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Tomorrowland tech: your guide to connecting your home to the Internet of Things

PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 April 2017

Smart homes are here, your phone controls your heating, your microwave responds to your voice and your telly knows what you want to watch; the future is now.

Smart homes are here, your phone controls your heating, your microwave responds to your voice and your telly knows what you want to watch; the future is now.

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Smart homes are the eagerly anticipated sequel to smart phones, so what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly about the Internet of Things?

Nest Protect smoke + CO alarm, £99, NestNest Protect smoke + CO alarm, £99, Nest

Robots have taken over, artificial intelligence (AI) has surpassed the human brain, your kettle is spying on you and your fridge is ordering you to buy more eggs. Sound like an Orwellian nightmare? The year is 2017, your washing machine knows more about your life than your colleagues, and your thermostat holds all your darkest secrets.

The concept of ‘smart homes’ is one which will excite and terrify in equal measure. As you get in from work your kettle has already been boiled ready for a cuppa, your heating is primed to the optimum temperature, your blinds already drawn, a ‘dream home’ to surpass the hopes of Disney’s Tomorrowland.

So what is a smart home? What differentiates ‘smart devices’ from gimmick gadgets intended to spin a quick buck, is that they learn. Smart home devices collect data about their surroundings, your behaviour when using the product, and adapt accordingly to provide you with a better service.

“It’s a system with one application that controls a variety of subsystems,” says Samuel Howarth, managing director at Limelight Automation, pointing to CCTV, lighting and heating. “It’s one app that does the lot. Generally what we find is people want a one stop solution.”

Samsung FamilyHub RefridgeratorSamsung FamilyHub Refridgerator

The technology has been around for almost twenty years, but the preponderance of smart phones has meant that it has matured to a functional capacity. “With these smart phones, mobile computers we walk around with in our pockets, the possibilities are endless,” he argues.

The good news is that this technology is no longer restricted to the super rich. Howarth has installed smart lighting systems, integrated home cinemas and Control 4 home automation software to properties in Highgate, Hampstead, Muswell Hill and other north London postcodes. Retrofitting period homes is not necessarily a problem, says Holloway-based heating expert Alec Morrow. “Smart technology works perfectly well in older Victorian properties and is well worth the investment,” he says.

Technophobes have highlighted privacy concerns since smart devices connected to the internet automatically upload and store the data they collect. “The general consensus I’ve had back from people is that’s kind of ridiculous,” says Howarth, “who needs a kettle connected?”

The greater concern is perhaps that this technology is surplus to requirements. Many of the apps promise to make your life easier when actually they seem to do the opposite. “There is an element of gimmickyness to it,” says Howarth on a future filled with smart kettles and ovens. Yet connected lighting systems, audiovisual technology, blinds and heating are amongst some of the solutions which can make life easier. “These are all really functional things that make sense in properties of a certain size and stature.”

Samsung SleepSenseSamsung SleepSense

Many of the smart apps on the market could save not only time, but a pretty penny too, and do their bit for the environment. “One of the issues with non-smart heating controls is that people only ever look at them two or three times a year,” says Morrow. “By having things readily accessible people can engage better with the controls to match energy consumption to lifestyle.” Smart thermostats can even trace users to turn the heating off when they are not at home, reducing your bills and your carbon footprint.

But is all this technology making us lazy? “Back in the day you would have had someone with a washboard washing clothes, until someone came up with a washing machine and now everybody in the developed world has a washing machine,” argues Howarth. “It’s the natural progression of that in the 21st century.

As for the future? Howarth believes Amazon’s Echo home system is the most disruptive tech on the market. Rather than pressing buttons on a graphic user interface, users can talk to ‘Alexa’, the AI voice-operated assistant. Some people are sceptical, and perhaps right to be technophobic, but Howarth believes the future is coming. “All these Internet of Things devices will mature and eventually become the norm, but I think that you’ll see it in the next demographic of people.”

It’s true that some of the technology seems rather superfluous, a wireless breast pump, anyone? But there are a few gems which could reduce your carbon footprint and save you time, not to mention a pretty penny too. Smart heating technology, lighting systems and home security tech which reacts and responds to your behaviour and choices could come in handy when designing your home interiors.

The Hive app lets you control your heating from your phoneThe Hive app lets you control your heating from your phone

Kitchen

Siemens’ hyperFresh fridge technology regulates the humidity inside the special fridge compartment to ensure that nutrients and flavour are retained in foodstuffs for longer. Samsung’s FamilyHub refrigerator has a camera inside, so you can check on your baked Alaska, should you so wish. The technology can also alert homeowners of out-of-date foodstuffs, and prompt them to buy more. For fun kitchen gadgets that you probably won’t end up using, there’s the Firebox iKettle which wakes you up, boils as directed by your phone and asks you if you’d like a cuppa when you get home. The Instant Pot Smart lets you programme your cooking via Bluetooth.

The verdict: humans have been feeding themselves for centuries without smart tech; this gear is rather self indulgent.

Bedroom

Samsung have developed a smart sleep tracker which monitors your movements during the night. SleepSense detects when you fall asleep and monitors your patterns, using the information to control your air conditioning and your television if it notices you’ve fallen asleep with it on. If you set it to sync with your Samsung smart fridge, it’ll advise you what foods to avoid for a more restful nights sleep according to what you’ve eaten that day. Lutron’s Serena Shades can be remote or voice controlled to open and close at certain times and set ‘scenes’ for your home

The verdict: the thought of being judged by your bed according to what late-night snack you divulge in is troubling.

Entrance hall

The Ding smart doorbell allows you to check who is at your front door via a camera to phone feed, and chat to the person at the door before you open it. The Nest Protect smart smoke alarm will alert you to anything suspicious, wherever you are in the house, via your mobile or through its friendly AI voice, and can be silenced from your phone if you know you’ve just burnt the toast.

