Smart Home and Home Automation

Anyone that knows me well will know that I love technology.

As a child, I dismantled any electrical item that wasn’t working and didn’t plug into a wall (or wasn’t plugged in at the time).

Some things died, but I fixed most things ad developed a kind of understanding that’s now inherent.

As the years passed, along came software to a much greater extent.

I grew to appreciate the contribution of software to hardware, and appreciate the balance that can be achieved between the two. Of course there are more imbalances than balances, which cause a lot of frustration.

Over the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve never grown to appreciate my home more.

I’ve transformed it. From the basics like, how tidy its kept, how well all the space is used, and to top that off, my long-standing desire to make use of smart home technology to make my life easier.

To that end, I’ve read and learned a LOT, to piece together what I can only describe as an almost impossible jigsaw except for the small minority of folks who are both persistent and passionate about tech – like me.

I’ve concluded that the smart home industry as a whole is a victim of its own failures. They focus on ‘cool things’ that tech can do, rather than giving enough consideration to what the tech is actually for. People.

Through my lens as a marketer, I see tonnes of missed opportunity, resulting in a slow adoption rate and tonnes of frustration amongst users who pay the price because the various systems just don’t talk to each other.

It’s not enough to say your Google Assistant, Alexa or HomeKit smart speaker/assistant will do things for you. These are merely triggers. Just like an app can be used to trigger an action to turn a light on or off, and even the old-fashioned light switch is just a trigger.

Another problem is the lack of interoperability. Most smart device manufacturers are good at something, but none can do everything, let alone well. Yet, instead of working together for the benefit of, people, most are just working in silos. It’s typical business stupidity driven by too much emphasis themselves.

The real value is when you can tie these things together and make them work together for you. But, due to the inward focus, things are moving too slow, and ordinary people aren’t able to benefit quickly enough.

Personally, I can’t wait. I want the benefits and I want them now. So due to my lockdown research, I’m unearthing what I’ve learned in basic form to help anyone go well beyond asking a smart speaker to turn off a light, yet without breaking the bank, and without waiting 10 years for the smart home industry to hold hands and learn about how their potential friendship can lead to a better world.

The backbone of my smart home is, of course, a smart thing. But what?

Some of you might think I’m referring to my Google Mini device for commanding my smart devices to do things for me. Wrong.

ages and have used it literally for basic morning routines where it tells me the time, weather, and news. Then it’s goodbye (until the next morning). I suspect that even my most basic usage is far more than many others are using their smart home assistants for.

Others might think I’m referring to my WiFi router, which connects smart home devices together. You’re getting warmer, but wrong again. Although, you’re getting warmer because this is all about the connectivity of a range of devices.

But the problem with WiFi is that it is more unreliable than you think (drops out often), and more importantly, your regular home router is simply not capable of talking to more than about 30 devices before it throws its toys out the pram (and then, you will too).

So connectivity that isn’t reliant on WiFi leads to different technologies. Zigbee and Z-Wave. I won’t go into detail but basically my smart home would be a lot more reliable if I wasn’t relying on my WiFi router.

There are a few systems out there and after doing my homework I chose to buy the SmartThings home hub (made by Samsung, a brand I don’t admire due to their sub-standard products but SmartThings was acquired by Samsung, therefore it’s not pure Samsung product, and in my experience so far it’s pretty damn great).

I chose SmartThings because it has both Zigbee and Z-Wave built-in. It also lets me manage the WiFi-based smart devices I already own through their (rather good) app. This means if I choose to create a scene e.g. movie night, all my smart devices do what I want through this one system. Another great reason is that you can connect this hub to your WiFi router using WiFi. Most hubs require an ethernet cable connection. Ethernet is always best, but many people don’t have the option to cable-connect things directly to their WiFi routers.

The SmartThings hub is a nice-looking tiny device which I connected up and forgot about in a cupboard somewhere. It does its job without requiring my attention at all.

Note: You don’t need to have this at the outset, as long as you understand that having this at some point will help you get more from your smart home experience. But it pays to install it and connect your new smart home products to the hub, especially if you’re adding smart home products gradually, like me. This will also force you to think about the interoperability problem I mentioned earlier whilst also benefitting from basic scenes, automation etc. as and when you add devices and group them. It’s simpler than you think once you have this in place.

Floor cleaning.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to get someone to clean your home just when you need. During the lockdown, this has been impossible simply due to the stay-home rules. But with everyone staying home, your floors will naturally need more frequent cleaning.

I don’t enjoy doing the vacuum. Never have, never will. So having studied the robotic vacuum cleaner market I’ve come across a few products that aren’t stupidly priced but are good performers (with tonnes of positive reviews).

I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices based on your home and appetite for smart-home:

The eufy Boost IQ RoboVac 11S MAX is great whether you have mostly hard floors, medium pile carpet, or a mix of both. But it isn’t a smart robotic vacuum out of the box. It is possible to start it off with a voice command through your smart assistant, but this requires some other IR-based hardware and some configurations that aren’t as easy as most would like. If you’re ok with starting off the clean using the included remote control, this is a buy.

The eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 15C MAX does what the 11S Max does, but it is an actual smart robotic vacuum cleaner. In simple terms, you can easily connect it to your smart voice assistant and tell it to start cleaning. This is my machine of choice.

The eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 30C MAX is a lot like the 15C Max, but it also includes some boundary strips. Stick them down and the vacuum will voice that area. Useful if you can never seem to keep certain zones tidy, like messy cables on the floor, toys, or a baby zone. It’s also useful to mark the top of your staircase, but all eufy vacuum cleaners have drop sensors anyway.

Finally, if you need something that vacuums your carpets and hard floors, but mops your floors too, then go for the eufy L70 Hybrid. I’ll add a link when it comes back into stock.

All of these have upwards of 2000 Pa suction pressure (Pa = pascals, which are used as the unit of measurement in pressure). Lower-end models have less, which I wouldn’t recommend. Brands like Miele, Samsung, Dyson cost between £500 and £800 a piece whereas the models I’ve suggested are between £240 and £290. Trust me, these are good (and so many positive reviewers aren’t liars).

Lighting.

To be continued…