19 Ways the Internet Gave Us Smarter Homes

19 Ways the Internet Gave Us Smarter Homes

When most of us think of smart homes, we think of futuristic houses where we walk in and are greeted by the voice of a computer. “Hello (name). How are you? Are you ready for your dinner?” it might say. We would respond, “Yes, please heat some soup,” and the stove would automatically turn on. Perhaps a robotic arm would extend from the fridge to pour the soup you had the day before into a pot for it to be warmed. Meanwhile, you could get changed from your hard day at work and relax before dinner.

This version of a smart home may never come true. But thanks to the internet, specifically the Internet of Things, we’re closer now than we have ever been before to having homes that are just as smart if not smarter than us, meaning smart homes are no longer things of the distant future.

But if we can’t have smart homes that talk to us and do things for us, then what does a smart home look like in 2019? What tech solutions are available to us that we can use to make smarter homes? And what does it even mean to have a smart home? As you could probably guess, a lot of it has to do with WiFi and Bluetooth, but a lot of the smart home options we have today are merely updated versions of technologies that have been around for a while.

Early Smart Home Technology

The first example of smart home technology was actually released to the general public way back in 1975. It was called the X10 system, and all it did was connect the many different appliances in your home and use electrical signals to help them communicate with one another. For example, you could set it up so that when a light was turned off in a room, the light in the hallway would go off. Another application was to connect the garage door opener to the lights so that when it opened as you got home, some lights would turn on, and they would go off again when you left.

The smart home technology we have today builds off the same concept, but instead of using a plugin device to help appliances communicate with one another, smart homes are controlled through your phone. Devices and appliances are outfitted with WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, and this allows you to control them more than we ever thought was possible. However, while smart home technology is growing, there is still some resistance, although this is likely to change in the near future. Consider these stats from Clutch:

 

To help you decide how to make your home smarter, here are 19 ways the internet has helped make our homes more intelligent.

Smart Homes in 2019

These stats suggest that the smart home market is not growing as quickly as we might have thought. But we should be careful about making such a conclusion. Here are some stats that indicate the smart home market is poised for growth:

How the Internet is Making Our Homes Smarter

Lights

Perhaps one of the simplest ways the internet has made our homes smarter is by allowing us to control the lights better. By using smart light switches and fixtures, we can easily control the lights in our homes using our phones. You can set things up so that certain lights go on and off at certain times (great if you’re going to be away or if you tend to come home from work after the sun has gone down), or you can control lights from far away.

So, if you get on the plane to leave for vacation and you realize you left all the lights on, all you need to do is check your phone. If it says something is on, you can switch it off, helping you save power and also give the impression that someone is home.

In addition to smart light switches, you can also get smart light bulbs that will change brightness automatically depending on the time of day, the amount of light in the room at the time, as well as your personal preferences. In short, smart lighting means you may never need to flick a light switch again.

Cameras

Installing cameras in your home is nothing new, but the internet has certainly made them more effective. Smart cameras will turn on when they sense motion, and then they will send an alert right to your phone to notify you something is up. You will then be able to tap into the feed and watch live what’s happening at your home. If it’s something serious, such as a break-in, you will then be able to immediately contact the authorities. If it’s not something serious, then you can dismiss the notification and monitor the situation as you see fit.

You can also program cameras to recognize you and/or your car. This way, your home can detect when you’re walking or driving home, and you can set your devices to react accordingly. For example, you could have some lights turn on or even set some music so that you can enter your home exactly as you want to.

Security

We all want to feel safe and secure in our homes, and alarm systems have been helping us do that for some time. However, the internet has made our security systems smarter, which makes our homes even more secure. For example, you can connect your phone, lights, and alarm into one system so that when there is an emergency, such as an intruder, your home instantly lights up and the authorities are alerted. This, plus the sound of the alarm, should be enough to scare anyone away from trying to do you harm or steal your belongings.

