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Smart Homes Often Dumb, Never Simple 248

An anonymous reader writes: Writer Adam Estes has tested over a thousand dollars worth of smart home gear from companies like Wink, GE, Lutron, Cree, and Leviton. Most of it worked correctly out of the box — which he said was great. But almost immediately, devices stopped responding and defects manifested themselves. Even after getting replacements and reconfiguring the devices, he found himself wondering if it was worth the effort to wrestle with all these devices, and ended up appreciating the simplicity of a plain old light switch.

Estes says, "Installation woes and bugs aside, my smart home never seemed handy. I had to tape off the regular switches so that the power would stay on and the bulbs' smart features would work. Even then, I had to pull out a smartphone or a tablet any time I wanted to dim the lights. That was never convenient. I could turn the lights on from my office, but that didn't really make my life better. I could impress my friends with a stray smart home feature here and there, but more often than not, I found myself embarrassed by the glitches of my smart home gone dumb." He concludes that while many smart home products can and do work, the biggest lie their marketers tell us is that it'll be simple and easy to set up and operate all these gadgets.
Those of you who have wired up parts of your home, how has it worked out so far?
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Smart Homes Often Dumb, Never Simple

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  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:03PM (#49050515) Journal

    Even ignoring those in the house who don't always have a smartphone with them (young children, grandparents) and any visitor who isn't on your network, needing a smartphone to control most things is simply awkward in inefficient when compared to a dedicated remote control.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:14PM (#49050625) Journal
      It's not as though the current offerings leave you with much of a choice; but 'smart' is never going to be worth it if it is merely a high tech re-implementation of what you can already do with a few bucks worth of mechanical switches. Even if it works flawlessly, it's still going to be expensive and unexciting.

      The only real shot for 'smart' is to do things that conventional systems cannot or do not. Exactly what those things are is a bit vague(lighting and drapes that automatically adjust to available sunlight? automatic dimming when you fire up the TV? subtle color temperature modifications to facilitate greater alertness or easier sleep depending on time of day?); but unless they figure those out, there simply isn't any any way that 'smart' could possibly be worth the trouble. If they do, then we can talk; but 're-implementation of a light switch by dragging an entire wireless LAN and more computing power than existed on earth in the early 80s' is just dumb, even if you polish it properly.
      • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhkNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:23PM (#49050711) Homepage Journal

        I think the missing key in current smart home options that most people can actually afford to purchase, is reliable voice control. I know Google's acquisition of Nest (and whatever Apple gets around to doing) will make a big difference here, but I can already say that I'd be a lot happier with my "smart" lighting if I had:

        A: More money for more components such as light switches and socket replacements.
        B: Voice controls that were as responsive and reasonably reliable as the Amazon Echo, which gets it right a surprisingly large amount of the time.

        • by eth1 ( 94901 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:03PM (#49051085)

          I think the missing key in current smart home options that most people can actually afford to purchase, is reliable voice control. I know Google's acquisition of Nest (and whatever Apple gets around to doing) will make a big difference here, but I can already say that I'd be a lot happier with my "smart" lighting if I had:

          A: More money for more components such as light switches and socket replacements.
          B: Voice controls that were as responsive and reasonably reliable as the Amazon Echo, which gets it right a surprisingly large amount of the time.

          But the GP's point still applies. Voice control is still just re-implementing the dumb light switch, making it more complicated and prone to failure (although it would be an improvement over a smart phone or remote, and definitely useful for mobility impaired, etc.).

          The key is automation. If you're not doing that, the whole exercise is relatively pointless (IMO).

          • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @09:02PM (#49052203) Homepage

            Voice control for lights reminds me of capacitive lamps; lighting in a metal case that you turn on/off by touching the metal. Really cool the first time you see it, especially for kids. Not actually any different functionally, other than malfunctions in an electrical storm or cycling the light at every brownout/ or power supply flicker.

            But I will give voice control some credit; it is at least useful and reliable as Clap-On, Clap-Off.

            As an accessibility device for the blind, though, voice control will be a major improvement. Combined with good interface design it would be possible then to have appliances with a voice-discoverable features and menus. For the most part we're not there yet. But I only fault product design for that. The blind don't need the voice control to be really great, only the masses need that. For people just trying to control important devices, they can simply learn to enunciate as the computer requires.

        • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:18PM (#49051213)

          Maybe you were hinting at this, but just in case... Given our current technology, I refuse to use any voice recognition. Samsung is sending everything you say to a 3rd party, who can do anything they want with everything captured by the TV. Siri is no better, so I refuse to use Apple's voice recognition as well. At least with Siri currently, I'd have to push a button to use the service.

          If we somehow had enough processing power and software _in_ the house I'd consider it.. but that system can't be directly connected to the internet to be used and I'd have to have full access to monitor communication in my house. I have a nice soldering gun to fix unwanted web cams and microphones I don't want and can't control. I believe the 2nd amendment protects my right to use my soldering gun in my house for protection!

          • If we somehow had enough processing power and software _in_ the house I'd consider it..

            We do. It was NEVER about processing power, it was always about control and gathering more data.
            In part this data is later used to retune DNNs, but also to extract usage patterns, habits, scenarios, context.

        • I think the missing key in current smart home options that most people can actually afford to purchase, is reliable voice control. I know Google's acquisition of Nest (and whatever Apple gets around to doing) will make a big difference here, but I can already say that I'd be a lot happier with my "smart" lighting if I had:

          A: More money for more components such as light switches and socket replacements. B: Voice controls that were as responsive and reasonably reliable as the Amazon Echo, which gets it right a surprisingly large amount of the time.

