Is Your Smart Home Getting Too Smart?

A Review of the Latest Smart Home Technology

“It's supposed to be automatic, but actually you have to push this button. ”

― John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

We call them smart phones because they come with a disembodied voice named Siri poised to spit out directions along with often comical web search results and one-liners for every possible question.

When I recently asked my phone why she/him/it/they is named Siri, she replied, “Wherever you are there I am.” Which sounded marginally biblical and a little scary. But not as scary as the daily conversations being recorded (streamed) in your home by the new ever-listening Amazon Echos & Alexas of this convenient new world we have wrought.

In the recent article titled, 'Why Alexa is always listening," Jean Baptiste is Vice-President of Advanced Technologies and Principal Analyst at Atherton Research states, "However, that's where it gets worse.

Amazon has actually hired a team of people around of the world to analyze snippets of conversations that Echo devices secretly record and upload—without the user's consent or knowledge—to the cloud, claiming it will improve Alexa's "customer experience". Unfortunately, the data is not really being anonymized and can be traced back to the actual owner of the smart speaker."

Fortunately, according to Baptiste, next-generation Google Assistant are paving the way for a new kind of smart voice-assistant, designed with privacy in mind, that do not require uploaded user voice samples to improve their performance and customer experience.

"Now Karen, this is a story about a little girl and her best friend Robbie the robot.

No matter how you look at it, these smart home devices do make life better in many ways. But it is up to us to determine when it's doing too much for our own good. While it's nice that Google's Home Hub can learn/play your favorite music and help you with recipes while your hands are deep in cookie dough, it probably shouldn't replace you as the best joke teller or story reader to your kids.

So what about the kids? What about learning those lessons of responsibility and hard work by taking out the trash or mowing the lawn? Sorry, your new Ai kids will be doing that soon— Roomba® has your floors covered while Robomow trims your lawns. And they never talk back either. You're probably never going to hear your roborake say, "Ahh man, do I have too?"

Needless to say while we're trying to figure out where the dependency line is drawn on these products, new advacements continue to be explored. Take for instance Graphene.

Grahene molecular depiction

This is a nanotech product in development that could eliminate contaminants in tap water, protect kitchen surfaces, end insect invasions, kill household odors, keep paint colors from fading, and improve entry security.

This graphite derivative is a single sheet of carbon molecules arranged into a hexagonal lattice. It is 200 times stronger than steel, weight for weight. It is also a perfect conductor of electricity, bendable, and transparent even though graphite is black.

Graphene paint will be more vibrant, fade less with time

Graphenstone is composed of a lime-base with a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms one atom thick. And thanks to the inclusion of graphene, this lime-based paint has superconductivity, which means it can improve the thermal regulation of buildings.

According to The Graphene Company director, Patrick Folkes, ”When used on interior wall surfaces, rather than heat being radiated through the walls, the graphene within the paint captures the heat. It then conducts the heat through the paint, and across the whole Graphenstone-painted surface of interior walls. This enhances the insulation measures used in buildings by slowing heat conduction through walls and out of buildings.”

Because graphene is one atom thick in the paint, less is required to achieve a durable finish that is resistant to corrosion. One liter of paint would cover two eight-meter-square coats, says The Graphene Company. And no fumes either.

Go from soft amber light, to bright daylight, to even softer evening light with one bulb and your phone.

There are several control systems to consider, Nest, Amazon Echo Plus, Insteon Hub Central, and the Control4 Smart Home, just to name a few. All of these will dim the lights, play music, turn up the heat, lock the doors and arm the security system and allow you to check in on your home from your smartphone. With Control4 your can press a “Goodnight” button that will put your whole house to sleep, turning off all lights and locking all doors.

However one of the coolest advancements this week has been the introduction of the truly smart bulb. At only $7.99, this offering from Wyze adds one more brilliant idea (no pun intended) to their other security smart home products.

The Wyze Bulb is controlled via their app, will let you change brightness and color temperature, set up schedules, create "scenes" (like dimming all the lights for movie night), enable "vacation mode" and much more.

You can also control the bulbs with voice commands via Alexa or Google Assistant, and they're compatible with IFTTT as well. The bulbs connect to your Wi-Fi network, but there's no hub required. It is even purported that you can improve your sleep by altering the light brightness and temperature during the course of the day to impact melatonin levels.