Health and Safety

Similar to security, our homes can now help us stay healthy and safe. For example, if you have a heart condition, you can wear a device that communicates to other devices in your home. This way, if something happens and you need help, your home can call emergency services for you, which will save you time and potentially your life. This can also come in handy if you fall.

Your home can detect when there is a fire and alert emergency services, light the path to safety, and if you have a sprinkler system, activate it so that you can start dealing with the situation right away.

Sound

The internet has given us many more options to make our homes smarter with sound. The simplest example is wireless speakers, such as those offered by Sonos. These can be set up all around your home and they connect to your device via Bluetooth. Then, as you walk around the house, the speakers will pick up on the signal and the one that is closest to you will turn on. This way, if you’re listening to a great album or a podcast, you won’t lose your spot because you quickly had to run upstairs.

Also, many speakers are now equipped with voice control, meaning you can change the song, turn the volume up and down, and turn the speakers on or off by doing nothing more than speaking.

Doorbells

Doorbells probably aren’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of smart homes, but the technology has come a long way. Essentially, they have been equipped with cameras and WiFi so that they can sense motion and so that you can see who is at the door before they ring. This provides you with an added level of security –you’ll be able to see when someone is trying to get into your home – and it can also save you time.

For example, if the FedEx driver rings to let you know you have a package, you can look at your phone and know that you don’t need to get up right at that second if you don’t want to. It’s also possible to talk to people at the door with your smart doorbell so that you can give them directions about where to leave the package. Or, if you don’t get a good feeling from the person at your door, you can tell then you’ve called the police so that they’ll leave.

Energy Consumption

One cool thing the internet now allows us to do is to track our energy consumption. You can buy devices that tap into your electricity, gas, oil, etc. and read how much you’re using. They will provide you with daily, weekly, and monthly reports, as well as some insights to let you know how you could be saving. For example, it might pick up on the fact that you’re leaving lights on too long in the morning, or not turning them off early enough at night, which is causing an uptick in your consumption. These things might seem small, but they add up, and a smart home picks up on them and helps you bring your consumption (and expenses) down to a minimum.

Thermostats

Programmable thermostats have been around for a while and they are incredibly useful. They allow you to set the maximum and minimum temperatures for your home so that you can maintain how hot or cold it is. Smart thermostats do the same thing, but they take things one step further. For example, they can read and analyze how you adjust the temperature to help you find the optimal level, and they can also help adjust the temperatures in different rooms.

Furthermore, you can adjust them from afar, or you can program them to adapt to changing conditions using your phone. So, when there is a hotter than expected day, you don’t need to worry about coming home to a stuffy house. The thermostat will adjust and pump the air so that your home can be the cool sanctuary you’ve always wanted it to

This is also great for pet owners as you can adjust the temperature to make sure your furry friend is comfortable throughout the day. We’ve all heard horror stories of animals being trapped in excessively hot areas, and smart homes are making it easier for us to avoid these tragedies.

Water

Water is quickly becoming the world’s most valuable resource. We all must do our part to make sure we’re keeping consumption to a minimum. Plus, wasting water wastes money. There are devices out there that you can hook up to your pipes that not only measure your water consumption so that you can seek ways to reduce but that will also detect when there is a leaky pipe or a faucet left running. They can then be set to shut off your water so that this waste stops and you can save money and our most precious liquid.

Locks and Doors

You wouldn’t think locks and doors could get high-tech, but in the digital world we live in, nothing is off-limits. These work pretty much as you would expect them to; they are locks that you can control either with a key or with your smartphone. However, what makes these locks cool is that they can “think.”

For example, some smart locks will detect when your phone is in range and automatically unlock so that you don’t need to fumble with your keys. Garage doors can be programmed to do the same thing, meaning you can pull right in without having to wait for the door to rise up. Of course, this only takes a few seconds, but who wouldn’t want to save those if they had the chance?

