If you are building a new home or renovating, you might want to consider transforming your home into a “smart” home with home automation. It’s definitely the trend in the modern world, and having lighting and appliances operating on automation in your home really adds that wow factor. Australians really embrace new technology.
Just like smartphone technology is being upgraded constantly, so is the technology behind home automation systems and what they can do. In this post we’ll answer your questions about home automation, including what’s possible now and what the future holds for a smart home environment.
What Exactly Is Home Automation?
Let’s quickly look at what home automation entails for those who might not be aware, as it’s important to understand this before getting into details.
Essentially, home automation gives you the ability to be able to activate and control appliances and devices within your home remotely, as well as by programming things such as a time for something to switch on or off.
In order for a device to be able to be controlled in this manner, the device has to be internet enabled – such as a smart TV – or be plugged into a modern-style power plug that’s internet enabled.
In the past, “automation” around the house used to be restricted to things like the timer on your pool pump, garden sprinkler system, and the thermostat on appliances such as a refrigerator. However, while programmable, none of these could be operated remotely in days gone by.
That’s all changed with the internet, tablets, smart phones and a whole array of internet enabled devices. With a smart home you don’t even need to be at home to control components in the house, as you can do it via an internet connection from anywhere.
In essence, a smart home that works on automation is all hooked up to a network that’s controlled remotely, much like using your remote to control your TV, except much of your home can now be controlled in this manner with the right devices and system in place, and all via the internet rather than by radio frequency or infrared technology.
What About Voice Controlled Home Automation? Is That Possible?
The majority of smart homes to this point have been operating on a control system attached to a tablet, smartphone or internet where you tap or click a button to operate devices remotely or program them.
This is fine and it’s easy to do, but more and more these days, technology is heading in the direction of voice commands and control. Apple has been using Siri technology on their smartphones for quite a few years now, and these days Google and a whole host of other players have been entering that voice command market as well.
Rather than restricting voice commands to things like a Google search or calling someone on your phone, via a Bluetooth connection, voice command technology is now set to play a major role in home automation systems as well.
While the option of tapping a button on your tablet will likely always be there, more and more people nowadays want to be able to speak their commands and see things happen. As an example, rather that flicking a switch or tapping a button on your iPad to turn on the outside lights, you can simply speak the command into your device.
Three of the big players in voice command home automation in Australia right now are:
- Amazon Alexa
- Apple HomeKit (Siri)
- Google Home
Up until recently voice commands have essentially been about providing information, but with new technology, more and more devices and homes are becoming voice compliant with the right setup.
What’s An Example of a Voice Controlled Home Automation Setup?
There are a number of ways your home can be equipped to be a smart home that operates via voice commands. To really dig deep into how it all works would require a long and complex article within itself.
Instead, for the sake of getting an idea of how this works, let’s just briefly look at an example system and the basics of how it comes together.
One of the key components is called an automation bridge. This is the hub that your smart devices connect to and are essentially controlled from. Once you have an automation bridge in place, then there are a few options for communicating with your automation system.
The automation bridge will be compatible with the 3 main players in voice activated home automation mentioned above.
Connect the automation bridge to your home’s router, then access the automation bridge from the control panel in any web browser. With a gateway controller connected to the system, you’ll be able to program your home automation system and devices to respond to your voice commands. For this you’ll need apps that can transmit voice commands via Bluetooth.
There’s more to it than that, but with the help of your local home automation experts, any complexity in installing and setting up a system will be their task, while all you need to know is how to operate it and tell it what you want it to do.
What Devices and Appliances Can Operate Via Home Automation?
Now we’re really getting into the fun part. There’s still a way to go with technology within the home yet, but already there are quite a few devices and appliances that can be operated by conventional home automation, as well as via a voice command system.
Let’s see what this can do.
For devices to be able to respond to voice commands, they must be either internet enabled devices, or plugged into a system that can be operated via the internet or Bluetooth.
A really interesting and extremely handy modern device is the smart power plug. These look like an adaptor that plugs into a conventional wall socket and is internet enabled so it can switch the power on and off to a device at your will.
While you can’t control all the functions of a device or appliance that isn’t internet enabled, the smart power plug at least allows you control over switching it on and off.
Currently Apple HomeKit seems to have a lot more control options over Amazon Alexa and Google Home, but it’s very likely these two will soon catch up.
Provided all these devices are enabled, currently you can control things like your garage door with voice commands, as well as your entrance door to the home.
Want the air conditioner on and cooling twenty minutes before you arrive home from work, just speak the command into your smartphone and it shall be done.
Other devices include things like controlling motorised blinds, turning on or off indoor or outdoor lighting, switching on the home’s central heating system, controlling your smart TV, computer, gaming console or tablet.
Maybe you have the music playing in the living room while lying in bed and couldn’t be bothered getting up and going out to switch it off. You don’t need to with a voice activated smart home. Just tell the stereo to turn off and it will.
Even things like your home’s security system can be voice activated, along with the opening and closing of your automatic entrance gates.
Smart Home Air Con
To be able to take advantage of smart home air con, you will need air conditioning units that are internet or Wi-Fi enabled. Otherwise your home automation system won’t be able to communicate with the air con itself and be able to control its functions.
So what are the advantages to being able to control your air conditioner’s functions through home automation? Why should you even be interested?
