Category Archives: Home Automation

Nexia at 2016 CES



Nexia logoTodd Cochrane talks with J. George Land, Executive Director of Nexia Connected Home Solutions.

Nexia Connected Home Solutions is a software provider that works with selected products from a select number of different home automation manufacturers integrating everything into one voice-controlled software application. Nexia offers Z-Wave gateways.

The Nexia Z-Wave bridge sells for $67.00 on Amazon and can handle up to 200 Z-Wave compatible products from different manufacturers.

With The Nexia Z-Wave bridge, you can control your connected home products from anywhere you have an Internet-connected mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

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BeON Home Protection at CES



BeON Home LogoImproved home security is one of the benefits often cited by proponents of the smart home, but setting up everything can be technically daunting and require a little DIY. The team at BeON have taken a different approach, developing home protection that can easily be installed without any geek or DIY credentials. Jamie and Nick learn more about this original thinking from Alexei Erchak, CEO of BeON.

The BeON Home system is a set of smart LED lightbulbs (or lamps) that screw in to replace existing lights. How are the bulbs smart? To start with, they learn the lighting patterns in the house so that when the building is unoccupied, the lights mimic the normal activity. Next, they learn the sound of the doorbell, so that when the doorbell rings, the lights will come on as if the householder is answering the door. Similarly, the BeON Home bulbs learn the sounding of smoke detectors and will automatically turn the lights on if a fire is detected in the building. Finally, the bulbs come with a backup battery which keep the lamps on even if the power fails.

All-in-all, it looks a pretty neat solution providing a deterrent to intruders and enhanced safety for the home-owner and family. The BeON Home is available now and a starter kit costs US$199.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Nick DiMeo is video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Devolo Home Control Unboxing



Devolo LogoDevolo is well known for its range of dLan powerline networking products which I rate highly, so I was very interested to see that Devolo was creating a new product range for the smart home. Called Home Control, this is a Z-Wave based system with a comprehensive set of accessories, from the usual motion sensor all the way through to radiator thermostats and smoke detectors. One of the key differentiators from similar products on the market is that the control unit is a dLan powerline device too, making it much easier to centrally position it away from the router.

I’ll be doing a full review of the components in a follow up article, but first here are two unboxing videos. The first is the Home Control Starter Pack which includes the control unit, a door/window contact and a smart metering plug. It has an RRP of £179.99. This is all UK spec gear.

Next up is the full range of the Home Control accessories, including remote control key fob, wall switch, motion detector, room thermostat, radiator thermostat and smoke detector. Prices range from £34.99 up to £79.99.

The next article on Home Control will look at the gear in more detail and how to make your house smarter. In the mean time, first impressions are good – accessories are well made and easy to use.


The Smart Home Talks Z-Wave at CES



Z-Wave LogoIf there’s any kind of smart home device in your house, there’s a very good chance that it communicates using Z-Wave. The protocol is oriented to the residential control and automation market and designed specifically for low power and low data rate communication, making it ideal for battery powered devices. Todd and Jamie find out more on this largely unknown wireless technology from Mitchell Klein, Executive Director for the Z-Wave Alliance.

Develop in the early 2000s, Z-Wave is now supported by over 300 manufacturers producing over 1500 certified devices for the smart home, from simple door switches and sensors to central heating and security systems. Operating in the 900 MHz frequency, Z-Wave has a theoretical range of 100 m, but typically this is much reduced by the density of building construction materials. However, unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Z-Wave uses a mesh network with devices acting is intermediary nodes, passing on messages. Consequently, interoperability is key to Z-Wave and all Z-Wave devices will work with other Z-Wave devices.

Mitchell talks about the current state of the Z-Wave market and discusses some of the future possibilities for the technology, including interacting with systems like Amazon Echo.

Todd Aune bridges the technology gap with the The Elder Divide and Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.

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Somabar Robotic Bartender mixes it up at CES



Somabar

The Somabar is robotic personal bartender that makes over 300 different drinks and listens to your drunken maudlin without complaining. Originally a Kickstarter project, the Somabar mixes spirits and infuse bitters to make the perfect cocktail in seconds. Scott drinks it all in with Dylan Purcell-Lowe, CEO of Somabar.

Neatly designed for the stylish home, the Somabar has six owner-refillable Soma Pods which hold liquid ingredients of choice, whether spirits, bitters or fruit juices. A connected smartphone app is used to call up the cocktail of choice which is then thoroughly mixed and dispensed by the Somabar. If there’s a particular recipe that you enjoy, it can be programmed into the app and the Somabar for your own custom drink.

The Somabar is currently in pre-order for US$429 with an expected delivery in July.

Of course, GNC always recommends responsible drinking and following alcohol consumption guidance as set by the relevant health body in your country.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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TikTeck Sells Direct to Consumer



tikteckTikTeck are coming to market with the sole purpose of bringing affordable products direct to the consumer and cutting out the middleman. With only a few gadgets available, Daniel chats with Rex Chen, VP Product Development of TikTeck to find out what’s in store.

