Houses that think

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Smart home technology is touted as the way of the future, helping to make life easier while reducing energy use. But is that really the case? Lance Turner investigates.

In the last few years there has been ever-escalating enthusiasm for internet-connected appliances and devices, in the belief that connecting devices to the rest of the world can make life better for householders. However, there are both pros and cons of making your house smarter, and there are varying degrees of ‘smart’, so what level of automation should you be aiming for?

What is a smart home?
A smart home can be defined as one that contains one or more devices that collect data, store that data, either locally or in the ‘cloud’ (on an online server), and can act on that data to make decisions as to what they should do. The motivation behind adding smart devices is usually to improve comfort levels, safety and security of a home, and may also be to help an occupant with a disability.

Most likely, your home probably already contains at least one smart device, whether you realise it or not. For example, TVs usually have some level of network connectivity and many collect data, or can be programmed to. Other typical smart devices can be seen in List 1.

What are smart devices?
So what exactly makes a device ‘smart’? Firstly, as mentioned, it will need network connectivity. This may be via common wi-fi or wired ethernet, which allow it to connect to your existing home network directly, or it may be via one of a number of other protocols (see List 3). If the device uses one of these other protocols, then it will need to connect to an intermediate device, known as a hub or controller (see List 2). This hub then allows it to connect to the home network, and hence other devices in that network, as well as communicate with the wider internet.

Smart devices are usually also able to collect data and store it, either locally in the network or on a cloud server. They can usually also make decisions based on that data. For example, a smart window opener might close windows if it detects rain.

Smart devices can often also use external data sources to make decisions. For example, a smart irrigation controller, such as the Hydrawise unit, might use weather data from a weather service to decide if it should water the garden or not.

Many smart devices can also communicate with other smart devices in their own home network. For example, a smart smoke alarm, such as the Nest Protect unit, can cause a Nest camera to send you a photo when the alarm is triggered.

Read the full article in ReNew 144.

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