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Today’s smart home devices that you can use

It may be tempting to think that smart homes are tomorrow’s new technology. But the fact is they are already here. There are so many smart devices already available it’s hard to keep track and they are only going to become more commonplace. We take a look at the main areas where smart technology is already making inroads into the home.
Independent researchers are a valuable species in the world of IT. They undermine the hype that is put out by the big IT companies who clearly have a vested interest in selling their latest technology developments. Researchers act as a counterweight to what sometimes seems like a torrent of babble. They delve into the figures, look at the validity of vendors’ claims, assess industry needs and then work towards producing sober conclusions.

A new wave of smart connected devices

IDC is one of the many respected independent researchers in this area. And this is why its conclusions suggest that the new wave of smart connected devices is far more than hype. It predicted a 17% compound annual growth rate in spending on Internet of Things (IoT) devices from $698.6 billion in 2015 to nearly $1.3 trillion in 2019. Analysts at BI Intelligence went a little further and claimed in 2016 that $6 trillion will be spent on IoT over the next five years.
Of course this leads to question ‘why?’ If we boil the rationale down, it’s simply because in the future governments, businesses and ordinary people will use IoT to interact with the physical world. Governments will use connected devices for a wide range of things from flood controls to earthquake alerts, energy consumption reduction and so on, and where appropriate send this information to citizens’ smart devices.
Businesses will use IoT to lowering operating costs, increase productivity, expand into new markets and develop new product offerings. For instance imagine a company that tracks and manages its inventory. Today businesses use remote scanners and high-tech devices to help workers keep track of inventory item by item. Smart IoT devices will be able them to automatically keep track of inventory changes without the need for intervention.
Of course, these are just a few small examples; the potential for IoT to positively revolutionize how societies function, how businesses operate and how people live their lives is almost limitless.

What kind of smart devices are out there for your home?

So what about IoT in the home? There are several areas where smart devices are already making inroads into the home so if you have any lingering scepticism of where this new technology wave is currently breaking and where it will lead us, read on.

Alarms

Smart home security systems connect to the home Wi-Fi network allowing users to monitor and control security devices using a smartphone and an app. There are already quite a few smart alarm systems on the market ranging from entry-level systems which typically include doors and window sensors, a motion detector and a hub that communicate with the actual alarms. Many of these systems are designed to be expanded so it’s possible to add extra door, motion, and window sensors as well as garage door openers, indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, lights, sirens, smoke detectors, water sensors, and more.
 

Locks

You know that smart locks are taking off when a long-standing, traditional, popular lock manufacturer like Yale adds smart locks to its range. 
A smart lock is arguably the most important part of a connected home. Apart from the obvious function of letting you come and go as you please smart locks can also be programmed to give other people, such as family and friend special privileges, that is letting them come in and out at pre-determined times that you define. In a cute touch some also monitor who enters and leaves when you’re away.
The good quality locks feature voice commands, push and email notification and tamper alarms. While features vary according to the model most provide a mobile app so you can lock and unlock doors with a simple tap. However, they really show their smartness when it voice activation, geo-fencing, and auto-locking features.
With voice activation you simply tell your phone to unlock the front door and hey presto it does. Geo-fencing sets up a perimeter around your home and your phone’s location services pinpoint your exact location. When you leave the perimeter the lock can automatically lock behind you. Similarly, an auto-lock feature will have the lock automatically engage after it has been unlocked for a specific period of time.

Thermostats

When the benefits of IoT are cited in the home there is often a reference to thermostats. This is a burgeoning area and major retailers are selling a range of smart thermostats.  As well as managing your heating system from a smartphone they also allow you to create schedules, for instance, you can have the heat go up on a Sunday morning and then settle down to a ‘normal’ temperature in the evening.
However, the real intelligence in smart thermostats is their ability to learn how you use your heating, detect whether anyone is the home or not, the temperatures you prefer.  Smart thermostats can adjust temperature based on the weather and switch to ‘away’ mode to save energy if they ‘sense’ the house is empty. Some even use geo- fencing and GPS to detect when you’re on your way home so they can turn up the heating as you head back.
‘Zoned heating’ is another feature too so, for example, a bedroom can be kept warm at night without the rest of the house overheating. However, these require wireless thermostatic radiator valves or separate thermostats you can control the heat in individual rooms. In short, instead of the basic on/off and temperature control for heating systems, a smart thermostat allows you manage your home’s heating at a granular, energy saving level.

Lighting systems

Smart lighting systems allow you control your lights in every room from your smartphone including dimmers. If you’re on holiday you can schedule your lights to turn on and off to make it appear as if someone is home. You can also remotely turn them on when you’re on your way home from work. Different smart lighting networks do different things, but some instantly turn on when someone enters a room or change colour according to your preferences. They can also determine how much light is needed. In short, you need never touch a light switch again because you can programme them to behave how you want them to and when you want them to.

Smart household appliances

Just about anything that can be automated in the home qualifies for being made smart whether its clocks, speakers, cameras, window blinds, appliances, cooking utensils and even carpet cleaners and lawn mowers.
High in the appliance category are surveillance cameras. They’re sold as a separate device but typically come under alarms and smart security systems. This to one side you can buy cookers you control from anywhere, even when you're not home, vacuuming robots, sprinkler systems and  robot lawn mowers which can be very useful if you have a large lawn to look after.
It’s also worth mentioning hubs and controllers. These devices are designed to allow you to control your smart devices from a centralised hub, some are voice activated others rely on the age old tradition of pushing buttons. There are also some quirky products such as smart toothbrushes and even forks that will vibrate if you are eating too quickly.

And what about smart devices security?

You’ve probably figured out that most of these devices connect to your home Wi Fi network which is why you can control them from a smart phone app. In fact, the whole concept of smart technologies hinges on network connectivity. But there’s an important issue here that needs flagging up; many, but not all, of these devices have poor security protection.
And smart devices connected to your home network without good security presents an open door for hackers, snoopers and fraudsters who can, and are already, exploiting these vulnerabilities.
This is where BullGuard can help. Dojo by BullGuard has been designed specifically to protect smart devices and the smart home. Built from the ground up it uses advanced machine learning and cloud-based crowd-sourced security to provide the most comprehensive levels of protection available today. And it’s incredibly simple to use
Filed under: IoT

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and in the past has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies in a copy and content producing capacity. He has a particular focus on IT security and has been involved in writing about the industry at various levels ranging from magazine launches to producing newsletters. He also runs a small copy writing business called Art of Words. When not bashing away at a keyboard he can sometimes be found in a boxing gym making futile efforts to keep fit or marveling at the works of Sufi poets such as Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz.

More articles by Steve Bell

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