A quick google search on home automation will turn up hundreds of apps, appliances, routers, lightbulbs and many many firms claiming to turn your home into a scene out of Star Trek The Next Generation. The thing is, it’s been this way for quite sometime, yet how many of you have a smarthome system or know someone who does? I would guess that the number of you who answered yes is low but growing… I’ve been interested in automating things in my home for a while now. My first foray into home automation was through a system called X10. The X10 system used a hybrid of power line transmission and radio frequency (RF) to control (in my case) mostly light switches. It worked… most of the time, except when I really needed to turn on a light, then it didn’t. It was plagued with spotty functionality and unreliable control, and ultimately I gave up trying to make it work.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011, a friend, colleague and fellow home automater introduced me to Vera, from Micasaverde.com. Vera was supposed to do all of the things that X10 could, plus more, and it claimed to be reliable and easy to setup. I quickly ordered mine and began to play. Vera could control door locks, home security systems, light switches and it could also take in feeds from data sources and act upon them. For example, I setup a “scene” that if ever my home alarm was tripped Vera would record an image from my outdoor security cameras and email it to me. Useful as well as cool. Vera works through a wireless communication system called Zwave. Zwave was heralded as the protocol that would integrate all of the various devices that needed to talk to each other and central controls, to create a true smarthome environment. Zwave never really took off… It’s still around and there are hundreds of devices that use it, but it never really became the standard it was destined to be… Vera is alive and well, and still running my home. She is as advertised, reliable but as far as easy to setup, that I can’t agree with. I am somewhat of a tinkerer and programer at heart and it was still a very technical exercise to do anything but the very rudimentary. The thing that will ultimately kill all products like Vera is the lack of a true ubiquitous standard thorough which all devices can communicate (Can anyone say WiFi?)
Fast forward to 2013, and a quick search on Kickstarter.com reveals many projects claiming to be the next smarthome revolution. Will one of them become the standard that changes it all? Maybe… But my advise is, it’s all about ease, interchangeability and standardization without all three, they are all doomed to failure. I hope someone figures out how to do this and soon! How much longer can we turn on lights with our fingers? In the 21st century that’s crazy right?
I ran into an interesting website called If Then That, or IFTTT.com for short. It allows you to link up all your favorite sites and apps, like Evernote, Dropbox and Gmail to name just a few. Then it allows you to connect those to your phone via SMS or just a regular telephone call. So let’s say you want to get an SMS every time a stock you follow goes over a certain price, you just create an IFTTT “recipe” and suddenly you are getting a text or email when that happens. Sound cool? Well I think it is. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and its really as helpful as it sounds. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed, there are many things you can connect together to make your life easier to manage through automation.