Supplies and Groceries

For most of us, we tend to realize we’ve run out of things at the moment we need them most. You reach into the fridge for milk to put in your scrambled eggs only to realize there’s none left, or you go into the cupboard for toilet paper and grimace when you see there’s none there. Smart homes are helping to eliminate this hardship by using sensors to detect when you’re running low on things.

At the moment, those that work in your pantry are still being developed, but there are refrigerators that will monitor expiration dates and product levels and give you notifications when it’ time to restock. These same fridges can also look at what you have on hand and provide you with meal ideas and recipes. To some, this sounds scary but to others, this is a dream come true.

Lawn Care

Depending on who you are, lawn care is either your favorite household chore or your most dreaded. If you fall into the second category, don’t worry, the internet is here to help. One of the most practical solutions is automated sprinklers. These can be set up with your phone and they can also tap into weather reports and adjust accordingly. For example, if you set the sprinklers to go off at 4 pm. but there’s a 90 percent chance of rain at 5 o’clock, the sprinkler will know to skip that day and save you water.

Other, more extreme options include automatic lawnmowers. They work similar to robotic vacuums but the technology is more advanced because lawnmowers are more dangerous. These machines will create a map of your lawn and then work on your own so that you can sit inside in the cool and watch your lawn get cut for you. And you don’t even need to offer someone lemonade afterward!

Cooking

Cooking is fun, but to do it right, you need time, and who’s got that!? Luckily, there are now products out there that make it easier for you to enjoy the benefits of slow cooking without having to stand in the kitchen all day. These are essentially pots and pans you can monitor from afar. You can set them to turn on and off when you want, and you can check on the temperature as you go to see if you need to make adjustments. For some, this time-saver could be life-changing.

Laundry

Laundry is one of the less glamorous parts of life, but it’s certainly important. Smart washers and dryers help make it a little easier. For example, they allow you to remotely control your appliances, which could be helpful if you don’t want either the washer or dryer to be running while you’re away, and they also monitor energy consumption and adjust to reduce the amount they use. Smart washers and dryers will also notify you when cycles are done so that you don’t leave something in the washer until it smells or forget to take clothes out of the dryer before they get wrinkled.

Personal Assistant

Because of our full, busy lives, we probably all need a personal assistant to help remind us of appointments, medications, social events, and all the other things we need to do. Fortunately, the internet has made this easier than ever, especially with devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. You can add items to your calendar or to-do list and set reminders just be speaking to the device, or you can input stuff into your phone and have your assistant remind you at home. Of course, having a device speak to you is off-putting at first, but you probably won’t be able to live without it once you get used to it.

In fact, right now, the smart speaker market is the largest segment in the smart home industry. In 2018, smart speaker sales surpassed $3.2 billion, which was a 17 percent increase from the year before. Much of this growth has come from Amazon’s Alexa system, which is dominating the market. Here’s a breakdown of the smart speaker/personal assistant market:

TVs

Smart TVs are quickly becoming the norm. They allow you to change the channel, control the volume, and record shows using just your voice, and they also allow you to do things such as control when your kids can or can’t watch to limit their screen time. Many of these devices also allow you to do this stuff remotely, which can come in handy if you’re at home and suddenly remember that you hadn’t recorded the game you wanted to watch.

Pet Care

No one wants to think of pet care as a chore, but it can be tough to remember to feed them every day when we’ve got so many other things going on. Smart pet feeders allow you to pre-load food and then set a feeding time as well as a quantity. This makes sure you never forget, and it’s particularly useful when you are going to be away for some time and don’t have someone who can come over and take care of your furry friend.

There are also smart pet feeders that come equipped with cameras so that you can check in on your pet, talk to him or her, and even throw them treats so that they know you’re thinking about them when you’re away!