          Microsoft learned the hard way with the xbox 360 kinetic fiasco that nobody like yelling at their TV. I suspect google will quickly find out that nobody likes yelling at light switches either.

          • Microsoft learned the hard way with the xbox 360 kinetic fiasco that nobody like yelling at their TV. I suspect google will quickly find out that nobody likes yelling at light switches either.

            It was designed for Bill Gates himself - he loves shouting. No so many people realise that he is a very shouty and bad tempered person.

            In an outline of "The Road Ahead" Gates writes: "Some people don't like the idea of talking to a computer. ... But we talk to machines already. When your car or computer does not work, you shout at it. We shout at things all the time." Reference [ilkaddimlar.com]

            "[At school] His intensity at times simply boiled over into raw, unthrottled emotion, and occasionally childlike temper tant

        • I think the missing key in current smart home options that most people can actually afford to purchase, is reliable voice control. I know Google's acquisition of Nest (and whatever Apple gets around to doing) will make a big difference here, but I can already say that I'd be a lot happier with my "smart" lighting if I had:

          A: More money for more components such as light switches and socket replacements. B: Voice controls that were as responsive and reasonably reliable as the Amazon Echo, which gets it right a surprisingly large amount of the time.

          I want to walk over to my thermostat and go through about ten seconds or more of talking to it in order to replace what I do in a second or less by pushing a switch or rotating a knob?

          Or tell my refrigerator to open when I can just open it. Or talk to my toaster after putting bread in it, whne my hand is right by that little lever.

          The IoT is a bad solution in desparate search of a problem.

          • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @09:00PM (#49052189) Journal

            Well, you brought up some interesting points. Like your thermostat monitoring your adjustment habits and automatically adjusting the temp for when you are away and home or normally turn it up/down, by displaying usage statistics along side your electric and gas usage and telling your water heater tank to not bother keeping the stock hot over the next 5 or 6 hours because you will be gone for the next 7 hours. Of course you should be able to still press buttons and turn nobs to override it, but you should also be able to sit at a web panel and adjust it too.

            Your fridge, Your right, open it by hand. But let read a QR code when you put milk and eggs in or something that is perishable then have it remind you if something if at the expiration date or if you are low so you can stop and grab more or even create a shopping list for you. You should be able to pull a screen up on your phone or web panel and monitor it or perhaps it sends you a reminder at the end of the work day or something.

            Don't think of it as fixing any problem, think of it as making saving money easier and general life more convenient. It doesn't need to be a solution. It's more like an enhancement I guess.

          • I can imagine being injured or otherwise differently able and wanting an easy-open refrigerator. But a capacitive button and a powered door might be better for most people than voice control. You can locate the button outside the motion of the door, too.

            It solves a real problem that is largely unsolved in current products. The only problem is, there is long-existing technology that already solves those problems, but isn't included in products.

            If they'd just give everything a networked embedded processor wit

      • by vlad30 ( 44644 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:58PM (#49051041)
        I have seen smart home implementations work very well when designed into a new home with all the required sensors and switches at all the right places. It is usually the retrofit ones that go poorly as the necessary cabling is to hard to install.

        As for controlling it from your smartphone unless you have backup with other switches and remotes it will be difficult for those that are not connected e.g. children

        Cool features that could be turned on remotely is heating a spa pool so its hot when you arrive home so yes there are very few items that are worth the long distance remote reguarly most like turning off the lights is used when you forgot to do it at home however a few sensors and that is automated too

        • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @08:02PM (#49051841)

          Cool features that could be turned on remotely is heating a spa pool so its hot when you arrive home so yes there are very few items that are worth the long distance remote reguarly most like turning off the lights is used when you forgot to do it at home however a few sensors and that is automated too

          side note - our old spa had a timer on it. Our new one is insulated so well that there isn't much point to stop the heating cycle. Its an outside spa too. The only time the heaters kick on full is when we are out using it in single digit weather. Whic by the way, is simply tremendous fun.

          side note: make certain your neighbors know you have one, because the first time you use it at 0 degrees, (as in F) it looks like a conflagration.

      • We've known the useful feature for decades already, and in the "home of the future" predictions and droolings from the 90s it was already apparent.

        The features people want are:
        * Check if the coffee maker/stove/doodad is turned off, from the car/hotel room/airport. Not because people burn down their houses whenever they go on vacation, but because it is natural to worry about if these tasks were completed, and associated anxiety degrades people's quality of life. The prehistoric version is, "I wonder if that

    • The smart phone option can be very useful though. We have the Roku app on our phones and it's great to be able to operate it when the remote is lost (which it usually is).

      • Right. And switching Chromecast channels with Hulu or Netflix on a phone or tablet is powerful and easy. It's no longer just flipping channels.

        A smart home? The heat and lights come on when I'm walking up to the porch. Lights adjust and music starts when I say "mood: party/relax/etc". All the tech is here - the implementation is not. Add in new tech like a crock pot or toaster oven that changes from cold to hot in time to cook dinner and I'm sold.

        • The heat and lights come on when I'm walking up to the porch. ... Add in new tech like a crock pot or toaster oven that changes from cold to hot in time to cook dinner and I'm sold.

