Home automation, the ability to control the lighting, heating, air conditioning, security and appliances in your house, is all the rage this year. The devices and infrastructure have moved to a point where most anybody can add them to their house. As they do, I predict we will see a tidal wave of change in the way home automation becomes standard for all homes.
There is a reason I say this. There is an interesting little theory, called The butterfly effect. It says that one small change in a system can have a large effect elsewhere in that system. Home automation applies to this, in that adding the ability to control just one item in your house gives you a sampling of how useful this is, and leads to more automation of household appliances.
There are two aspects to home automation: first, the devices to be controlled, and second the way you control, or automate the devices.
Most home automation devices usually have a mobile phone App, which lets you monitor and control your devices. For example, you might want to check your thermostat, check if your lights are on, or even the status of your garage door. The Apps give you full control over status (What is the temperature?, Is the Garage door open?) and remote control. This is useful in and of itself. Why leave the thermostat on the whole day if you just forgot to turn it off in your rush out the door in the morning?
Today, you can buy a relatively inexpensive plug ($30), which has a mobile App that lets you control the plug from anywhere you have Internet. If you have an Amazon Echo, Dot or Tap you can also use voice commands to turn it on and off from home.
Many might say this home automation is not something they need. "After all ", they say, "we've survived all this time without this, why do we need it now?". The killer feature is when you combine your voice assistant for hands-free control of your household appliances while you are home.
Voice And Home Automation
The key feature of controlling your home automation devices with your voice is when home automation becomes the most compelling. When getting home late at night, you no longer have to fumble around for the light. You can turn the lights on with a simple "Alexa, turn on the living room lights". It might seem small, but it is what suddenly makes home automation really compelling.
Remember too, there might be security implications in adding voice support. For example, you might not want your garage door and your front door lock status to be changed from your Echo, especially if it might be near a window and could pick up a command spoken from outside the house.
The downside of home automation is that it costs money. You do have to pay extra to buy the devices that support this. Yet, as we have seen in other areas, as the technology gets better, prices will come down. More powerful devices will become available, and repeat.
Well, one more downside of home automation is the result of it being the 'early days'. There are a number of different and competing systems needed to make these works. Some of these come in the form of a small plastic box called a hub that looks like a small router. There is one for the Harmony remote, as well as wemo, Smartthings and ecobee. Each hub lets you control a number of other devices.
Siri and HomeKit
Apple first introduced HomeKit in 2014. Yet, it has taken a while to get much use. Some would say this is a result of their insistence on third party home automation devices being required to be part of the "Works with Apple HomeKit" program, which comes with costs of compliance testing, and with a royalty stream that goes to Apple.
When using HomeKit on an iPhone, full Siri support is included. You can grab your phone and bark commands to it (or use hands-free mode). A full set of native commands are available to control multiple categories of devices. You can use your Apple TV to control your HomeKit devices. Unfortunately HomeKit is not supported on macOS sierra. Oh yes, and Apple Watch does support Siri HomeKit commands too!
Alexa and Echo
Amazon has taken the lead with home automation integration with Alexa and the Amazon Echo or Dot. There are a number of standards, and Alexa supports the most of them. You'll find support for wemo, SmartThings, TP-Link, Hue and ecobee. Each of these lets you control a different set of devices.
Google Home also comes ready to help with all your home automation needs. Being the device is rather new, device support is in the early stages. You can connect with other Google company devices, like the Nest thermostat, the Nest Protect (smoke detector), or the Nest Cam (security camera). There is support for Hue lights