Cleaning

No one likes to clean. Being done can be satisfying, but very few people actually like to get dirty, scrub floors, and clean. Unfortunately, smart technology cannot completely replace your need to clean, but it can reduce your responsibility. For example, robotic vacuum cleaners will roam around your home or apartment and clean up the floor for you, and you can even buy devices that will mop for you as well. These devices have an uncanny ability to avoid things you’ve left on the floor, and while they can’t completely replace a good vacuum, they do a pretty good job and make our lives a whole lot easier.

Beds

A good night’s sleep is key to health and wellness, but so many of us don’t get enough sleep, or the sleep we do get is poor quality. Smart beds, such as those offered by Sleep Number, analyze your biometrics while you sleep to help identify why you might not be getting the rest you need. They will then adjust the firmness of your bed to help you be more comfortable, or they will play ambient sounds designed to help you relax. Peace of mind is the best way to get a good night’s sleep, but this technology will help you better understand your sleep cycles so that you can recharge and make the most of your days.

Conclusion

Clearly, the concept of the smart home is no longer one reserved for the distant future. Instead, you can have a fully smart home today if you want. However, the caveat is that this technology is still quite expensive. Some devices and solutions are more mainstream than others, but those that are still new remain out of reach for most homeowners.

But things such as thermostats, locks, lights, security systems, and pots and pans are most definitely affordable. Yet as the Internet of Things continues to grow and people demand more and more smart home solutions, there are sure to be more options that do more and cost less, meaning the age of the Smart Home is likely just around the corner.

 

 

What Will Smart Homes Look Like 10 Years From Now?

It’s 6 A.M., and the alarm clock is buzzing earlier than usual. It’s not a malfunction: the smart clock scanned your schedule and adjusted because you’ve got that big presentation first thing in the morning. Your shower automatically turns on and warms to your preferred 103°F. The electric car is ready to go, charged by the solar panels or wind turbine on your roof. When you get home later, there’s an unexpected package waiting, delivered by drone. You open it to find cold medicine. Turns out, health sensors embedded in your bathroom detected signs of an impending illness and placed an order automatically. Good thing you already knocked that presentation out of the park.

That, at least, is the utopian version of the smart home that exists 10 years out. Swedish research firm Berg Insight says 63 million American homes will qualify as “smart” by 2022, with everything from Internet-connected light bulbs to cameras that let us spy on our pets from the office (there were nearly 130 million homes in the U.S. in total in 2018). But a decade from now, experts say, we’ll move from turning the lights on and off with our voices to total immersion in the Internet of Things (IoT). Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, the smartest homes will be able to truly learn about their owners or occupants, eventually anticipating their needs. Developments in robotics will give us machines that offer a helping hand with cleaning, cooking and more. New sensors will keep tabs on our well-being. Central to all of this will be the data that smart homes collect, analyze and act upon, helping to turn the houses of the future from a mere collection of gadgets and accessories into truly “smart” homes.

All the automated attentiveness will come with a high price tag: consumers will spend $123 billion on IoT gear by 2021, according to advisory firm ABI Research, a number that’s likely to rise thereafter. Aside from Internet-connected televisions, manufacturers are putting their R&D and marketing budgets behind home-monitoring and security gadgets–they will have 22.6% of the smart-home market share by 2023, estimates research firm IDC, with smart speakers and lighting equipment not far behind, at 15.4% and 11.8% respectively. There are already at least 7 billion connected IoT devices, according to market-research company IoT Analytics. But as smart-home technology becomes easier to use and its benefits become more clear, the industry is poised to take off. “Sustained growth is expected to continue … as consumers adopt multiple devices within their homes and as global availability of products and services increases,” according to IDC.

Of course, as our homes learn more about us, keeping them secure will become all the more important. Every device that’s connected to the Internet is a potential target for hackers. When we’re talking about devices that can unlock our homes from afar, peer into our living rooms using cameras, and collect our most sensitive and personal data, cybersecurity will become all the more vital. Any kind of massive breach that turns off consumers, says Daniel Cooley, chief strategy officer at electronics-component manufacturer Silicon Labs, could be catastrophic for the industry. “I call it a mass-extinction event for the Internet of Things,” he says.