          Those are things that I do already with a couple of 3-dollar timers from my local hardware store.

          • I have a chaotic schedule so it needs to be a trigger based system. And I have yet to find an oven that is also a freezer from anywhere... much less for $3.

            I already set my thermostat to be off during the typical work day. However, if I get home early then it's freezing until I manually reset it. Or if I'm away for a day then it's heating an empty house. Inconvenient and wasteful.

            • You're right that a timer's a bad idea for your use-case, so how about something else? This seems simple enough, if a bit simplistic:

              You've always got your smartphone with you, or most people do - certainly just about anyone who would have any interest in the "smart home" market, I would think. In any case, put the phone to work in the *right* way: there are apps that use the radio in the phone to triangulate its position to within a few dozen meters based on cell towers and neighboring wifi hotspots. Mak

      • I sometimes use the Google Fiber app when my remote batteries go pfft, but usually it's easier to just use ye olde remote, even if it's not as "kewl" as using the phone.

      • Sounds like my house 4 roku and no remotes to be found.

        I scared my son and his friends one day they were in the down stairs family room watching a movie and I sent my cell camera to the roku and said "Hey! I saw that you are all in trouble" and then turned it off. One of them actually screamed.

    • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:25PM (#49050737)

      Exactly. If you need your smartphone to be able to dim the lights, you're doing it wrong.

      Smart homes should still have switches and dimmers in the usual places where people expect them (not actual switches, but transmitters obviously) and then, on top of that, allow extra functionality like one button mood lighting, switch of all lights, switch on all lights (if you suspect a burglary), remote control, etcetera. If you get rid of the simple old-fashioned concepts, you're just making things harder instead of easier.

      It's one thing to say "the light switch is next to the door, but never mind, I'll just do it for you with my smartphone" (which is way cool) but quite another to say "oh, you want light in the toilet? No, there's no switch, but let me get my phone, just as soon as I can find it, hang on..."

      • I agree with you and have partially solved it by solving another first world problem. What do I do with my old smartphone since I just got this HOT new one? Why take the SIM card out and make it the remote control of course! I have B&N Nook Color running KitKat in the living room and a Galaxy S with KitKat running in the bedroom. Hell some of the cheap Chinese knockoffs are cheaper than some of the smart switches I have seen. You could replace the wall switch with a bunch of them and wire the charger f
      • by gregmac ( 629064 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:09PM (#49051139) Homepage

        Yeah this is exactly the problem. The idea of a control that is fixed in a predictable easy-to-reach location, with tactile feedback (so you can use it without seeing it -- eg in the dark because the lights are off) and requires a single press to activate (eg: a switch on the wall) is a very good one, regardless of the fact that most if not all people have been trained to be used to this feature their whole lives.

        There's this huge marketing effort dedicated to "control your lights from anywhere" and "do cool stuff with your smartphone" combined with a focus on products that don't require rewiring (eg: "smart bulbs" and plug-in modules). Great, it's a neat technology demo to get people sort of interested in doing more, but if it's taking away the simplicity of a light switch to get it, it's not going to succeed.

    • Pardon me as I adjust my tinfoil hat, but convenience isn't the ultimate goal. I imagine the ultimate goal is to capture as much data as possible for a variety of uses.

      Organizations can already access a wealth of data from mobile devices, enough to basically tell exactly what you're doing at any given time during your day. Unfortunately this doesn't work when you come home and plop your phone down on the counter -- when you're home, a great deal of your activity goes off-radar. Now just imagine if there

      • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:39PM (#49051369)

        Pardon me as I adjust my tinfoil hat, but convenience isn't the ultimate goal. I imagine the ultimate goal is to capture as much data as possible for a variety of uses.

        Exactly that. Plus the fact that they've created a whole new market to make people feel like they need to buy something they don't need.

        But I'm old. I've seen the "smart home" touted every few years for the past 4 decades. It was probably touted in the 60's as well, but I was too busy playing astronaut then to read about it. The "smart home" and the "video phone" come around with a new implementation every 10 years or so, then they fade into the woodwork until the next group of geniuses thinks "You know what people just HATE? Flipping switches to make things happen!"

        • Isn't it amazing how people will completely ignore the relative and essential merits of products and literally go deeply into debt just to buy something just because it is new?

  • No shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:03PM (#49050521) Journal
    and ended up appreciating the simplicity of a plain old light switch.

    What a stunning revelation. A simple analog switch is better than hundreds of dollars of technology.

    The familiar phrase rears its head again: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
    • Re:No shit (Score:5, Informative)

      by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:18PM (#49050663)
      Actually a simple on/off switch is digital, not analog. You would need a dimmer to be analog.
      • Re:No shit (Score:4, Insightful)

        by flibbajobber ( 949499 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:34PM (#49050807)

        I'd argue that it would be binary, but not digital. It's not communicating a signal represented as a number - it's transmitting some level of power, which is available in two amplitudes (none and some). So it's analogue, binary (as opposed to continuous), but not digital.

        A dimmer makes it continuous, so it would no longer be binary.

        PWM, BPSK, etc. are similarly binary, but not necessarily digital. Few people consider a switch-mode power supply to be digitally controlled - it has continuous input, continuous output, and continuously-variable pulse width, yet the output pass device is only in one of two states - switched or unswitched.

        Discrete != digital.

