How smart is smart — for your ‘Home sweet Home’?

In the last few months, I have been toying with smart-enabling my little home. It started to get me thinking on what truly is “Smart”? What are the practical & ‘safe’ uses of IOT for residential users who can be innocent when it comes to securing your home against hackers and IP sniffers!

Last year I started experimenting with new off the shelf components for Smart Home or rather connected home implementations and have found interesting learnings that I wish to share with all @home pioneers.

So mostly, what do we have at the regular “Fry’s” electronics store near your home or on Amazon?:

a. Smart Lights — eg. Philips Hue, GE Link, LifX, Belkin WeMo, Insteon, TPLink.

b. Smart Thermostats — eg. NEST Learning, Ecobee, Honeywell.

c. Smart door sensors and alarms — eg. Ring, Skybell, Zmodo Greet, Chui.

d. Smart wireless cameras — eg, Arlo, Insteon, TrendNet, etc,

e. Smart Assistants — e.g. Alexa, Home, Siri, etc.

f. DIY MicroControllers, MicroComp, Smart heat/temperature, light sensors, etc. — e.g. Arduino kits, Raspberry Pi, Intel Edison, Robo kits like etc.

g. HomeKit platforms — Apple HomeKit, Nest Weave, Samsung Smart things hub, wink.

But what is truly ‘Smart” in this kind of a connected home set-up? Have you wondered about the common and real-life applications of smart devices and where the logic for all these smarts would reside?

Setting up your 1st Test Kitchen

When I first started off with raspberry PIs, arduino kits and their related ecosystem of sensors, it seemed like a lot of loose wiring and gadgetry that would take ages to neatly implement at my home. It did not seem like a professional install and definitely seemed like loose components that could come unhooked anytime. Not very productive, but a lot of fun to play with such toys and see what it can be applied to : garages, doors, etc.

Fun, Fun & more Fun

Then came the next phase of using Smart ‘Colored’ Theme lights at home. This was fun. I could create new ambience within the home whether it was for a serene, meditative setting Or a wonderfully bright convertible disco living room! Tried out various options from Insteon to Philips Hue to LIFX. My daughter was a bit disturbed by the disco lighting option but atleast it opened up our mind to a world of new possibilities. Strangely enough, it resulted in my children trying to play with lights to match our old watt-saver lights in color.

Afterwards, we tried out some IOT homekits from the likes of LITTLEBITS.cc which resulted in even more fun with small garage door sensor and heat/light sensor experiments … all feeling like we had entered an Innovation Test Kitchen inside our old styled home. It had a small arduino kit option also in which you could teach your kids a bit of programming and allow for some CloudBit experimentation. Check out all their cool projects at the site: http://littlebits.cc/projects

As an interesting use-case, earlier last year, we had played around a bit with a video streaming camera inside a refrigerator to sense the lack of contents (or even expiration of some) so that Mom and Dad could be alerted while driving home from work to stop at the local grocery store. But that experiment, kind of failed, as we couldn’t avoid the wiring needed for power supplies and ethernet connections. But this year, the story is completely different as the technology components have advanced to allow us the options of wireless (WIFI) based networks with camera feeds streaming 24x7. Power supply issues continue however as cameras need to work pretty much for the long term.

This last winter vacation, we snowbirds tried out the TrendNet live streaming webcam too for capturing any movements in the house while we were out enjoying on beaches and mountains alike. The problem however was that we left in a hurry and didn’t spend enough time in networking setups with a DNS that could resolve and redirect the stream outside the local LAN / Wi-Fi at home. If you are a person who doesn’t enjoy set up private or public firewalls (opening ports, etc.), you may find this to be a small roadblock with timely access to data in a secure fashion.

What did we learn through this process?

There are so many variations of purpose and problems that can be solved with IOT kits. So the bottomline is that when you are playing around with such Smart Home enabling IOT homekits, you need to think about :

  1. PROBLEMS — that need solving (is this the SMART answer you were looking for?)
  2. REAL-TIME Monitoring — or offline nature of tracking/sensing changes
  3. SECURITY — that needs to be absolutely set up for Cloud or Internet connected devices ; Awareness and Alertness are both key with so many IP sniffers out there
  4. CONNECTIVITY & CONTROL — live internet which enables inside and outside app access
  5. POWER — supplies that need to ON 24x7 to ensure that the electronics functions reliably
  6. STYLE — and look-n-feel for other users who are not savvy about IOT devices
  7. UTILITY — how will elders and children alike utilize the devices in your absence

All experimentation comes at a cost, but by being smart in your choices you may find that there are quite a few affordable components out in the market now (case in point LIFX bulbs vs. INSTEON vs. GE). A few people will always deter you from setting up such a connected HOME, but I will advise you to ofcourse :

Keep an open mind, Keep trying till you find the right tailored solution for your home and Keep Innovating … be sure that our residential industry is on the verge of disruption as more and more homes get connected. It’s better to Fail-fast (& learn quickly), than to take no action and be late to the game when it comes to @HOME safety & security. Here’s to many more prototyping and testing activities to the pioneers and daring adventurers of our time! Happy IOT-parties!

@VPAX First Published March 6th 2017
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