Upon arriving at the grocery store, you realize you’ve forgotten your grocery list. No problem. You just take a picture using the built-in camera in your fridge to determine that you need milk and eggs.
The line was long at the grocery store, so you have 20 minutes to get dinner on the table. Luckily, you’ve been babysitting the roast in your crockpot all day with an app on your phone.
When you get home from a soccer practice in which your son appears to have made more contact with mud than the ball, you need to put his uniform in the washer. Despite not being home, you were able to run your load of whites from the soccer field so that the washer was ready for the next load when you got back.
A few years ago, this story would have been considered the stuff of science fiction, something only the likes of Iron Man would ever see. Just as Robert Downey Jr. has brought Tony Stark to life on the big screen, appliance manufacturers and software developers have started to bring some of this futuristic smart home technology into our lives.
Quicken Loans is a proud sponsor of the HGTV® Smart Home Giveaway 2015, in which one lucky winner will get a chance at a home in Austin, TX, with the latest eco-friendly technologies.
However, even if you don’t win the contest, there are plenty of things you can do to give your current home a boost in the IQ department.
Know Your System
Unfortunately, the number of platforms and protocols used to connect your smart devices nearly matches the number of suits Tony Stark has in “Iron Man 3.” This means there are certain things you should know going in.
Companies looking to get into this space have looked to form alliances around standard protocols for smart devices to communicate with each other. This would all be well and good if they just settled on one standard. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened yet.
These platforms each have their own hub system (often sold separately) and are not always compatible with each other. Thread and Zigbee are working on cross compatibility. Meanwhile, the SmartThings platform is compatible with products operating on the other platforms on at least an individual basis. Apple’s HomeKit will work with products outside those that have been Apple certified, but functionality may be limited.
Some companies are making this quandary a little easier by making their products compatible across multiple platforms. Philips is one example.
When Compatibility Matters and When It Doesn’t
When determining compatibility, it’s important to realize that you can have more than one system – you just don’t want to mix them. This is kind of like how J.J. Abrams is directing both the new “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” movies. We like both, but a crossover would just be weird.
If a product you want doesn’t work on one system, you can always get the other. After all, it may not even make a difference whether certain devices are connected to each other. You wouldn’t need your air conditioner to be connected to your refrigerator or your lights. On the other hand, you want to make sure your motion sensors, cameras and intruder alarms are on the same system to avoid issues. The same goes for your washer and dryer.
It seems like everything has a chip in it now so that it can at the very least be controlled remotely and in some instances even communicate with your other appliances. Don’t worry. Your home won’t be taken over by Decepticons. (We think.)
Let’s take a little tour of the house to show you a few of the ways in which smart home systems could improve your life.
You can use smart home technology to control the entry to your house. This is an area in which there have been products and services available for years now. New players in the market have made securing your home cheaper. Many manufacturers make coded locks and motion sensors. Motion-activated cameras can also send an alert to your phone when someone enters.
Miscellaneous Household Controls and Switches
You can also control things like light switches and thermostats from your phone. In a simple setup, you can get a paddle switch for less than $20 that can be turned on and off with the phone. Take things a step further and you can use a motion sensor to trigger the lights coming on when you get home.
Thermostats are also connected to the Internet at this point, and there are several options that can be controlled from your phone. Pair your new thermostat with lights like these Philips Hue ones, and you can simulate the conditions of the ice planet Hoth in your living room while watching “The Empire Strikes Back.”
In the laundry room, both your washer and dryer can now have advanced capabilities. This one from GE has the ability to be controlled remotely from your phone. Meanwhile, LG has a washer that gives recommendations on how to best go about getting out stains.
It makes sense that your bathroom would get smarter. After all, as the adage goes, some of the world’s best thinking is done on the porcelain throne.
Speaking of toilets, let’s start there. This toilet from TOTO is definitely on the pricey side, but it provides a good example of all the features you can get from a 21st-century toilet. It’s a combination toilet and bidet with warm air dryer. It also remembers settings for up to two users. There’s a heated seat with temperature control, auto flush and a lid that opens and closes by itself. They even boast an “automatic air deodorizer.” I suppose there are times when a candle just doesn’t cut it.
Moving along to the sink (and back into the price range of mere mortals), another innovation is the development of the touchless faucet. A proximity-sensing sink will allow you to wash merely by putting your hands under the sink.
In the shower, there’s some really cool innovation happening. With this system from ioDIGITAL, you can program temperature controls for your bath or shower and then start the water from anywhere so it’s ready when you enter.
If you’re looking for a less expensive gadget, you can add a waterproof Bluetooth speaker. I can’t be the only one who belts out “Livin’ on a Prayer” while scrubbing.
There are numerous appliances in the kitchen that benefit from smart technology. This LG dishwasher features a speaker on the side that helps diagnose dishwasher problems without a service call.
The real excitement, however, starts in the refrigerator. There’s a refrigerator with a built-in camera so you can look at what you’re missing if you forget your shopping list. You can also add a variety of foods to keep track of their expiration dates.
The makers of ChillHub are allowing users to connect their own accessories to the fridge via eight built-in USB ports and Wi-Fi capability. This will allow you to add on 3-D printed accessories based on designs contributed by the community. It runs off an open software platform. The company has created the Milky Weigh, a device that weighs your milk carton so you know when you’re going to be out. This is clearly a proof of concept because you already know you’re out of milk by looking at the jug. However, it does open up the potential for things like temperature modules, speakers and voice control in the future.
You can cook a pot roast with the power of Wi-Fi. You can adjust the temperature setting right from your smartphone with this crockpot.
When it comes to smart ovens, many on the market allow you to do tasks like preheating and checking the temperature from your smartphone. This oven from LG even offers its users recipes. If I could just get it to cook for me, I’d be all set. Sadly, I think the rehydrator from “Spy Kids” is a little ways off.
This area was built for smart technology maybe more than any other area of your house. Technology really shines when we sit down to be entertained.
Smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks connect to services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Pandora seamlessly.
New stereo systems and sound bars like this one from Vizio come with Bluetooth streaming so you can play music from any device.
You can also take advantage of a service you may already be paying for. Many cable companies have apps that allow you to watch TV on your smartphone or tablet. You can also often set your DVR when you’re away from home.
Since you can often only watch certain channels via the app, you could also connect a Slingbox to watch your personal TV while away from home and have full control.
Do you have any smart devices you like to use to connect your home? Let us know in the comments.