        • Re:No shit (Score:4, Informative)

          by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:13PM (#49051175)

          Oh, you children! Something doesn't need transistors or ICs to be digital (and things with transistors and ICs can still be analog). Switches and relay logic is digital, and you don't get much simpler than turning on the switch to light the light. In this case the voltage is the signal, and its message is "I want some light". It doesn't matter if the switch is controlling DC or AC, it is still a basically digital on/off concept. Dimmers can be either digital or analog in design, but in function the end result is that they are analog in nature, in that they allow for an apparent variable range of output (light) from a single source..

          Remember, there are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't.

          • Remember, there are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't.

            and those who realise it's in ternary.

    • by myrdos2 ( 989497 )
      Any smart home setup that prevents you from using light switches is going to be painful. You should still be able to use all of the conveniences of your home, in addition to whatever smarts you're adding. Nothing else makes sense to me.
      • Exactly. Present the UI all the users are familiar with, then add another UI that can do other things, like turn the lights on remotely, or on a timer, or something.

        I remember when car stereos went to all buttons, no dials, and it was distracting because it was (a) new, and (b) suboptimal. Distraction + driving = dead.

        Less chance of dying here, but still...

    • Re:No shit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:29PM (#49050759)

      Precisely. I've been looking for a simple way to automate various things around my home, but I've been holding off until these systems can pass the "if I sell the house tomorrow could the new owners get by like normal without an instruction manual" test.

      Which is to say, the bar for entry should simply be "works like a dumb device", with any technological enhancements layered on top of that functionality so that it supplements the dumb functionality, rather than replaces it. Instead, many of them outright eliminate the dumb functionality or else make it dependent on the smart technology, meaning that they're utterly useless if the wrong link in the technological chain has a hiccup. If I move out tomorrow, I want the new owners to be able to use the place like a normal house without having to configure arcane systems, regularly maintain misbehaving technology, or worry about which OS they're running on their phone or personal computer.

    • by voss ( 52565 )

      Cheap And Good Enough beats State Of The Art.

  • I tried doing the smarthome bit about 15 years ago and it was flaky. While the technology has improved, the cost/benefit just is not there. Also, the concept never had a high WAF. How long does it take the energy savings from a nest (or similar) thermometer to recoup the investment? Will the technology/service last that long? I don't have a smart thermometer, so I'm curious.
    • Given that 'dumb' thermostats are very good at what they do, just not very flexible, the savings of going 'smart' for heating/cooling depend pretty substantially on how much you do or don't bother to adjust thermostats manually and how erratic your comings and goings are(as well as how much control the climate in your area requires, obviously).

      A good old mercury-and-bimetallic strip device can keep the temperature stable about as well as anything else; but you have to adjust it. A cheapy digital unit wil
    • Re:Tried and gave up (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wkk2 ( 808881 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:33PM (#49050797)

      I had a high end system with lots of keypads and dimmer switches. I removed it after finding out that the dimmer switches didn't get along with any LED bulbs. The only feature I really was happy with was "all lights on" triggered by the fire alarm. The furnace blower rotor locked at 2AM on a cold New Years day. It was nice to have all the lights on when I started searching for the source of the smoke.

  • by St.Creed ( 853824 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:05PM (#49050535)

    You buy cheap stuff, you get in trouble, You can't get decent quality from those new market entries, because the market has been in place for decades, there's a lot of established and well-supported hardware out there, but... it's industry standard, and expensive. So the new entries try to bring their own standard in the home-market but with cheap gear that doesn't work well.

    A colleague of mine, who is an IT architect, has designed his house from the ground up with the industry-standard switches, controllers, light, shutters etcetera. And even after 20 years the stuff he bought then is still supported and he can get upgrades and replacements for everything and it all works - all the time.

    • by fisted ( 2295862 )
      If it works all the time, what does he need upgrades and replacements for?
    • by XanC ( 644172 )

      Can you mention some names/brands?

    • It certainly appears that the cheap gear is crap; but it isn't actually obvious why such hardware should be expensive, save that the assorted rushed-to-market new entrants are immature and terrible.

      These aren't machine tools or mechanical watches or something, where high quality materials and precision workmanship are Just Plain Expensive, take it or leave it. It's all dirt-cheap-and-even-cheaper-tomorrow commodity silicon running bad software. With maturity, the floor price of implementing a basic contr
    • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )

      That's not the whole story. Unfortunately, very few vendors in the market see value in the old fashioned "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door" philosophy. Instead, most have some strange profit angle that ends up reducing the utility of the stuff they sell. You see too many ad-ladened smart phone apps, subscription services, or good ole' vendor lock-in in the affordable stuff.

      For example, I have a garage door opener that has automation features. Unfortunately, every time IOS

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Actually, there isn't much reason it's expensive other than that they can charge a lot because the other stuff is junk.

      A key seems to be that a lot of systems work poorly because they attempt to be a 'simple' retrofit. So instead of providing constant power at the light fixture and let the controller handle it, and constant independent power at the switch, you end up with some wart that replaces the old mechanical switch (and barely fits in the box) that wants to draw power THROUGH the bulb in order to run

    • If someone patents in interface, it's gone from every other vendor. And since it's the "best" it's worth more, so a $5 item is now a $100 item (gotta pay back that engineering time). It's not expensive because it's mechanically robust or physically challenging to build the parts, it's because of the monopolistic lock in that each standard brings.

      Plus, there are no (useful, universal) standards for home automation. Partly because it's just too wide open, partly because shit is changing all the time. How oft

  • I'd really like to know how reliable the Philips Hue stuff is, because I'm seriously considering spending money on it.