According to a recent Coldwell Banker Real Estate blog on smart home device popularity, most offerings fall into these categories:

  • Safety
    • Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock — Controlled by your smart phone, home sellers can allow anyone, their realtors, a neighbor or a housecleaner, to have access to specified doors for a designated time.
    • Ultraloq Smart Lock — Bluetooth, fingerprint and touchscreen for keyless convenience. Smartphone by knocking or shaking to open, and old fashion key entry. $199.
    • Blink XT2 — A camera system controlled by your smart phone, used for inside and out, two-way audio, extended battery life, customizable motion zones. $249-379.
    • iSmartAlarm — Meet one of the DIY smart home security leaders, with no monthly fees and no contracts. This easy-to-install wireless DIY system is great for apartments or small homes. The iSmartAlarm system is almost infinitely expandable via door and window motion sensors, smart switches, and iCamera and iCamera KEEP models with streaming video and video storage. Packages start at $199.
    • SAGE Security & Home Automation — Coming soon — SAGE allows for management of the entire connected home through mobile devices and televisions. The television-centric SAGE system enables consumers to check on children in another room via a video feed, see who rang the doorbell or lower the room temperature — all from the comfort of the TV room couch.
    • First Alert Onelink — Wi-Fi combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm as well as a watch, both of which send phone notifications if something is amiss. The First Alert Onlink safety products, including the already available Wi-Fi thermostat, will be compatible with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem.
    • Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight — This genius little nightlight keeps track of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and home climate. If something’s not right, it sends immediate phone notifications.

  • Comfort
    • Nest Learning Thermostat — The Nest Learning Thermostat absorbs its owner’s daily routine and adjusts the temperature accordingly. It can be controlled through a phone, and its built-in sensors can detect an empty home allowing Nest to set itself to an energy-efficient temperature. Claims to save customers about 10 – 12 percent on heating bills and 15 percent on cooling bills per year.
    • Honeywell Lyric Thermostat — The most talked about advantages of Lyric are its geofencing feature and humidity sensor for more accurate comfort, control and savings.
    • Canary — Monitors air quality, temperature and humidity. Listed at $249, available in white, black or silver.

  • Entertainment
    • N’FINITY PRO HDX Dual Zone Wine Cellars — The N’FINITY PRO is the most advanced wine cellar on the market. Equipped with an energy saving cooling system, telescopic shelving and dual zone cooling, these smart wine cellars will take care of all wine storage needs in the most cost efficient way!
    • Vizio 60″ P-Series Smart TV — This Ultra HD TV is crystal clear and lets users stream popular apps and favorite shows in UHD quality and use UHD playback from next generation cable and satellite receivers, Blu-ray players and more.
    • TCL Roku TV — The TCL Roku TV was released in August 2014 and quickly became a favorite because of its price and comprehensive smart TV features, such as its selection of more than 2,000 streaming channels, easy-to-use interface and simple remote. Recently, Roku announced plans to support 4K UHD streaming in future Roku TV models.
    • DishWorld TV App — The DishWorld app allows viewers to stream live TV on any smart phone, computer or tablet. The app can be used on Roku, Slingbox, Samsung Smart TV, Apple, Windows or Google Play devices.

  • Ambiance
    • Sengled Pulse Smart Bulb — This combination light and speaker had everyone buzzing at CES 2015. Simply twist the bulb into an existing light socket, download the app and connect to the Pulse bulbs. The Sengled Pulse Smart Bulb can stream music and control lighting at the same time.
    • Lutron Caséta Wireless — This connected home solution allows for lights, battery-powered shades and temperature to be controlled from a mobile device. An easy DIY solution that’s affordable, these products are less than $150. For example, hit “morning,” lights will turn onto a certain level, shades will rise and room temperature is adjusted to the desired level.
    • Philips Hue — Philips Hue delivers more than 16 million colors and all shades of white light to personalize lighting to suit any occasion, mood or moment. With more than 230 apps, Philips Hue can sync lights to music, or even simulate a sunrise effect. Bulbs and lamps are now all controllable via the Hue app or MyHue portal.
    • Belkin WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set — With this simple starter set, turn lights off-and-on from anywhere, create schedules and dim to create the perfect ambiance. The set includes the WeMo link, which allows users to connect up to 50 WeMo Smart bulbs. Can’t get enough of Belkin WeMo products? Get tricked out with complete Belkin home automation.

  • Convenience
    • GE ChillHub — This first-of-its-kind smart refrigerator has two USB hubs, WiFi and an open-source IOS-compatible app that integrates with the refrigerator by allowing access to sensor data and control of fridge components. The first ChillHub accessory, Milky Weigh, will even tell you how much milk you have left!
    • Smarthome SELECT — Dual Laser Garage Parking system Motion sensor activates the laser when your vehicle enters the garage. $19.99.

In the final analysis what we all want from technology is simplicity and convenience. What we don't want is for technology to become so pervasive in our lives, that it lives our lives for us.

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” Arthur C. Clarke

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