The verdict: potentially very useful for the safety-conscious.

Living room

Not technically a smart product, but futuristic all the same. Sony’s Life Space UX features a Portable Ultra Short Throw Projector, can throw an 80” image onto any other surface from its compact 10cm cubic box. Smart TVs have been around for a while, but are a must for those who don’t want to watch catch-up on a laptop. Ikea recently announced its new Trådfri lighting range which has inbuilt smart technology. The range, is app-controlled and features sensors which notice when you leave and enter a room. Philips’ Hue lighting system can even sync with your phone to flash when you get a notification.

The verdict: useful kit and not too invasive.

Utility room

Smart tech is nothing new when it comes to heating. British Gas’ Hive system has a wireless thermostat which can be controlled remotely, allowing you to change the time and temperature from afar. Philippe Starck previously created radiator valves for Netatmo which respond to open windows and the number of people in a room to alter the amount of energy used and heat produced. Samsung and Hoover both have smart washing machines which can be programmed from your mobile to alter the settings for colour, spin cycle, speed and extra rinses after the wash is completed.

The verdict: saving the planet and money is something we can all get on board with.

Study

Enzo Panzeri’s Jackie table lamp has been a best seller for some time, and has stepped into the Internet of Things this year. Using Otomo, the lamp interacts via Bluetooth and sensors to adapt to the environment and reduce the power consumption by managing blind, light and heating system settings.

The verdict: Could be useful, could also be expensive.

Every room

Google Home is due out in April and has the functionality to play music, control other smart devices such as your dishwasher, and answer questions. It operates alongside other tech including smart televisions, Android watches and phones to collect data about its environment and make decisions accordingly. The robotic house assistant is battling with Amazon’s Echo, fronted by the friendly voice of AI assistant, Alexa. Other home automation systems include Control 4, which integrates security, lighting and media systems into one easy-to use system on your tablet.

The verdict: giving machines names is the premise of all robot horror-genre films, but it would be nice to turn the lights off without getting out of bed.

Kitchen

Siemens’ hyperFresh fridge technology regulates the humidity inside the special fridge compartment to ensure that nutrients and flavour are retained in foodstuffs for longer. Samsung’s FamilyHub refrigerator has a camera inside, so you can check on your baked Alaska, should you so wish. The technology can also alert homeowners of out-of-date foodstuffs, and prompt them to buy more. For fun kitchen gadgets that you probably won’t end up using, there’s the Firebox iKettle which wakes you up, boils as directed by your phone and asks you if you’d like a cuppa when you get home. The Instant Pot Smart lets you programme your cooking via Bluetooth.

The verdict: humans have been feeding themselves for centuries without smart tech; this gear is rather self indulgent.

Bedroom

Samsung have developed a smart sleep tracker which monitors your movements during the night. SleepSense detects when you fall asleep and monitors your patterns, using the information to control your air conditioning and your television if it notices you’ve fallen asleep with it on. If you set it to sync with your Samsung smart fridge, it’ll advise you what foods to avoid for a more restful nights sleep according to what you’ve eaten that day. Lutron’s Serena Shades can be remote or voice controlled to open and close at certain times and set ‘scenes’ for your home

The verdict: the thought of being judged by your bed according to what late-night snack you divulge in is troubling.

Entrance hall

The Ding smart doorbell allows you to check who is at your front door via a camera to phone feed, and chat to the person at the door before you open it. The Nest Protect smart smoke alarm will alert you to anything suspicious, wherever you are in the house, via your mobile or through its friendly AI voice, and can be silenced from your phone if you know you’ve just burnt the toast.

The verdict: potentially very useful for the safety-conscious.

Living room

Not technically a smart product, but futuristic all the same. Sony’s Life Space UX features a Portable Ultra Short Throw Projector, can throw an 80” image onto any other surface from its compact 10cm cubic box. Smart TVs have been around for a while, but are a must for those who don’t want to watch catch-up on a laptop. Ikea recently announced its new Trådfri lighting range which has inbuilt smart technology. The range, is app-controlled and features sensors which notice when you leave and enter a room. Philips’ Hue lighting system can even sync with your phone to flash when you get a notification.

The verdict: useful kit and not too invasive.

Utility room

Smart tech is nothing new when it comes to heating. British Gas’ Hive system has a wireless thermostat which can be controlled remotely, allowing you to change the time and temperature from afar. Philippe Starck previously created radiator valves for Netatmo which respond to open windows and the number of people in a room to alter the amount of energy used and heat produced. Samsung and Hoover both have smart washing machines which can be programmed from your mobile to alter the settings for colour, spin cycle, speed and extra rinses after the wash is completed.

The verdict: saving the planet and money is something we can all get on board with.

Study

Enzo Panzeri’s Jackie table lamp has been a best seller for some time, and has stepped into the Internet of Things this year. Using Otomo, the lamp interacts via Bluetooth and sensors to adapt to the environment and reduce the power consumption by managing blind, light and heating system settings.

The verdict: Could be useful, could also be expensive.

Every room

Google Home is due out in April and has the functionality to play music, control other smart devices such as your dishwasher, and answer questions. It operates alongside other tech including smart televisions, Android watches and phones to collect data about its environment and make decisions accordingly. The robotic house assistant is battling with Amazon’s Echo, fronted by the friendly voice of AI assistant, Alexa. Other home automation systems include Control 4, which integrates security, lighting and media systems into one easy-to use system on your tablet.

The verdict: giving machines names is the premise of all robot horror-genre films, but it would be nice to turn the lights off without getting out of bed.

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