    One of the things I really hated about X10 was that you could send a command two or three times and still have it not get picked up... or you could send it once and it could work fine. And since the communications were unidirectional, you had no way to know what had happened. I guess X10 Pro or something is bidirectional but that stuff isn't practically free all over so I haven't messed with

    • Look at Z-Wave or Zigbee. All of the new stuff is bidirectional. (Philips Hue is Zigbee, by the way)
    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
      Probably one of the better hubs on the market. Bulbs have been solid for me too. I also use the GE Wink bulbs with the Philips Hue hub (they are compatible) where I just need lights without the color changing ability. The Wink bulbs run about $15 retail. The Wink bulbs are good if not perfect, they sometimes miss a command from the hub, the philips bulbs never do. The Wink Hub, while a crazy piece of hardware (so many radios) is, at the moment, a bit lacking in the software department.

      On the ROI fron
  • Last year, I picked up a Wink Hub and four "TCP Connected" brand (which is a horrible name for obvious reasons) daylight LED bulbs to see how dipping my toes into home automation would work out, and it really has been a seriously mixed result just like the author of the the original article says. I'm using a very simple setup, two lights in my home office, and one light in the rear of the living room. The only "smart" part I have set up, is a group to let me control the office lights all at once.

    And it's really not all that stable. The TCP Connected bulbs actually require the use of a home gateway and online service to control, and Wink ties into that. When that service is glitchy, things will either work or not work. There's no apparent reliable activity confirmation set up in the protocols from what I can tell, so the software never knows if a device is on or off. A fairly simple schedule I have set up dims my lights for a period before bed, and then turns them off later. This usually works, but not always. It's also supposed to turn them back on, and it doesn't appear to do that about half the time.

    Is the problem the TCP bulb integration? Is it Wink? Is it the signal in my house? Is it a bug? There's no way to tell for sure, and systems just aren't bulletproof enough to rely on just yet. But is it a nice step? Absolutely.

    The big thing I feel that I should do in my personal case though, is replace the light switches so I don't always have to pull out a smartphone or tablet. Is it a pain to do that? Yes and no. It's more of a pain than it should be for something advertised as super simple, because of the article's mentioned process of unlocking a device, loading app, swiping to control you need, and then hitting said control.

    The prices can definitely be appealing, but once you realize that a light switch is going to be $50, it adds up.

  • To turn on my lights, I use a dedicated analog controller connected via USB to a Raspberry Pi, which is wired to my home router via gigabit ethernet. It's more expensive than "do everything" smartphone controls, but much easier and more intuitive to use.

  • by friedmud ( 512466 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:25PM (#49050735)

    I bought:

    * Logitech Ultimate Home Control
    * Logitech Home Control
    * Nest
    * Philips Hue Bridge
    * 3 Philips Hue Luxe Bulbs
    * 2 Philips Hue bulbs
    * Philips Hue Light Strip
    * 2 Philips Hue Taps

    The Ultimate Home Control is in the living room along with the colored Philips Hue bulbs and the Light Strip. I also put one Tap in there right where the normal light switches are.

    The bedroom is the regular Home Control with 3 Luxe Bulbs... again with a Tap where the normal light switches are.

    Everything synced up perfectly and works perfectly. Having integration with the Logitech remotes is awesome. You just press "Watch Movie" and all of my AV gear resets for watching a movie while the lights dim: awesome! After the movie you turn the system off and the lights automatically come back on: sweet!

    If you don't know what a Tap is... go check it out: http://www2.meethue.com/en-us/... [meethue.com]

    It's essentially a "light switch" that makes running the whole system super easy. Each one has 4 buttons that I've set up as different lighting combinations: Everything on, dim, dimmer, everything off... essentially. I have both set the same way in both rooms so that you can easily remember what the buttons do. Also: they don't take batteries! They're powered by the force of pressing the buttons themselves... so they are very reliable.

    All of this is so dang simple and fool proof that my wife even loves it... she is a non-techie but she loves the extra flexibility with the lights. If she's reading at night she'll even pop open the Hue app on her phone and dial down all the lights except the one on her side of the bed.

    My advice: don't go cheap. Buy actual name brand stuff: Hue, Logitech, Nest. Don't try to cheap out on something that you need to interact with all day every day...

  • by dino213b ( 949816 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:30PM (#49050769)

    Some years back, I worked in home automation. During that time, I realized that the key is not retrofitting a home (that's an invitation for trouble or gimmickry) but to build a home with smart features in mind in the first place (ex: vent airflow and temperature sensors, actuators to adjust vents, etc.) Unfortunately, house builders were not really serious about the effort at the time and resorted to gimmickry anyway, when they could (calling a movie theater room with a single light and a touch panel controller 'home automation.')

    What landed me the job was my "resume" - which was a side project where I automated a window shade controller and controlled it remotely through a linux machine. I cannibalized a worm gear out of an old VCR, connected it to a rotary window shade thing. Believe I used a segment of duct tape as a rudimentary U-joint. The motor was controlled by the parallel port and an H bridge, and a cron task would open the window shades in the morning and close them in the evening.

    That was my first lesson in home automation: longevity. Home automation products, being new, aren't really tested for durability. My prototype certainly wasn't. At some point the contact switches I used for measuring rotation failed, and I came home to my venerable Linux machine twisting the window shades for hours.

