Home automation is transmogrifying the humble house into a synthetic organism, one with copper wire veins and radio “brain” waves and, if you so desire, a WiFi-connected programmable iKettle. It brings out the best and worst of humanity: the $60 Tangram Bluetooth-connected jump rope and the Scanadu Scout cookie-sized physiological health monitor. You decide which is which.
But where is home automation headed? According to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015, home automation is headed towards entertainment and convenience, towards the Internet of Things. Almost any appliance can be given an IQ: “smart” microwaves, washing machines, televisions, you name it. LG sells a HomeChat refrigerator with a built-in internal camera. Samsung sells the Neo Gear 2 universal remote smartwatch. Most connected appliances “talk” through a central hub, often a smartphone app, which administers commands through the cloud or a local WiFi network.
Unfortunately, thinner TVs and smarter stopwatches do little to improve the health and fitness of the homeowner. Home automation has an answer for that, too. In 2009, Japanese manufacturer Toto introduced the $6,100 Intelligence Toilet II. After scavenging through “samples,” the super-toilet can record insulin levels, calculate BMI, measure glucose levels and more. Dozens of manufacturers are coming out with “wearables,” things like Bluetooth-connected watches and wrist-strap health monitors, which can record data like heart rate, blood pressure and stress level. The home of the future could free patients with chronic illness from the confines of a hospital.
Many automated devices communicate with other devices and their owner through a home automation platform. Apple has HomeKit, Google has Nest, and Lowe’s has Iris AlertMe. AlertMe is a security platform that controls remote-controlled garage doors, window shades, indoor lighting, smart thermostats and more. In the future, Lowe’s hopes to integrate everything from sprinkler systems to electric vehicles. So long as you have your phone and cellular signal, you can control the “smartlock” on your front door. Living like the Jetsons never seemed so possible, and home security was never so easy.
The Jetsons, however, never had to worry about landfill leachate and nitrous oxides and algae blooms. Home automation could solve those problems, too. Consider the WeMo Water Sensor. The palm-sized sensor measures tiny localized vibrations in the plumbing system to record water usage by device, time and volume. Nest sells a GPS-enabled smart thermostat that can adjust room temperature in response to anticipated weather patterns. In other words, home automation could put sustainability on autopilot.
In the meantime, you can purchase an LED-lit, programmable porcelain coffee mug from Intel. Best and worst …
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