What is a smart home?
When we think “smart home,” we like to imagine self-cleaning kitchens and omnipotent J.A.R.V.I.S.-esque robots that obey our every command. Unfortunately, technology is not quite there yet. But home automation is becoming more common, and we can now lock the doors, turn off the lights, and more without leaving the couch.
Home automation, as we know it today, focuses on several key features:
- HVAC systems
- Security equipment
- Electrical outlets
- Smoke/Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors
We kept those categories broad on purpose because, technically, any device that can be connected to a larger network can operate as a smart device and help automate your home. From refrigerators to light bulbs, smart objects are everywhere.
But smart though these new items may be, they still need you—an actual human. Far from the robot servants of our dreams, any home automation device you own still needs you to control it—which is why home automation devices and features generally have one or all of three key features:
- Remote or mobile control
- Self-learning features
In this article, we’ll cover what these three features mean and what types of devices have which capabilities.
1) Remote or mobile control
Remote (also called mobile) control means you can control your home automation devices even when you’re not right by the system control panel.
Whether you’re across the country or across the room, you can use an app on your smartphone, tablet, or computer to control functions of different smart objects in your house.
Prime examples of this include door locks and lightbulbs. Smart locks and bulbs let you lock and unlock doors, open garage doors, and turn lights on and off with just the tap of a button in an app. If you get to work and realize you forgot to lock the front door or turn off the living room lights, no problem. Tap a button in an app and you’re set.
This type of control can extend to include security systems, which you can arm, disarm, and monitor from anywhere in the world—as long as you have an internet connection.
For example, Vivint’s doorbell camera sends a live video feed to the homeowner’s phone whenever it detects someone (or something) approaching the door. Using Vivint’s app, you can talk to visitors, say hi to your house sitter, and watch for Amazon deliveries. And you can do all that no matter where you are—whether you’re in the grocery store or on a beach in the Caribbean.
Scheduling is one of the most common features of smart devices, especially when it comes to lights and thermostats. Basically, devices with scheduling allow users to designate certain times or situations in which the equipment functions.
For example, you can set a thermostat to turn your HVAC system off when you leave for work and back on 30 minutes before you’re home so you can enjoy a consistently warm (or cool) house without wasting energy and paying higher bills.
Likewise, lights can be scheduled to turn on and off at certain times of day or night, and security systems can be set to arm and disarm automatically at specific times of day. Using devices like Amazon’s Alexa, you can set a wake-up alarm, time the cookies you’re baking, and ask for a reminder to pick up your kids from school—all with simple verbal commands.
Scheduling is the type of home automation that has been around the longest—which makes sense considering it’s the lowest-tech feature home automation devices use, but it’s still one of the most powerful.
3) Self-learning capabilities
Self-learning capabilities put the “smart” in smart devices. Self-learning is a step up from scheduling and several steps closer to the robot future the Jetsons promised us. With self-learning systems, you go from setting schedules for your thermostat to having your thermostat set the schedules itself because it’s learned when you are and aren’t home.
Nest is a great example of a device manufacturer that offers self-learning features. The Nest thermostat can detect when you’re home and away and adjust your HVAC settings accordingly.
We anticipate seeing more and more of these types of features from smart devices, especially for appliances like refrigerators and lights.