Sometimes it feels like we’re living in the future.   We may not have the flying car yet, but modern cell phones are already much better than the Star Trek Communicators Captain Kirk used to use in the future!

Home Automation is one of the technologies that we’ve been promised for years.   The hope that one day we might live in a home that listens to our commands and does what we ask of it.    Automation can cover many different aspects, from lighting to heating/cooling.   I’ve personally been interested in home automation for years – trying the different products as they came to market (and then soon after leaving again!).  The problem has always been with, it was so difficult to set up.   In order to get any level of automation working, you had to have a degree in computer science.   Once everything was up and running it worked well but getting there was an uphill struggle as each device (switches, lights, plugs etc.) had to talk to each other, and each one has its own language.

For years there have been competing standards like X10, Insteon, etc.   Only recently have the big manufacturers, like Apple, Google and Samsung, weighed in to try and simplify the market.    This, combined with new technologies and the presence of the Internet, means we’re now at the point where anyone can start to easily automate their home.

I’m going to use Apple as an example here.   As you know, I’m an Apple fan and have gone down the route of automation based around the Apple ecosystem.   However, if you’re not an Apple fan, there are Google and Samsung options available that can achieve the same results.

So just what can you do with automation?   The options are really endless, but the most popular is lighting, so this is what I will touch on for this article. Lighting is the bread and butter of home automation.   The simplest option is to by a plug-in adapter that goes between your device and the wall.   This adapter connects to your Wi-Fi (or proprietary network) to talk with your cell phone.   So, if you plug a lamp into this adaptor, you can then control the brightness from your phone!   It’s easy to set up, in some cases you just scan the device with your phone and everything is automatic!   Great – so now you can turn the lights on and off from your couch!   Lazy I know, but handy nonetheless!   But, let’s take this a step further, you can set up schedules and automations.   A schedule might be to turn the light on automatically as it gets dark.   Or even smarter – you can set it up so that the light comes on automatically as you drive up to the house!   But how does this work – how does the light know that you’re getting close?   This is due to a technology called Geo-Fencing and it works in conjunction with your cell phone.   Most cell phones have GPS built in for mapping and directions.   However, this GPS can also be used to trigger an action as you approach a location – in this case home.   Imagine pulling up to your home in complete darkness and having the lights come on so you can find your way to the doorstep!

Now with lighting you have a few options.   You can use plug-in adapters for lamps but what about ceiling lights?   Here you can either replace the bulbs themselves with smart bulbs, or you can replace the light switch itself (get an electrician to help with this!).   I prefer replacing the switches as there’s a flaw with replacing the bulbs.   Smart bulbs need to always be switched on for them to listen for new signals.  So, they never actually switch off – they just dim until they appear off.  If you switch them off at the wall, you lose all control of them until they’re switched on again!   Now there are some really neat smart bulbs out there – Philips do a range called Hue where you can not only dim them but change the colour!   However, they all have this flaw whereby if someone switched them off at the wall, they’re no longer automated.

Personally, I’ve only scratched the surface with lighting automation.   I’m planning to automate more lights over time, and eventually I’d like to automate more things like door locks, TVs, etc.     Now imagine driving home, you pull up the driveway, the garage door opens, the lights switch on and the doors unlock.    Or you’re sitting at home and say “House – let’s watch TV” – triggering the lights to dim and the TV to switch on.   All we need then is for an automated robot to bring a beer from the fridge, but until then I’m training the dog to do that!

If you have any home automation questions, then please get in touch.