A range of technological developments will drive smart-home technology well beyond what’s available on store shelves today. Innovations in artificial intelligence, for example, stand to upend almost everything in our lives, including our homes. You might already be using some kind of AI-powered voice-assistant gadget to get the latest news or weather forecast every morning. But in the smart home of the future, those AI platforms could serve as the brain for entire homes, learning about residents and coordinating and automating all of their various smart gadgets. IoT company Crestron, for example, is working on software that tracks a person’s habits, like which music they want to hear in the morning or which lights they want to be on at a certain time of day. Then, once it gets the hang of a user’s preferences, it automatically plays just the right playlists or dims the lights before bedtime. “That’s really the next evolutionary step in true automation,” says John Clancy, head of Crestron’s residential business.

Robots, too, will have a role to play in the smart home of the future. Smart vacuum cleaners like iRobot’s Roomba are already picking up after us, while products like the Aibo, a robotic dog for children, show how they might help keep us company like a pet. As for the future? Robotic-furniture company Ori Living is working with Ikea on pieces that change based on your needs, getting the bed out of the way when you need a desk, or hiding your closet when it’s dinnertime. Design firm Design3 recently showed off a smart-home robot concept, CARL. The fabric-covered bot is meant to slowly roll around your home, activating its retractable cameras and sensors to detect intruders, notify you of any harmful emissions or keep an eye on your pet. And computer-graphics company Nvidia is working on a smart robotic arm that can act as its owner’s personal sous chef, doing everything from slicing and dicing veggies to helping with cleanup; it could be particularly useful for busy parents or disabled users. If such a device went into production, cameras and sensors could help prevent it from accidentally injuring an innocent bystander who’s just on the way to the fridge for a quick snack before dinnertime.

Illustration by Jameson Simpson for TIME

Health applications will drive at least some of the smart-home growth over the next decade. Cameras and sensors embedded in refrigerators will suggest more nutritious alternatives if people are reaching for the sugary sodas a little too frequently. Similar technology in medicine cabinets will check if residents have taken their prescriptions. And sensors will even show up in toilets to check for signs of any potential health conditions by scanning human waste before it’s flushed. Bathroom-fixture company Toto has experimented with urine-sampling toilets, while one company has filed patents for devices including a mirror that’s meant to monitor users’ health just by analyzing their skin. Homes will have health sensors of their own, too, that check for issues like water damage, pest infestation and so on, alerting owners to any potential problems before they become far costlier to manage.

All this learning and scanning that the smart home of the future will be doing may understandably raise privacy concerns. Indeed, some smart-home devices have already been targeted by hackers, whether to access the data they hold or to use them as tools in larger cybersecurity schemes. In 2016, hackers took over hundreds of thousands of insecure IoT devices, then used them to send bogus Internet traffic to target websites in hopes of crashing them; the incident temporarily crippled Internet connections throughout parts of North America and Europe. Government regulation is in the works too. A bill put forth by Virginia Senator Mark Warner in March would push the government to set up minimum security requirements for smart devices used by federal agencies; such requirements could eventually become standard for the industry at large.

You’re more likely than not to end up in a connected home one day, whether you mean to or not. Architect Michael Gardner, founder of construction firm Luxus Design Build, says homes are increasingly being built “smart” from the ground up. “It’s such an integral part of the home that we’re designing it from the beginning, where beforehand technology was always an afterthought,” he says. Ultimately, experts say, people will come to see smart-home technology as essential as electricity, refrigeration or air-conditioning. Smart-home tech, and the data it collects, will “be like plumbing,” says Cooley, from electronics-component manufacturer Silicon Labs. “You’ll rely on it.”

