How Do Smart Home Systems Work?

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It’s difficult to imagine just how different our lives would be if we didn’t have electricity. For a start, our days would be shorter.

Lamps were expensive, so not everyone could afford the luxury of light and would have to turn in after sundown. Our days would be harder too. Women used to spend 15 hours a day on household chores and an entire day every week on laundry alone. Thanks to the washing machine, tumble dryer and electric iron, people now spend just two hours and forty minutes on this same chore.

Electricity changed our lives for the better by adding power to our everyday devices, enabling us to do more with less effort. Now, developments in “smart home” technology have us poised on the brink of another evolution. But smart devices don’t have more power than non-smart devices. Instead, they are able to access more information, by connecting to the internet and other networks. It’s an exciting prospect, but it’s still not entirely clear how smart devices and smart homes will revolutionise our lives in the next ten or twenty years.

How Does a Smart Thermostat Work?

The smart thermostat is a great example of how an ordinary object can be completely changed with the addition of information. An old-fashioned thermostat (an amazing invention in itself) allows you to control the temperature in your home. But by connecting a thermostat to the internet, you get a “smart thermostat”, which has several advantages over its dumb compatriot.

Smart thermostats can be controlled remotely

An ordinary thermostat can only be controlled by someone manually turning the dial. But when a smart thermostat is connected to the internet, it can be controlled by an interface device which is also connected to the internet — such as your smartphone. If you forget to turn your heating off when you leave for work in the morning, you can use your phone to remotely switch the heating off. Think of the money you could save on your energy bills!

Smart thermostats can “learn” your routine

Remember, a smart thermostat is just a thermostat with additional information. As smart thermostats can connect to smartphones, they can “guess” when you are in the house and when you aren’t. They can use this information to “learn” your routine, turning off the heating automatically when you leave for work in the morning and turning it on again automatically when you return home.

The same applies to your behaviour. When you get a new smart thermostat, you’ll have to turn it off manually when you go to bed. But after a few days, it’ll learn when your bedtime is and turn itself off at that time. If you start manually turning the heating up while you’re having breakfast, it’ll “learn” that you like the temperature a few degrees higher first thing in the morning and begin to turn itself up at breakfast time.

These automated systems can be more cost-effective than relying on a human brain — prone to forgetfulness — to remember to switch the heating on and off at the right time.

Smart thermostats know the weather forecast

Another piece of information that’s useful to a thermostat is the weather forecast. A smart thermostat can “check” the day’s weather forecast and adjust the heating automatically to keep you comfortable.

Smart thermostats make it easy to understand your energy bill

Lastly, a smart thermostat can also calculate the costs associated with heating your home and nudge you toward energy savings. We all know that putting on the heating comes with a price tag, but, because that bill is paid at the end of the month, it’s difficult to understand exactly how much turning on your heating will cost you. A smart thermostat can immediately calculate the costs and show you the effect that turning on the heating will have on your bill at the end of the month, meaning no nasty surprises.

What Does This Mean for Smart Home Systems?

So far, we’ve had a look at just one smart device (the smart thermostat) and the implications it can have on your daily life. But, as with the electrical revolution, the smart home revolution will affect almost all of the objects in your home. Together, they’ll create a smart home system that works to make your life easier.

One of the more exciting developments in smart home systems is the proliferation of voice-activated virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri. Early smart home systems were often controlled via apps on your smart phone. But finding your phone, unlocking it, finding the app you need and then loading it up just to turn on a light wasn’t any easier than getting up and turning on a light switch manually.

How Have Smart Speakers Changed Everything for Home Automation in 2018?

Virtual assistants and the smart speaker have changed all that. A smart speaker is (as you now know) an internet-connected speaker. The current generation of smart speakers come with microphones and listen out for a “wake word”. When you or somebody in your home says the wake word, they “wake up” and listen out for further commands.

Smart speakers know tens of thousands of skills and are “learning” more every day as developers add to their repertoire. You can now ask your smart speaker what the football score is, what the weather’s like for the day, or set a reminder for walking the dogs or taking the kids to school.

But most importantly, you can use your smart speaker to control the other smart devices in your home. As long as they’re all connected to the same network (and are compatible with one another) you’ll be able to talk to your thermostat, your light bulbs or your speakers. It turns out that this little leap forward in functionality makes all the difference. While controlling your thermostat via your smartphone is good in an emergency or to impress friends at a party, it’s much more convenient to “talk to the room”, have it understand you and adjust the heating — or whatever else — accordingly.

This is just one of the reasons why the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Dot have become so popular. The Dot is a low-priced version of the smart speaker that you can put in every room in your house. This means, wherever you are, you can say out loud what you need and have your home react.

The best part? We’re still in the early days of the smart home revolution. Just as the first electric vacuum cleaner needed to be pulled from house to house by a horse to operate, it’s likely that smart home devices are still finding their final form and ultimate potential. When we reach that point, it’ll be difficult for us to imagine life without them.

Author Bio: Need someone to revolutionise your home? Simon Perks, Director of MDfx, develops ground-breaking home automation projects in central London.

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