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Dublin: 11 °C Sunday 21 October, 2018
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The Smart Home - keeping house through an app

No longer seen as a gimmick, the Internet of Things could soon be the norm.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Kirch

This article is part of our Change Generation project, supported by KBC. To read more click here.

Technology companies are working hard to automate our daily lives with remotely controlled heating devices, intelligent fridges and connected washing machines.

Our appliances are becoming smart, connecting things with processes in the spirit of the internet of things.

Andrew Farmer is the Managing Director of mobile technology company MyOxygen. He told TheJournal.ie that smart technologies for the home are becoming more popular and while they are expensive now, they will get more affordable as competition in the increases.

As always with technology, solutions will become cheaper driven by competition and providers adding services to create revenue. For example, Amazon would let you ask Alexa to order you products from their online store or play music from their music service.

What is there on the market for someone looking to make their home just a little smarter?

We looked and found there are devices that allow users to control their lighting, thermostat, home security systems and monitor air quality in their house from their phone.

Smart Meters

Some Irish energy companies are helping drive this technology through discount deals on smart meters so that customers can control and monitor their home energy systems from a smartphone or a tablet device.

Smart meters can be used to regulate the home heating system depending on whether there is anyone home and it can also be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world via a smartphone or tablet app.

Lights

Smart light bulbs have been in shops for some time now, with products that allow users to automate lights, control them from a central panel or remotely if they are set up to be connected to the WiFi network. Andrew Farmer says smart lighting can be a, “relatively low cost entry into automated homes,” for consumers.

Switches

Smart electricity switches are often a cheaper option and they are readily available in tech shops. They can be hooked up to anything to make them internet-enabled. Once you have a lamp plugged into one you can turn it on and off over the internet, you can also hook up other things like your thermostat.

Smoke & Carbon Monoxide detectors

Instead of shrill alarms alerting you to danger, some smart smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors use a speaker to tell you what has been detected and whether you are in immediate danger. They can also send the information to your phone and allow you to silence the alarm. Some detectors go further and monitor dust, pollen and other substances to give you an overall picture of the air quality in your house.

Intelligent Fridges

“Intellifridges” have been on the market since LG unveiled one in 2000. That model could be used to ‘surf the web’, for video messaging and taking photos, but newer incarnations can do much more. Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge for instance has three internal cameras that take photographs of what is in your fridge which can then be accessed on your smart phone while you do the shopping. It’s hard to see it catching on any time soon though, with a price range of between €4,000 and €6,000!

Full automation

If you already have smart products and systems in your house many of them can be integrated into a central system so that you can control everything from lighting, music, heating and even your door locks, through smartphones and tablets. There are a number of Irish companies who specialise in installing residential automated systems.

Andrew Farmer says this can be expanded further – his company is currently working with a large taps and shower manufacturer, “to allow customers to control and set their showers and fill their baths automatically from their mobile phone and an app”.

Home Assistants

In the UK, Amazon has just launched Echo – a voice-controlled speaker that also acts as a virtual assistant for the home called Alexa. You can ask Alexa for a taxi, a recipe, or when your next utility bill will arrive.

Google have launched a similar system, Google Home, in the United States which will probably make its way across the Atlantic soon enough.

For now though, neither is available here in Ireland.

The Internet of Things 

The Internet of things is a term that is bandied about quite a lot, though most people probably don’t really know what it means. At the same time, we are told it is becoming part of our daily lives.

Farmer says while this type of technology was initially seen as a gimmick, it has reached a stage where it is capable of delivering information and services efficiently and quickly, so it will soon become the norm, just like using a remote for the TV.

Everything that can be plugged in will soon be connected. It is the next evolution in how we live our lives and the big three – Amazon, Microsoft and Google – are betting big on us and our homes being connected.

Farmer, who lives in the UK, says he uses a range of smart home products including the Amazon Echo, the Nest Thermostat, Arlo cameras outside his house, the Nest smoke detector, and Yale’s connected front door locks.

With intelligent fridges already a reality and smart cookers on the way, Farmer reckons it won’t be long before all our appliances are able to talk to each other.

My fridge tells the Echo what to order when I’m out and my cooker tells me what to cook from what I have available. Who doesn’t want that?

Renovate or move to a new house? We ask the experts>

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