BY PATRICK LUCAS AUSTIN

JULY 25, 2019

12 smart thermostats to make your home the right temperature

When Apple alumni Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers unveiled their first-gen Nest Learning Thermostat in 2011, they ignited interest in a previously overlooked part of the home. All of a sudden, folks were paying attention to more than thermostat functionality — they were looking at design and the possibility of integrating their heating and cooling systems into their app-centric connected worlds.

But, Nest (now Google Nest) did more than just showcase smart design and offer an outlet for tech-savvy consumers early on; it also inspired other companies to create their own versions of the DIY smart thermostat.

The innovative heat and AC devices that have emerged are all slight variations on the same energy-efficient, customization-focused theme. Each one does something a bit different in terms of features and final execution. Take a look at the smart thermostats we’ve reviewed so far to see if you might be ready for an upgrade.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Ecobee Ecobee3 Lite

The Ecobee3 Lite is Ecobee’s entry-level smart thermostat. Use the related app to monitor and make changes to your settings remotely. You can also connect it to a wide variety of smart home partners (see below). While this particular Ecobee thermostat doesn’t come with a temperature and proximity sensor accessory, you can buy a two-pack separately for $79. Adding sensors gives you the chance to keep an eye on the temperature in other areas of your home, as well as improve its ability to determine when you’re home or away.

Price: $169

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, SamsungSmartThings, Wink

Read CNET’s full review of the Ecobee3 Lite Smart Thermostat.

SEE IT ON AMAZON

Ecobee Ecobee4

The Ecobee4 is a Wi-Fi-and-app-enabled thermostat that relies on sensors to detect whether you’re home or away. Yes, you can still schedule it the old-fashioned way, but this thermostat’s adaptive sensors know your routine can be unpredictable. The Ecobee4 automatically cancels Away mode if the motion and proximity sensors notice you’ve come home unexpectedly — all so that you can be as comfortable as possible. Isn’t that nice?

This model also has a built-in Alexa speaker and won a CNET Editors’ Choice award for its impressive performance and innovative design. That means you can use it as a voice control hub in your home, as well as to control the thermostat.

Price: $249

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, Wink

Read CNET’s full review of the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat.

SEE IT ON AMAZON
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Emerson Sensi

The Emerson Sensi retains a traditional thermostat design, but adds in a related app and integration with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Wink. It works well overall, but is missing advanced features and accessories like temperature sensors and algorithmic learning. The Sensi is still a solid bet if you want basic smart functionality for less than other many other connected thermostats available today.

Price: $130

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Wink

Read CNET’s full review of the Emerson Sensi Wi-Fi Thermostat.

SEE IT ON AMAZON
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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Emerson Sensi Touch

The Emerson Sensi Touch is priced to compete with models like the Ecobee3 Lite. With support for Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Wink, the Sensi Touch has a solid roster of smart home partners — and an updated touchscreen display. It also offers geofencing and monitors the indoor humidity.

Price: $169

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Wink

Read CNET’s full review of the Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi Thermostat.

SEE IT ON AMAZON
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Google Nest Learning Thermostat

The $249 Nest Learning Thermostat wasn’t the first smart or app-enabled model to hit retail, but its unique design definitely changed the game. Its radial dial takes cues from retro thermostats, but some clever tweaks gave it modern appeal. And, its learning algorithm adapts to your comings and goings so you don’t have to worry about setting fixed Home and Away schedules. Your Nest will also send you energy reports based on your usage patterns to gently guide you toward a more efficient, economical heating and cooling routine.

Price: $249

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT

Read CNET’s full review of the Google Nest Learning Thermostat.

SEE IT ON AMAZON
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Chris Monroe/CNET

Google Nest E

The Nest E is the Google company’s entry-level smart thermostat. You get roughly all of the same features offered with Nest’s high-end learning thermostat, but the E used plastic hardware components (rather than metal) to keep prices down. And while this model retains Nest’s rounded thermostat design, its frosted gray-white finish sets it slightly apart.

Price: $169

Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT

Read CNET’s full review of the Google Nest Thermostat E.

SEE IT AT BEST BUY