Air conditioners – whether ducted, split system or window mounted – do consume decent amounts of electricity, so with smart home air con enabled, you can actually save money by reducing the amount of time, and the temperature, you’re air con is running.
As an example of how a smart home air con could work in conjunction with motion sensors, is you could program the air con to switch on when someone enters the room, and turn off again after they leave, or after the room has been vacant for five minutes or so.
Alternatively, you can also program an air con to remain on, but raise the temperature while no one is in the room, and kick in to a lower temperature when the room is occupied.
This enables the room to remain relatively cool while vacant, but only cools at the desired temperature once someone is in the room.
This saves power by not having to cool the room from scratch, but also saves energy by operating at slightly higher than the desired temperature while the room is vacant.
Smart Home Lighting
An obvious huge advantage to having smart lighting in your home is the money you can save on your electricity bills, as lighting can be programmed to be used only when needed.
When you have your home “wired” for smart lighting, you have options like:
- Turning lights on and off at the mere tap of a button
- Programming your smart system to switch lights on or off at certain times that you designate
- By using motion sensors, a light in a room can be activated as soon as someone enters the room, and the light can be programmed to switch off again as soon as the room has been vacated
Like everything else involved in home automation and the rise of smart homes, smart lighting is all about giving you options and total control over your home lighting system.
Some home automation systems even enable you to dim the lights with a simple wave of the hand, depending on what kind of smart lighting you have installed.
Smart home lighting isn’t just confined to your home’s interior lights either. You can also install and program smart lighting for your backyard, security lights, the lights that line your driveway, even your pool lighting.
At first it can take a little getting used to with the various ways you can command your smart lighting and all the options you have, but once you are used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever did without smart home lighting.
What’s In Store for the Future of Home Automation?
This technology is only going to skyrocket. Not just with systems that allow you to transform your house into an automated smart home that responds to voice commands, but appliances and devices themselves.
Here’s a very interesting innovation that’s soon to be implemented in homes across the world.
The smart splashback for kitchens.
Rather than the traditional splashback comprised of tiles, or perhaps even a mirror, the smart splashback is actually a screen that can interact with you as well as your kitchen appliances. It can inform you when to stir your food, control the temperature of your hotplates, and even read barcodes of anything you place on the benchtop and display suggested recipes.
Pretty high tech stuff.
And what about Samsung’s “The Frame” smart TV? This device can be transformed into a work of art when the TV itself is not being watched. It even looks like a framed photo hanging on the wall.
Perhaps one of the greatest innovations likely to revolutionise smart homes in the near future is with home security systems and video surveillance. The talk is that security systems will become more proactive, alerting homeowners to potential threats and breaches in the system, before an alarm has had a chance to be activated.
Another idea being talked about is the ability for your fridge to communicate with your supermarket and automatically order food on your behalf.
It’s even being suggested that eventually we won’t need to manually control anything, as the prediction is that all commands will be voice activated and we’ll barely have to lift a finger.
Are Smart Homes for Lazy People?
That’s a good question.
On the surface it definitely sounds like a way to make us all lazier human beings who do nothing but lounge around at home and speak commands.
It’s the way of the modern world and the near future though. As technology advances we are all forced to adapt to it at least to some degree.
At the end of the day, how much stuff you want automated in your home is up to you. And even if a device is automated and can be activated by voice command, you still have the option of doing so manually.
The major downside is that not everyone is full on tech savvy, and if the technology is unreliable or somewhat clumsy to use, the entire idea of automation could be off-putting for some people and the elderly.
Can I Transform My Existing Home Into a Smart Home?
You can definitely transform an existing home into a smart home, although it’s certainly easier to seamlessly implement when planning a new build or renovation.
The biggest advantage of incorporating automation into a new build is ease of implementation. With existing homes – particularly homes that aren’t being renovated – it’s all possible, but will likely require more work and some modifications, depending on what devices you want operating on automation, voice activated or otherwise.
Anything that requires wiring or the installation of motorised devices is always easier to install into a new build where these things have already been planned for.
Is Home Automation Safe and What About Privacy Concerns?
One of the biggest concerns with homes becoming more and more automated and “internet reliant”, is potential privacy and safety issues.
Many Australians are concerned about cyber security, in particular when it comes to things like smart door locks and home security systems, as well as whether their privacy will constantly be breached.
It’s really up to the providers to ensure the systems they devise are secure so that smart homes don’t get hacked, security systems tampered with or your privacy compromised. There has already been a lot of talk about smart TVs “spying on you”, so providers really need to address these very important concerns.
How Do I Go About Installing Home Automation?
Unless you are an expert home handyperson and fully understand all the ins and outs concerning the installation and set up of a voice activated home automation system, then you are best leaving it to the experts.
Everyone needs to understand how the system functions, but you don’t need to know how to install it.
Whether you are planning on constructing a brand new home, are looking to renovate and incorporate smart technology into the mix, or just want to add automation to your current home, it’s best to plan and design the system in conjunction with the team who will be providing the system and installing it for you.
Companies that specialise in home automation will be able to guide you every step of the way, as well as advise you on what devices and appliances you might want in your new smart home.
Smart home automation systems that operate on voice commands are the way of the future, so now is the time to start embracing this new technology.
Talk to O’Brien Electrical & Air Conditioning Warana about home automation – whether you are planning the build of a new home, or want to install into an existing home.