David Papp Blog

The Future is Here: Smart Home Technology

If you grew up with the Jetsons, you may have envied George and Jane for their robotic servants, conveyor belt dressing, and food on demand.  Everything was automated … even the dog, if you saw the 80s version (the original season aired from 1962-3).

Envy no more, because the future is here! Today’s systems allow buyers to tailor their homes to exact preferences. And almost any electronic appliance in your home can now be directed from a central hub.

That means you can run the clothes dryer or even close the blinds with a smartphone app, touch of a remote, or a voice command …depending on the systems and integrations you use.

Though the term “smart home” dates from the mid-1980’s, the technology has been quietly developing for years.  In 1965, Westinghouse engineer Jim Sutherland built a home computer for his own family’s private use.  The system, dubbed the Echo IV, consisted of four 6 x 2 x 6 ft. wooden cabinets housing an instrument designed to serve the family’s needs and whims. Keyboards distributed throughout the house provided easy access for everyone. The computer could control alarm clocks, the stereo system, and the TV.  It even generated music and provided educational programs to help the kids with their school work.

Today, the newest systems can be used to control many more home appliances – and in vastly greater detail.  

Imagine this …

You’re a busy parent balancing work and family life.  You battled traffic for 45 minutes to get home so you could take your 11-year-old to soccer practice. But Junior was rushing around to find his shin-guards.  Meanwhile, he left the giant gaming desktop going, the music blaring, and all the lights on … That sucks up energy and ramps up the power bill.  And he forgot to turn the oven off after making those after-school nachos.  You just know the cheese-like sauce will turn into a dark, foul-smelling crusty blob you’ll never detach from the pan without a hatchet.

With a tap of the finger, the oven is off, the shades drawn, the lights set to off until you return home.  In the meantime, the vacuum cleaner begins to tidy up the nacho crumbs.  You breathe a sigh of relief.

Or this …

It’s going to be a perfect evening. You’ve freshened up with a preprogrammed luxury shower just in time for dinner at 7.  You’ll share an after-dinner drink, leading to yet another at your place. The lights are set to dim at an almost-too-subtle-to-notice rate, reaching the optimum candlelit glow at 10 PM.  Fancy some soft sultry jazz in the background at about 10:05?  Consider it done. Count on the hors d’oeuvres being perfectly warmed and ready to eat at 10:10. And hey –  did those shades just magically begin to close?  That’s fast work, and you didn’t have to do a thing.

Now, if only you had a date …

What’s possible right now with the new home automation?

Companies like Insteon, Amazon, Samsung, and Wink are making smart home technology more accessible than ever for the average consumer.  Central hubs are available for less than a $100 USD investment – a small price to pay considering the features:

  • Insteon works with
    both wireless radio signals and your home’s electrical wires to transmit signals.  There’s no router involved, and each device can control or be controlled by every other Insteon device
  • Other central hubs connect to your internet router by Wi-Fi.  Users send commands by remote control, smartphones, and tablets, or with voice commands to digital assistants like Siri or Alexa
  • Smart bulbs allow users to control changes in brightness. You can set up a daily schedule to make your house appear occupied while you’re travelling or set the ideal dimming schedule for a restful evening
  • Plug-in modules can be sandwiched between outlets and appliances to control on/off switches remotely
  • Electronic water shut off valves and leak-detecting sensors prevent flooding and send alerts as soon as leaks are detected
  • Electronic door and window sensors, motion detectors, automatic outdoor motion-sensitive lighting, automated locks, and video cameras keep home entry points secure. You can set up your system to view and speak to visitors before you unlock the front or back door – from the privacy of the second or third floor of your home
  • Additional features allow you to automatically open garage doors, turn on lights, and unlock doors with your phone or remote.  Inside, you can set up immediate notifications for opens on safes, cabinets, drawers, and liquor cabinets
  • Magnetic pool sensors protect your friends, family, and neighbors with automatic alerts whenever someone enters the water

Make Smart Choices for Network Privacy and Security

While smart home technology can make your home more energy efficient and your life more comfortable, it’s important to consider potential risks before you act purely for convenience.

Be aware that there are privacy and security concerns about connecting multiple devices.  Each device collects and shares personal data – and that could compromise privacy.  The more smart devices you’ve connected, the more entry points you have for hackers to access your network.  Using default passwords and failing to install updates can also raise the risk of compromise.

Remember, if you can access something remotely from your home using the Internet or an app, others can also potentially do that.  

Recommendations for companies make good advice for individuals too.  Here are some steps you can take to keep your smart home secure:

  1. Consider a security risk assessment
  2. Actively test your security
  3. Use more complex passwords, definitely not the defaults
  4. Monitor products and install patches and updates when available.

Choose carefully when buying your smart home system and consider potential risks.

And if you don’t understand something, be sure to consult an expert.