    • Some years back, I worked in home automation. During that time, I realized that the key is not retrofitting a home (that's an invitation for trouble or gimmickry) but to build a home with smart features in mind in the first place (ex: vent airflow and temperature sensors, actuators to adjust vents, etc.) Unfortunately, house builders were not really serious about the effort at the time and resorted to gimmickry anyway, when they could (calling a movie theater room with a single light and a touch panel controller 'home automation.')

      My house is old. I think they'd just invented indoor plumbing when they built it. I'm sure putting home automation would be quite an experience.

  • Some lights in my house have been controlled by X-10 devices from back when it was called BSR X-10 some 35 years ago. Aside from replacing batteries in the remotes, and replacing the remotes every decade or so, the system still functions as well as it did when I first installed it.

    .

    The X-10 protocol itself is not as reliable as some of the current home control protocols, but the simplicity makes up for a lot of its shortcomings.

    As I type, the X-10 main control unit has turned on a light in the living

  • Having worked in the construction field (architect/project manager) I've seen building management technology come full circle. With the 2014 code implementation building management systems are the standard. I'm referring to integrated systems such as leviton which sense and adjust light levels, window treatments, lenel for access systems, and commercial mechanical system integration. The first time I saw a phone app that could tie in to a management system for a 60K square foot LEED gold building I was impr

  • by Lab Rat Jason ( 2495638 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:33PM (#49050793)

    I'm still waiting for a simple way to control my TV, and DVD player. Universal remote is a double negative (or a double positive resulting in a negative?) While it's possible to unify a TV, a receiver, an xbox, and a cable box; it is far from simple. If you need a CS degree to get your IOT house in order, I really don't see it being mainstream. So yeah, in short, the OP nailed it... never simple.

  • The author actually talks about installing stuff on a live circuit while they explain how the system is terrible and doesn't work.

    If you don't know enough to kill the circuit at the breaker before you start stripping wires, you are not only unqualified to do the work, you are risking injury up to and including death.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:35PM (#49050821)

    I've replaced all of the switches in the downstairs of my house with Leviton brand smart switches (most are dimmer switches).

    I linked them to a 6 button controller that is conveniently located both near the stairs and the front door, and set up scenes for each of the buttons (like "all lights on", "movie night", etc with varying levels for each of the lights. I did this linking through the switches and 6 button controller themselves, no external controller.

    Works very well, press a button on the controller and the corresponding lights come on at the preset dim level, but each lamp can be overridden with the wall switch. Another nice feature of the switches is that they can be set to turn on at a preset dim level (which can be overridden with another press of the button), I have a 5 light chandelier in the dining room which is way too bright at full light level, so I lock it at about 75% brightness by default, but can set it higher if I want to.

    At night, I just hit the Off button on my way up the stairs and all the lights turn off.

    I've tried a couple automation products to let me control the lights from computer and have *not* been happy with them at all -- bad UI, hard to program switches, etc. Fortunately, I don't care so much about computer control and am happy with the 6 button switch.

  • I put motion sensors in the walk-in closets so the lights come on when you go in and stay on for 5 minutes. I did the same in the laundry room. The light beside my bed comes on at 10pm so I can turn off the lights on the way to bed and still have light at my destination. Automation should be for convenience. If you're living with your smartphone next to you, then maybe controlling your lights with them is fine. I put the basement lights on X10 and had a switch at the top of the stairs. Then I can do an "all

  • Insteon Experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jtgreg ( 786548 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @05:43PM (#49050885)
    I started with a few X10 components and moved to Insteon from SmartHome. My experiences and the acceptance by wife, teenage boys, and friends:
    Wins:
    - Control of outdoor low voltage lights. Works great, nice to have different schedules for different days of the week. No one cares but me.
    - Christmas lights. Nice, but cheap timers work as well. No one cares but me.
    - Combining switch locations. Our kitchen has switches in five different locations. Replaced one of the switches with a multi-button scene selector for the kitchen. Big winner with everyone.
    - Panic button turning on all outside lights. Wife likes in concept, she still has not pulled out her phone to activate it if I am around.
    - Indicator in kitchen that garage doors are open. Very popular
    - Motion controller turning on lights when approaching front door. Popular, but cheaper to install a light with motion sensor.
    - Wife wants ability to activate spa before we get home. On the list, but relatively expensive to add to Smarthome or pool controller.

    Losses:
    - Smart phone control of lights. I am the only family member who ever bothers to use their phone.
    - Anything that changes indoor lighting unexpectedly. Startles everyone, even when they know about it.
    - Even with Insteon's redundancy, I still have problems communicating with several devices. This is an ongoing debug effort.
    - I am the only one in the family who can program this system. Software is almost user hostile.
    - I have many systems with home control capabilities that do not interact: a satellite box, pool controller, garage door opener, Apple gear, Harmony remote, and Insteon.
    • I too have a whole house Insteon system and pretty much concur with your wins/losses 100% with the following additions:

      Wins:
      -- A huge win is that outsiders need not know that the lighting is automated at all. Just use the light switch. Works pretty much like any other lighting system. In places with an 8 or 6 button switch is is still fairly obvious what button to hit to turn on the lights.
      -- One button for all the kitchen lights.
      -- One button for the whole main floor.
      -- With my ISY994 the syst
    • I have a similar setup, except I live alone. The feature I like the most is being able to control a switch, or group, from another switch. For example, I can double-tap the switch at the front door, or in my bedroom turn off all the lights in the house.

