The Internet of Things Already Have A Footprint In Your Home
Last time I talked a little about the Internet of Things .
It probably sounded pretty futuristic.
A little crazy.
Like the kind of the thing you and I will never see in our lifetime.
And, in some ways that’s true. Sure, the IoT will eventually “wire” just about everything we own, and turn our world into a highly automated, “smart” environment. That’s not quite Jetsons, but it’s a ways off…
…but not as far as you think.
In fact, a lot of the IoT is already on the market, and making its way into your home.
What does today’s IoT look like?
If you read the last article, you know the IoT can be broken down into two stages. The far-future Stage 2 is that whole smart-everything moment when the entire city you live in acts like one big device to make your life easier. Hint: you can’t buy that yet.
But the only way we get there is through Stage 1, and Stage 1 is today. Stage 1 means lots of individual “smart” or connected versions of everyday stuff. They don’t all talk together and automate everything, but each one provides functionality to take an everyday task off your plate. And so far, most of them focus on stuff in the home—starting with our daily tasks and making them easier.
5 Internet of Things Products That Are Already in Your Home
Not convinced? It’s cool. I’m just gonna trot out five of the more interesting IoT products that are already on the market, and you can decide for yourself how far along we are in Stage 1. You may or may not already own anything on this list, but all of them are being used in real people’s homes right now.
(And, just a heads up: none of these are affiliates, so you’re getting an honest take on each one.
- Amazon Echo
Let’s start with the most familiar item on the list. Even if you don’t own one, chances are good that you have at least heard of the Echo, a.k.a. Alexa. The Echo is basically a smart speaker system—you request a song or artist out loud and it plays it for you automatically. The “AI” behind the system, Alexa, responds when spoken to and can also message someone, call someone, or answer questions using the internet. According to friends who own one, the Echo works “about as well as Siri,” meaning Alexa does mishear you sometimes. Still, it’s great sound quality and less hassle when you just want to play music.
The other features that Alexa offers range from meh to impressive:
- On the low end, Alexa is supposed to be able to message or call contacts for you—but only if they also have an Echo or a special Alexa app. Why you can’t just call anyone in your contacts, I can’t imagine.
- On the impressive end, Alexa can also act as a sort of hub for many of the other IoT devices on this list. A number of them, including the Phillips Hue smart lights I’ll talk about in a minute, come with apps that “talk” to Alexa. That means you can control your temperature, lights and other home features just by speaking out loud to Alexa. I can be a futurism skeptic sometimes, but even I have to admit that that’s pretty cool.
- Also, it might seem minor, but I’m continually impressed that my friends’ Alexa can hear them even when music is playing. She might not always hear every word you say right, but when you call for her, she’s there.
I don’t own an Echo yet, but I have to admit, it’s on my birthday wish list.
- August keyless door lock
This is one of my favorites because it’s so simple and practical. Everyone has had a houseguest show up an hour early (or late, if their flight was delayed), or needed to have a friend run over and check on the house. Normally, it’s a hassle because you either need to give them a key ahead of time or leave it hidden somewhere (which is totally safe, because no burglar has ever checked under a frog statue for a key, right?). August changes that, by making your front door lock or unlock at your request—via an app on your phone.
That would be pretty handy on its own, but there are a lot of more sophisticated features as well:
- You can give your guest their own “virtual key” so they can come and go as they need to—with no pesky run to the hardware store to make extra keys.
- You can also upgrade your August with a built-in door cam. That means seeing who’s on the door step and talking to them two-way via August’s speaker/mic. Honestly, that makes me feel a lot more important than I really am.
- Keen smart vent
Every house has some rooms that are too hot or too cold. There’s a million reasons why this happens, but no easy way to change it. After all, the furnace and AC unit just put out hot/cold air; they can’t help where it goes. And changing air flow from room to room would mean redoing all the ducts in your house—right?
It turns out, you can control room-to-room air flow really well just by adjusting the events. And you don’t need to go around yanking on those tiny vent levers anymore, because Keen is a tiny robot that does it for you.
Keen’s “smart vents” can be installed in some or all rooms of your house. Then you just leave the heat or AC on house-wide, and people can choose a temperature for their own local room.
To do it, all you do it set your desired temperature for the area you’re in. Keen will then sense the local temperature (not the alleged temperature of the whole house) and open or close your nearby vents to bring it to your setting. You can also have it automatically shut off AC or heat to rooms that aren’t used often.
Honestly, that’s so simple it’s brilliant.
- Phillips Hue
This one is fun. Smart light bulbs, anyone? With Hue, each bulb is controlled by an app. That may sound like overkill, but it has some pretty impressive effects. For example:
- You can change lighting from anywhere. This is mostly useful at parties, where it does double-duty: during setup you can adjust, say, the patio lighting while you’re inside cooking, or the indoor lighting while you’re outside prepping the patio, saving you time. And once guests arrive, you can get a lot of oohs and aahs just by showing them your magical light powers and letting them try it out. It’s fun.
- More practically, you can also pre-set different ambiance settings—one for reading, one for movie night, one for dinner parties. It’s a small change, but one you can get used to easily.
The downside of Hue is cost. An individual light bulb runs $29.99, and their various lamps and fixtures tend to hover around the $99 mark. That makes outfitting your whole home a big investment, so most people just choose one room or area where they entertain guests.
- Sensi thermostat
Sensi is the most common example of how the IoT works: a simple device that lets your control your home’s temperature settings from anywhere. No big deal? Well, it is if you’re heading off to vacation and suddenly realize you forgot to turn off the AC. Or if you’re on your way home from work and want to make sure the house is the right temperature before you get there. So there is some practical functionality you’ll get out of it.
The real selling point of Sensi is not convenience, however, but the energy savings you get by using it over time. Lots of thermostats allow you to preset on/off times, but Sensi can tell when your smartphone is in the home. It then uses that to automatically bring temperature settings to your desired level when you’re there, and save energy when you’re not. That means you can automatically see your bills go down without bothering to preset a heating schedule at all.
As a bonus, Sensi’s thermostat interface glows blue or orange to let you know at a glance whether it’s currently cooling or heating the house. Not bad.
The Future of IoT
Are these products the beginning of a revolution?
In some ways, yes.
But they are also the first generation of the IoT—and most of them require interaction via voice, touch or an app rather than automating things entirely. They are squarely “Stage 1” devices, but they’re laying the groundwork for the eventual Stage 2 where everything is the Internet of Things.
And, for now, each adds a little more convenience and functionality in your life. That’s not bad.
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