In the first wave of products, there’s a Bluetooth-controlled smart LED bulb displaying 16 million colours for only US$9.99. You don’t need me to tell you what a bargain that price is. The companion smartphone app runs on both iOS and Android, providing group controls and timers, much like some of the market leading apps. Available for pre-order now with delivery expected end of February.

TikTeck RoverCombining both security and fun, the next product is a wireless camera rover. It’s a digital video camera on a remote controlled buggy which can be steered and monitored by wifi from a smartphone. US$69.99 when it goes on sale. I want one – the black version in the interview looks positively menacing.

Finally, TikTeck have a smart finger ring that measures heart rate and tracks activity and sends the data back to the smartphone by Bluetooth. It looks far more like a man’s ring than it does a fitness tracker. Price not finalised but likely to be in the $50-$100 range.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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Essence Behaviour Analysis for the Smart Home



Essence LogoComing from a background in home securityEssence have used their understanding of monitoring to develop a range of products for the smart home to enable independent living for those people who might otherwise have difficulty looking after themselves. Jamie and Daniel find out more from Rafi Zauer, Essence Head of Marketing.

The smart home market is exploding at the moment and there are hundreds of companies peddling hubs and sensors. What sets Essence’s SmartCare apart is a focus on unobtrusive monitoring and pattern analysis to detect when a dependent person’s daily routine changes, potentially by illness, in order to alert family members to a problem.

By using PIR motion detectors and door sensors, a pattern of behaviour is built up and deviations from the pattern can be escalated to relatives to follow-up. It’s all passive detection; there are no cameras and as such this provides an important level of privacy. Data is passed to a cloud service which in turn passes alerts to an app on a tablet or smartphone.

With an increasingly older population who want to remain in their own home, these kinds of systems will be increasingly relevant.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Daniel J Lewis dares you to get started in podcasting with The Audacity to Podcast.

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Whirlpool Unveils French Door Refrigerator at CES 2016



Whirlpool logoWhirlpool has unveiled its Whirlpool Smart French Door Refrigerator at CES 2016. Completely and intuitively re-imagined on the inside, the pantry-inspired layout in the Whirlpool Smart French Door Refrigerator is designed to use space more efficiently with a unique shelving system for families to fit and find all their edible favorites, making it the easiest refrigerator to organize.

With pantry shelves that store 30 percent more, the refrigerator won top honors with two 2016 CES Innovation Awards in the Smart Home and Home Appliance categories. Whirlpool designers considered everything from the grocery store produce aisle to the modern kitchen pantry in developing this refrigerator that does more than keep food cold.

Every section, every shelf, every bin in the French Door Refrigerator was re-designed to deliver smart organization with greater access and visibility to change the way families think about storing food.

Key innovations include:

* Infinity slide shelves line the perimeter of the fridge, so families can move small items to the edges and make room for big, high-use items front and center. The shelves are precisely spaced apart based on common sizes of food packaging so that yogurts, spaghetti jars, 12-pack soda boxes and egg cartons fit perfectly And, they glide just as far as needed to accommodate taller items like corked wine bottles and pitchers.

* Industry-first “flippers” allow families to adjust the shelves up or down without having to clear the shelves completely.

* The PerfectPlaces system has just the right spot reserved for every item, so the refrigerator and freezer spaces no longer become a dumping ground with overflowing bins
– Gallon door bins give families the most gallon door bin storage in the industry.
– A Treasure Bin is designed to keep chocolate, cheese, kid’s snacks, and small items in clear sight.
– Asymmetrical crispers are designed with dividers to display fresh produce like bell peppers up front, and store bags of apples in the back. The biggest crispers on the market were thoughtfully designed to hold common foods and packaging like unwieldy long and wide celery stalks and large plastic lettuce containers.

* A full-width “platter pocket” shelf, which slides out entirely to get to favorite foods easier. Its spaced from the other shelves at a height specifically for wide, flat items so families have a special spot for brownie pans, lasagna dishes, and pizza boxes.

* Bright LED undershelf lights in the EasyView system boast 40 percent more brightness under the shelf to help illuminate even those far-back corners where half-filled condiment jars have been known to hide for years.

* The StoreRight system’s dual cooling allows for fresh and frozen foods to be maintained at the perfect temperatures using sensor technology. Dual cooling also measures humidity levels and adjusts the temperature automatically, without the need to manually adjust.

* The ReadySet system, with dual icemakers that make twice the ice, means you will always be ready for unexpected guests.

Visit Whirlpool at CES 2016 at Whirlpool’s brand book #74352 in the Family & Technology Marketplace, located at the Sands Expo Center.


Hunter Ceiling Fans Go Wireless For CES



Hunter Fan CompanyNow this is a cool idea. Ceiling fan inventors, Hunter Fan Co, have introduced Wi-Fi controlled ceiling fans integrated with Apple’s HomeKit for CES. Feeling a little warm? Ask Siri to turn on the fan for a gentle breeze to lower the temperature.

There’s two new Wi-Fi models coming to the market, Symphony and Signal. Symphony has a graceful, modern design and comes in fresh white, while Signal, with its satin nickel housing and reversible wood-finished blades, is a contemporary blend of sleek design and classic finishes. Symphony’s MSRP is $329; Signal’s MSRP is $379. Both fans are available Spring 2016 at online sites such as Hunter FanAmazonBuildBestBuyHomeDepotLowes and Menards. Of course they will be stocked in lighting showrooms nationwide.