      The other feature is to avoid re-wiring things. My living room has two switches. One is in a very convenient and obvious location, but controls a single obscure outlet. The other switch is harder to find, yet controls the ceiling light. Re-wiring these switch

    • Wife wants ability to activate spa before we get home. On the list, but relatively expensive to add to Smarthome or pool controller

      Don't take this personally, but can you say "first world problems?"

    • I'm like you - started with X10 stuff and went to Insteon about five years ago.

      My big thing is that my house was wired by idiots, and the switches aren't ever where you'd want them. Hell, the ceiling lights and fans in the bedrooms aren't even on the same circuit as the wall switch. (The wall switch used to feed a switched outlet, as the house was built without ceiling lights in the bedrooms.) Much of the split-level house is such that you're stumbling up or down stairs in the dark before you get to the

    • by bongey ( 974911 )

      Get a ISY-994izw . The ISY-994izw supports both insteon and z-wave now. The programming interface looks dated but it is simple for non-programmers. There is always a very nice rest api if you want to do more. I have a mix of insteon and z-wave. Z-wave is by far more reliable and more secure than insteon, but I still use insteon if it is better device and cost for the job. The core of the ISY device isn't trying to have pretty gui, it just makes a device that works.

      https://www.universal-devices.... [universal-devices.com]

  • Want to make your home smarter? My two favorites are simple dimmer switches for nearly every light and electronic cypher door locks.

    Turning on the bathroom light at 1AM with a dimmer let's have just enough light to hit the toilet, but not so much that you are blinded and woken up. The porch light has one too. I have the option of lighting up the walkway like a runway when needed, but most of the time it is just bright enough to make it up the stairs without tripping and doesn't annoy the neighbors with

  • Voice control over everything
    Sensors to know where you are in the house
    Learning of your regular patterns of use
    Central intelligent manipulation of the devices in the house

    Basically an A.I. maid to take care of everything.
  • I remember when one of the big selling features of a PC was you could put all your recipes in a database -- no more the mad collection of photocopied recipes, newspaper clippings, notecards from grandma, hand-scrawled copies of recipes, etc.

    Except that it seemed to turn out that it was like 10 times the work to bullshit around with a computer versus a folder or even a little box with notecards if you were super motivated.

    Smarthomes just seem like the same thing in many ways. 10 times the work for the same

    • I like having the ability to control things with my smartphone, but my smartphone is definitely not the primary interface. The only case where I use my phone consistently is to control the thermostat. I'll turn on the heat via my phone as I'm leaving work so the house is warm when I arrive. If I'm hot/cold at night, I can adjust the temperature on my phone without getting out of bed. For most other tasks, however, it's easier to get up and walk to the appropriate switch.

      It comes down to automating the tasks

    • my wife used to use an iPad in the kitchen to display a recipe she found, then she gave up on that and just brought her laptop instead.
      Then she gave up on that.
      Most of the time she uses recipes she has printed out on paper and who cares if they get stuff spilled on them, she just prints out another one.
      Or she drags out the "recipe book" from the top of the fridge that has all her olde recipes that she saved on a bazillion scraps of paper.
      It's just easier than pulling them up on the computer or the iPad or s

  • by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:14PM (#49051185)

    ...and what do you expect?

    If you want a proper "smart home" solution, you have to get an integrated package. Those aren't cheap and aren't things you can generally get via amazon.com.

    I spent way too much on mine. But my outdoor lights turn on at 15 minutes before sunset and turn off at a random time between 10 and 11pm. I've got a couple thermostats which will warm up the first floor on weekdays to 66 degrees on weekdays half an hour before I go downstairs in the colder months. Also have a music system that can play any playlist off my server in any room of the house, or play a radio or internet radio station or even the audio of a TV station. Everything via physical switches or via a phone app.

    Systems in the future will do more and cost less. Hopefully they'll be as secure and integrate as well or better than what I have now.

    Is it worth it? Of course not. (Well, it may be worth it so that I don't have to turn off the outdoor lights when I'm already in bed. Because there's no way my wife's getting out of bed for that.)

  • We installed a new boiler last year and the board kept throwing error codes to the point where it would shut down.
    We couldn't leave the house for more than 24 hours for fear the boiler would lock up in the middle of winter.
    Coincidentally we had sprung for a Honeywell WiFi thermostat and I could manually check the setting remotely on my phone very easily.
    The thermostat would also send an alert through the app if the temp exceeded parameters. This, coupled with a new DropCam aimed at the boiler's control pan

  • When my Amazon Echo arrives, I'm going to work with the API to see if I can use that as a controller for home automation. Voice control really is the only way to go for this stuff. Pushing six different buttons seems a bit silly.

  • by tambo ( 310170 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:35PM (#49051337)

    Over the years, I've invested thousands of dollars in several home automation platforms. I've yet to have an experience that I'd call "good."

    Candidate #1: X10. Future-tech, circa 1978.

    • Pros:
      • Drop-dead simple implementation - there's a physical dial on every receiver to specify a code, and a physical dial on every controller to specify which codes it controls.
      • Supported by a broad set of manufacturers back in the 1990's.
    • Cons:
      • Wildly unreliable protocol = don't count on your lights actually turning on. Flakes out at the drop of a hat.
      • Hardware had extensive quality issues. Devices spontaneously died without warning. Wonderful if you enjoy debugging your light switches; terrible for people with better things to do in life.
      • Even when working perfectly, the latency was unacceptable: waiting a full second for your lights to turn on becomes painful fast.
      • No centralized management. Communication was largely one-way - switches broadcast; receivers receive - so things like "reporting status" and "verifying connectivity" were impossible.
      • Protocol security? What's that?
      • Deprecated and dead.

