It seems like everywhere you turn, people are talking about smart stuff. Your smartwatch is talking to your smartphone, and both may be communicating with your smart home. If this sounds like a lot of digital gibberish, the good news is a lot of the connected devices inside the home can send commands on your behalf, and you don’t have to listen.
Not only is a new generation of smart home devices conversing with each other all the time, they’re listening and learning, too. Sensors are sending information about the status of the home to devices that make their own decisions about how to handle them. Occupancy sensors monitor when and where people are in the home, and motion sensors announce when that changes.
Smart lights, locks, security systems, and garage door openers take this information and apply it to your normal routine; they know that there should be motion in the house in the afternoon when your child is due home from school. If there’s motion in your house 11 a.m.—when nobody is typically there—your smart house sends you a text.
This kind of automated control can bring peace of mind and cost savings.
Credit Nest, with its Learning Thermostat and its Works with Nest program, for creating much of the early buzz around the learning home. If the Nest Thermostat knows the occupancy status of the house, “then it can set back the temperature and save you a lot of money,” says Tom Kerber, director of research, home controls and energy, at research firm Parks Associates. “If it has this occupancy information, it can add value to other products in the house,” he says. For example LG’s HomeChat works with Nest to activate LG’s “Smart Savings” mode on appliances when you’re away from home.
Garage door opener manufacturer Chamberlain, including sister brand Liftmaster, was one of the first companies to integrate with the Nest Learning Thermostat through the Nest developer program. Chamberlain’s MyQ technology allows users to set their Nest Learning Thermostat to “home” and “away” modes from within the MyQ app. When you close the garage door on your way out, the thermostat goes into “away” mode so you don’t waste energy heating or cooling an empty home. The MyQ device can be a DIY or professionally installed add-on, and an add-on version works with nearly all garage door brands manufactured after 1993 (the year the Consumer Product Safety Commission began requiring that all residential garage doors have sensors that could “see” an object obstructing the door without having actual contact).
The washing machine is another appliance that benefits from chatting with the Nest thermostat. The thermostat is connected to the utility company to better manage energy usage; so, if your utility offers cheaper rates in response to energy demand, your washing machine can wait until a non-peak period to turn on. Load the washer before you leave, set it to a “smart energy” mode, and it will turn on when rates go down. Whirlpool’s smart washer has a FanFresh feature that circulates air in the washing machine for up to 10 hours to prevent clothes from getting musty.
Mercedes-Benz, too, is part of the Works With Nest program. The car tells your home what time you’ll arrive so that the thermostat can start heating or cooling based on your ETA. Both Nest (through a third-party app) and Honeywell’s Lyric thermostat have geofencing capabilities that allow you to set a perimeter around your neighborhood which marks the line that the car must pass to trigger the home to go into heat or cool mode.
Pairing the Nest thermostat with the Jawbone UP24 fitness tracker takes temperature control to the next level. The activity tracker on your wrist has sensors that detect when you wake up and go to sleep and they communicate that information to the thermostat. On a cold winter morning, your house can be warming up before you even get out of bed.
Nest, owned by Google, is the furthest along of all the learning platforms, but Apple, Samsung, and others are close at hand. Smaller companies are making their voices heard, too, including Wink and thermostat company ecobee, which has developed a way to tailor the temperature for individual rooms by using low-power sensors.
Service providers are getting involved in the smart home/learning home space in a big way and they’re largely being driven by iControl Networks, the platform behind 15 branded service provider smart home systems including Comcast Xfinity Home, Time Warner IntelligentHome, Cox Communication’s HomeLife, and ADT Pulse. The company has also launched its own DIY smart home offering called Piper, and it sells the iControl OpenHome home automation solution through small security dealers.
Through the iControl platform, these providers can gather valuable information about a family’s usage patterns to prompt them via a message on their smartphones to purchase additional products that would enhance the functionality of their current systems.
Traditional home control companies are addressing the learning home, too. Control4, for one, has added what it calls a “mockupancy” driver that makes it appear as if the home is occupied by turning lights on and off in a natural pattern. “Users have attempted mockupancy for a long time by just using simple timers,” says Control4 spokesman Blair Sonnen. “But timers are not realistic, and the pattern/schedule can easily be found out,” he says.
To truly reflect the way a home is lit when occupied, Control4’s new mockupancy driver captures and records the lights and timing of everyday usage and then plays that pattern back while the home is unoccupied. The way you live in your home, including lights and entertainment usage, can be captured and played back. “Each day the system will play back the way you live in your home for that day,” Sonnen says. Control4’s ability to manage audio and video gear adds A/V to the mix. “Nothing says occupants more than having a TV on,” Sonnen says. Control4’s learning mockupancy driver controls your TV and audio system to start at an hour you’d typically be home and then stops it automatically at night so anyone looking in from the outside will think that someone is home.
Thanks to innovation by manufacturers in the smart home space, our homes are poised to cater to our needs with less interaction from us than has been traditionally required. Homeowners can now rely on their smart products to listen and learn, then apply what they gather about our schedules and routines to make intelligent choices about how and when to operate. It’s just one more step toward a completely automated smart home. EH
REBECCA DAY is senior editor of Consumer Electronics Daily and in addition to Electronic House has written for Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Robb Report magazines.