock flasher. (That’s when all your electronics continually flash 12:00 because they haven’t had their clock set since the last time they lost power.)
Choosing a device that’s specifically engineered to be smart capable is usually the better option. Assuming you do want to incorporate lighting controls, there are options like Philips Hue that not only let you turn your lights off and on, but allow you to select the exact color you’d like your lights to produce. Devices that are designed to be smart tend to give you more control, but you will want to verify compatibility with your hub of choice as well.
Other options for out-of-the-box smart housewares are:
- Assorted music systems
- Smart Bed
- Robot Vacuum / Mop
- Window Blinds
- Pool Cleaner
- Instant Pot
- Home Security System
- Door Locks
- Sprinkler System
We recently added a Nest Learning Thermostat to our home and while it hasn’t really made a huge impact on our energy bills it has saved me countless trips up and down the stairs to adjust the heating/cooling thresholds. Of note, we chose not to get a hub or smart speaker solution to go with our thermostat. It is doing quite well for us as a standalone, allowing us to control our thermostat anywhere our phones can operate.
It does bear mentioning that these smart options do present a security vulnerability that has been absent in traditional devices. As with anything connected to the internet, or any network, there exists the possibility of unauthorized access and hacking. Further, as these devices age this susceptibility only increases. Once a device reaches a certain shelf life manufacturers tend to stop releasing updates, meaning newly discovered exploits may never be patched on older devices.
You should also keep in mind that if these devices are configured to listen to every word you say in order to follow your commands, the potential also exists for them to be turned into the ultimate Trojan horse spying devices.
By Ty Gay, Network Systems Engineer