    Candidate #2: INSTEON: The Commodore Amiga of home automation.

    • Pros:
      • Designed with a lot more redundancy and reliability than X10. Something about mesh network communication and blahblahblah.
    • Cons:
      • Overpriced. Holy crap, overpriced. Starter kits that controlled a single lamp ran for like $500.
      • One vendor = extremely constrained range of products. Sure, some of the gear had backwards-compatibility with X10, and mixing network gear was a great way to drive yourself insane fast.
      • Terrible business model = stunted growth and slow, painful death.

    Candidate #3: Z-Wave: The People's Home Automation Platform.

    • Pros:
      • Totally open protocol! Anyone can make a Z-Wave-supported device!
      • Potential for built-in reliability through mesh communication, etc.
      • Hierarchical mesh architecture can be centrally managed by a hub.
    • Cons:
      • "Anyone can make a Z-Wave-compatible device" =/= "anyone can make a *good* Z-Wave-compatible device."
      • Entry-level devices are cheap, but inadequate. Fully-capable devices are reliable, but expensive. There are also expensive devices that are crippled, but no cheap devices that aren't. Have fun with that.
      • The architecture is both overcomplicated and poorly documented. Want to figure out how scenes work? Plan on setting aside an hour to scrape together bits and pieces of information from different vendors, and glue them together with guesswork and trial-and-error.
      • Lots of potential... not as many products. In theory, Z-Wave is great for motorized blinds. In practice... there's like one company offering an overpriced half-baked product, and an Instructable DIY video.
      • Hub architecture is feasible... but good luck finding a decent implementation:
        • SmartThings wants to be hip and polished, but feels like it was designed by ADHD-afflicted high school students as a summer project.
        • MiCasaVerde / MiOS / Vera is ambitious... i.e., overambitious, i.e., no support. Great for those who enjoy hacking a commodity-based Linux box and digging through log files to figure out why the kitchen lights won't turn on. The Facebook group is kind of surreal: it's a company rep posting happy-happy-joy-joy patch notes, and dozens of people asking why their Vera won't respond and why customer service won't get back to them.
        • Home Depot Wink is a subscription-based service. Let that sink in: you'll have to pay $x/month for the privilege of automating your light switches.
        • A handful of weird, little-known contenders exist (Staples Connect, ThereGate, the "Jupiter Hub," etc.), with virtually no buzz (and the bit that's there is typically poor).
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday February 13, 2015 @06:46PM (#49051417)
    The primary purpose of most current home automation systems is data harvesting about the home's occupants. The actual automation of the home is a secondary purpose designed to get the harvesting inside the home.
    • Google's next project after that failed glasses thing:

      The Google House

      Most the stuff is FREE but you must log-in to enter your house. It tracks everything you do and keeps that information forever!

      Your phone or grocery store advertizes that you might like to buy some bran muffins. no reason... (except Google House recognized you were constipated today.)

  • So let's start with the problem statement, what problem are you trying to solve?....crickets....
    • by unimacs ( 597299 )
      Kid leaves garage door open, stuff gets stolen over night
      A/C comes on while windows/doors are open
      I'm on vacation, water leak floods home
      Forget to lock doors when leaving house
      Forget to turn off lights in an unoccupied room
      Walk up to the house with an arm full of stuff and the door is locked
      Aging person has lots of medications but frequently forgets to take them or can't remember if they did


      All it takes is a little imagination to realize how automation could solve problems and make things more conv
  • If all the gadgets you install in a house need explicit controls, they're still dumb: not smart.

    A truly smart device would "know" what to do and when. How it attained that knowledge - though being taught, observation, or some sort of self-learning / evolution process doesn't matter. The point is that merely swapping one sort of switch or control for another (less convenient, more complicated and dependent on a whole slew of subsidiary technology) isn't a sign of "smart".
    A really smart device would, like

  • A long time ago, with programmable thermostats, that the marketing is one mettric shitload cooler sounding than the reality.

    Or we one tmie installed some new lighting systems at work. dozens of programmable light levels, individual control over individual lights.

    It was a massive failure, the users preferred the old system which hadsome banks of lights, and they just walked over to the rows of controls, and adjusted a little slider up or down until they had a light level they liked. All replaced with a s

  • I prefer having a dumb home that passively does what it should do. That is what I designed and built. It is low cost, low maintenance, low taxes and passive. It just works. It keeps us sheltered from rain, warm in the winter and cool in the summer with a minimum of effort, cost and upkeep.

    Smart Homes are a Dumb Idea that gadget makers have been trying to sell for a long time. The problem is do you really want to be upgrading and replacing your home's parts every five years or more frequently?

    What will be wo

  • In a proper home automation setup, the light switches are replaced with smart switches. This leaves the simplicity of turning lights off at the switch in place, but adds the ability for remote control.

    I've had a "smart home" for many years, and it takes a long time to figure out which aspects of having a smart home are actually useful in practice. While most of the lights in my home can be controlled remotely, I only control a small number of them from my phone on a regular basis. For the most part,

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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