Hunter FanAs with all HomeKit-enabled equipment, users can also create custom scenes involving the fans and the built-in lights. For example, one could create a scene to automatically turn on the fan’s light, lock the doors, close the garage door and set the thermostat to the desired temperature in just one step.  For emergencies, users can also set up HomeKit-enabled products to work together based on triggers, such as having the fan’s light turn on the moment the fire alarm detects smoke.

Hunter FanOur ceaseless innovation is why Hunter Fan is the industry leader, and these new Wi-Fi enabled fans, with added support for Apple HomeKit, are a testament to our heritage of progress and originality,” said Hunter Fan CEO John Alexander. “They’re beautiful, affordable, high quality pieces of decor that bring state-of-the-art Wi-Fi technology where it might not be expected: the ceiling fan. As we celebrate 130 years, we have several exciting developments to share with our customers, and are proud to kick off 2016 at CES with Symphony and Signal.

Symphony and Signal were developed in collaboration with industry leaders Ayla Networks and Marvell Technology Group Ltd., which will feature the fans in their respective displays at CES 2016.


Using Samsung SmartThings



Samsung SmartThings LogoI’ve been enjoying Samsung SmartThings for a couple of weeks and it’s been an interesting time. The technology is a key factor in a smart home but let’s not forget that a home is often inhabited by a family and a smart home has to be used by a family. It can’t just be one geeky member (Dad!) who knows how it works; everyone has to understand the features to take advantage of it. With this in mind, let’s see how easy it is to use SmartThings and what are the benefits for the family?

My previous unboxing post covers the SmartThings hardware  so I’m not going to labour that side too much; if you want to see what the SmartThings look like, review the post or the YouTube video below.

Samsung’s SmartThings app is really where it all happens and while comprehensive, it can be a little overwhelming. It’s worth taking some time to get the way Samsung thinks into your own head, before delving into some of the more complicated features. Simply, there are Locations, typically your home, with Rooms full of (Smart)Things. Things can be observed or controlled independently or Routines can be setup to control Things based on information from other Things.

SmartThings Rooms       SmartThings Things

Some Things can show state such as whether a door is open or closed, how warm or cold a room is, or how much power is being consumed through a plug. Some Things can carry out actions, e.g. turn a light on or off, or lock or unlock a door. Currently Samsung SmartThings are available for motion, temperature, moisture, presence, power and door state but there’s a whole ecosystem of products from other vendors that can be integrated.

This video shows how the power sensor can be used to measure power and turn off devices remotely.

It’s the Routines that really put the smarts into the smart home. For example, a Routine might say that if motion is detected by one sensor, then turn on a light. Going a step further, I have a routine that once everyone has been out of the house for 10 minutes, it turns off two power sockets and some lights. Even better, a second routine comes into play that turns everything back on when people come back to the house.

SmartThings Routines  SmartThings Routine Features SmartThings Routines When

SmartThings Home MonitorThe app has a Smart Home Monitor too, which is easily thought of as software-based security system. The Monitor has three modes, Arm (Away), Arm (Stay) and Disarm. When armed, unexpected activity triggers actions such as messages to phones or snapping photos from webcams. As well as the obvious ne’er-do-well entering the property, alarms can be raised against smoke, fire and leaks, depending on the sensors available. The system can help you escape too: assuming everything is connected up, in the event of fire, lights can be turned on and doors unlocked enabling a speedy exit.

To some extent this is theoretical in that I didn’t have smart door, but I do have Philips Hue which joined into the SmartThings ecosystem without any problems at all.

If the main SmartThings app isn’t enough for your needs, there’s an ecosystem of plug-in SmartApps that can extend the feature set. I used one called “Notify Me When” to send me a message when my fridge door was left open for more than two minutes. You can see the setup in this video.

Returning to my initial premise of “Everyone has to understand how it works to take advantage of it”, what did I find? Actually, everything worked so well that my family didn’t really need to know much once I had setup the routines. One big plus was my wife liked getting a notification that I was home as it meant I had picked up the children on my way.

To some extent the early success of SmartThings in our home has been the quick wins. One thing missing from the SmartThings starter kit is a camera, so at present if I do get an alert from the house when I’m out, there’s nothing I can do to see what’s going on.

The next big step would be in heating and boiler control – why heat the house when there’s no-one around? I’d like to integrate my existing interconnected fire alarm too but I don’t really want to rip it out and replace with, say, Nest, so I’ll be looking for a homebrew solution where I can add a device that picks up the alarm signal on the interconnect and then passes that along to the SmartThings Hub.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Samsung’s SmartThings. It’s worked well, with no major issues and only a couple of minor glitches. The Starter Kit is priced at GB£199 or US$249 (the contents are slightly different) so it’s not a trivial investment, especially if joined to a Philips Hue. However, I love it.

Thanks to Samsung SmartThings and The Insiders for the Starter Kit.