02 May 2018
Is your home ready for the Smart revolution?
Open the pod bay doors, HAL. We explore the rise in ‘connected’ home appliances and how they’re changing our lives.
If you’re keeping up with technology news, then the terms ‘smart home’ and ‘Internet of Things’ will not be new to you. The concept of wireless, connected and inter-communicating devices has been a reality for a while now, but how do they actually benefit the average family home?
Can introducing smart products into your house really contribute to improving your daily life?
Let’s start in the kitchen – traditionally the heart of the home, and now possibly the brain too, with the arrival of a wealth of smart kitchen appliances. Take smart fridge freezers for example. Both Samsung and Siemens have recently released wireless enabled appliances that you can connect to through your phone whilst out doing your weekly shop. A smart fridge can take a picture of its contents to confirm with you, mid-aisle, that you have indeed run out of yoghurt, allowing you to make smarter shopping choices. Samsung have taken this a step further, integrating not only cameras on the inside of the appliance, but a touch screen on the outside too. By syncing it with your phone, you are able to access your calendar, play music, look up recipes, keep a running shopping list and even log the expiry dates of your produce, effectively creating a digital home hub that stores food. It even has some voice activation capabilities for when you’ve got your hands full.
Convenience is the selling point for the smart washing machine too. Although not able to actually load itself yet, your smart washing machine can be controlled through your phone, allowing you to set a wash, check its progress and even in some cases pick a programme, all whilst you’re out of the house, a feature that’s clearly a godsend for absentminded people across the country. Similar technology can be applied to dishwashers; again you can check the duration of a wash, or set one going if you forgot to before leaving home. Or from the sofa, if you’re feeling that lethargic! Even smart ovens are getting in on the act. Save yourself time when you get home by setting your oven to pre-heat whilst on the train, or adjust the temperature if you get delayed.
Smart utilities – the smart way to control your home environment!
If smart kitchen appliances are all about convenience, then smart utilities are all about control. Take the Honeywell Home evoHome thermostat for example. This ingenious wireless device allows you to not only control your heating remotely through your phone or tablet but, with connection to wireless radiator thermostats, will allow you to adjust the heating for each individual ‘zone’ within your home. From one single control point, you can control each room and set different temperatures throughout the house to suit your family. For example, if the baby’s room is a little too warm, then you can turn that radiator down without affecting the rest of the house. If you live with a thermostat dictator then this could be the answer to your prayers!
You can also add connections to your hot water system too, ensuring there’s always hot water ready for when you get home. If the idea of control isn’t enough of an incentive, then perhaps the predicted cost savings will be. Honeywell Home estimates that the average home could save as much as 40% on heating with evoHome smart zoning, as compared to a traditional whole-house thermostat.
Lighting, too, is now coming under the smart umbrella. There are a number of smart lighting systems available, such as the Philips Hue personal wireless lighting system, which includes wi-fi controlled bulbs and lamps which can be brightened, dimmed and turned off all through a smart phone app. You can adjust the lighting from bright to ambient, or change the colour entirely to suit your mood, turn on the downstairs lights before you get out of bed in the morning, and even turn on lights whilst you’re away from home to improve your home security. There is less of a cost-saving advantage here, as the lights are effectively on standby in order to retain their wireless connectivity, and come in at a much higher cost than traditional bulbs, but for some the ability to control your lighting from a single point is possibly worth the extra cost.
Smart meters are another way that wi-fi connectivity is overhauling our energy consumption habits. They operate slightly differently to other consumer-focussed utility control systems in that the communication involved is between your meter and your energy provider, although there is a certain amount of customer interaction too. Smart meters were first rolled out to the general public in 2009, with a promise from the Government that all homes would be ‘smart metered’ by 2020. Although this promise has fallen through, there are still over 7 million homes now connected to smart meters, and the majority are experiencing the benefits of improved control over their energy usage.
Smart meters work by wirelessly communicating the real-time figures of your energy usage straight to your supplier, eliminating the need for manual meter readings and estimated bills. Consumers are kept in this loop through smart energy monitors that display the figures from the smart meter and translate this into pounds and pence, so you can see what your energy use is costing you to the penny. Although the rollout has been plagued with issues, when smart meters work right they can provide you with unparalleled control over your energy usage and bills, which benefits both consumers’ pockets and national energy consumption as a whole.
Putting the ‘fun’ back into functional – the rise of the smart assistant!
Convenience and control might be the key benefit for many smart appliances, but it’s smart recreational products that are putting the ‘fun’ back into functional. This Christmas saw a rise in the purchase of voice activated smart home assistants, and the chances are you now know someone who has one of these products. Amazon is leading the way with their Echo range, personably named ‘Alexa’, though both Google and Apple have popular alternatives on the market, with more to follow.
These unobtrusive little devices, often generically styled to fit in with home décor, are activated by ‘watch words’ and can complete a number of tasks for you simply by being asked. For example, you can ask Alexa to check the weather for you, and she’ll reply with the daily forecast. Ask her to play something from your music library and she’ll happily oblige. You can connect her to other smart appliances too, like the Honeywell Home evoHome or Philips Hue smart lights, meaning that you can control the heating or dim the lights from the sofa simply by asking If that isn’t sci-fi!
Another side of the recreational smart market is fitness tech. Smart wearables have been around for a while now, but developments in design and cross-communication have brought about some fantastic little gadgets that are both stylish and informative. Chances are, if you work in an office, you know at least three people with a Fitbit, or similar fitness smart watch. Some of the cheaper models operate simply as a wrist-worn pedometer and heart-rate monitor, whilst more sophisticated devices allow you to set step and movement goals, and alert you when you’re not meeting your targets.
The models at the top end can even track your sleep patterns and analyse the type of sleep you’re getting in order to improve your health and wellbeing. And once connected to your phone through an app, you can collate this data and share your goals and triumphs via social media, as well as pushing call and text notifications through to your smart watch to keep you connected whilst you work out. Although the focus is on fitness and personal goals at present, it’s hoped the future for wearable tech will have real-time medical applications, such as helping diabetics to track their blood glucose levels for instance, or measuring the pulse rates of cardiac patients, with the option to communicate this data wirelessly to your phone for recording, or even to your GP Surgery for their records.
Whether it’s monitoring our steps, keeping us warm or letting us know that the salad is past its sell-by date, Smart Technology has an endless list of features that can benefit even the most traditional of homes and families, and it’s here to stay. Smart home technology is forecast to go from strength to strength through 2018 and beyond. The future, it seems, really is now.