Tag Archives: smart home

How Fresh is Your Air?



I’m lucky enough to live in a small commuter village here in Northern Ireland. If I look out my window, I can see cows munching the grass in a neighbouring field. Many people aren’t this fortunate, and live close to major roads with higher levels of pollution. I think we’re all aware of the increase in asthma and allergies in the past few decades too, and around 5 million people in the UK suffer from various levels of asthma.

And unless fumes are pouring out of an exhaust, most air pollution is invisible to the eye and odourless to the nose. It’s very difficult for us to assess how bad the air quality is in our own homes, even subjectively. For a more objective view the Foobot smart indoor air quality monitor can assess the indoor air and pass the data to its complementary app.

The Foobot is a semi-cylindrical gadget a little taller than a smart phone (17 cm), with what looks like an air vent on top. At first glance it could be mistaken for a smart home hub, but the Foobot has sophisticated sensors to measure gases and chemicals in the air. The Foobot glows blue when air quality is good and turns orange if it becomes poor. In particular, the Foobot measures:

  • VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases like ammonia and formaldehyde
  • PM2.5s – Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
  • Carbon Monoxide, which can be deadly as it binds irreversibly with the haemoglobin in the blood
  • Humidity. High humidity can lead to damp and low humidity is an irritation
  • Temperature

The Foobot can also assess carbon dioxide, but this is derived from other figures – there’s no CO2 sensor. Full specs on the Foobot are here.

As a smart device, the Foobot integrates with other smart home solutions, from Google Nest to Amazon Echo, and with the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to over 120 home appliances, including Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. Simplistically, if Foobot detects that the room air quality is becoming poor, then an extractor fan or air conditioner can be turned on to refresh the air. The Foobot itself connects via WiFi and the Foobot app is available for both iOS and Android.

The Foobot is manufactured by AirBoxLab, a Luxembourg-based startup founded by CEO Jacques Touillon, whose son suffered from asthma. Back in 2014 it was an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, formerly called Alima.

I think the Foobot is a good idea, especially if you do have family members who suffer from conditions that respond to air quality. The saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. The Foobot can provide that measurement to help manage the local environment, and hopefully provide relief to sufferers.

The Foobot is available now in US, Canada, Europe and Australia, priced at US$199, GB£170, €199.


LIFX White Bayonet Bulb Sale



GNC readers from the UK and Ireland may be interested in LIFX’s sale on second generation white bayonet bulbs (LIFX White 800). There’s a saving of US$7.50 per bulb so you can get four bulbs for just under US$90. Although the prices are in dollars, the bulbs ship from the Netherlands so there should be no additional duties to pay.

Unlike most smart bulbs, these lamps use WiFi connectivity rather than Z-wave or Zigbee, so there’s no need for additional controllers and it’s an easy way in to smart lighting with fittings (B22) to suit UK and Irish residents. LIFX works with other smart systems such as SmartThings, Nest and Alexa. I reviewed the colour version of the bulb for GNC last year so check out my report for more info.

Apparently the stock is going fast!


Philips Brings Candles to Hue



In news that will delight Hue and smart home owners everywhere, Philips has announced Hue Candle bulbs in two variants, one in white ambiance and the other white and colour ambiance. Philips say that the new shape means Hue bulbs can be installed in over 80% of lights commonly used round the world.

The new bulbs will be equivalent to 40W at full brightness and come in the B39 form factor for lamps with B14 (SES) sockets. The white bulb will consume 6W and output 470 lm @ 4000K. The colour one consumes more at 6.5W but light output is similar.

The candle has been one of the most requested products by Philips Hue customers. We’ve spent time ensuring it is of the highest quality and available in both white ambiance and white and colour ambiance. It is an important next step to ensure seamless integration in all rooms, giving you the freedom to personalize lighting throughout your home,” says Sridhar Kumaraswamy, Business Leader Connected Home Systems at Philips Lighting.

As Hue already integrates with other smart home systems like Samsung SmartThings and controllers like Amazon’s Alexa, the new candle bulbs can be seamlessly added to an existing Hue set.

The new Philips Hue Candle will be available in Europe by the end of April and later this year in North America, priced from EUR 34.95 (that’ll be the white ambiance bulb, I would imagine).


Bitdefender BOX Protects the Smart Home at CES



With the arrival of the Internet of Things, installing antivirus software on a PC isn’t going address malware lurking on a smart home control unit. A different approach is needed and Bitdefender’s BOX might be the solution. Dan talks to Todd about what Box offers over traditional security products.

The Bitdefender Box is a small hardware device which is connected into a free port on the main router – it’s similar in size to the control units for SmartThings or Hue. Once configured via Bitdefender’s Central Account or the companion smartphone app, it monitors the network traffic for suspicious activity. Box provides several layers of security over and above standard antivirus with everything from URL filtering to anomaly detection.

Bitdefender Box is available now for US$129 in the first year, with an annual subscription of $99. The next gen Box is expected in the summer, priced at $199. Box is currently only available in the USA.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

Become a GNC Insider today!

Support my CES 2017 Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transferred .com cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1


Get the Zzzzs in with Witti at CES



Witti are reasonably well-known for their Beddi collection of stylish bedside clocks and lights which both help the sleeper doze off and wake them gently in the morning. Expanding their product portfolio, Witti is introducing Sleepi and Todd finds out from Alfred what it can offer snoozers.

Sleepi is a sleep monitoring system, comprising of a bedside light and clock, a sleep tracker that goes under the mattress and the obligatory smartphone app. The app tracks sleep and wakefulness, providing a report in the morning. What makes Sleepi different is that it works with smart homes to figure out what interrupted the sleep, e.g. the room was too hot, and then adjust the temperature automatically. That’s smart.

A Kickstarter launch is planned for Sleepi, with shipping towards the end of 2017. Expected retail price around US$149.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

Become a GNC Insider today!

Support my CES 2017 Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transferred .com cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1


Switchflip Switches Sockets at CES



You might think that a switch flip is a skateboard move but in this case Switchflip lets you control new power outlets from a wall switch with no extra wiring. Todd gets a demo from Ryan on maximising those hard-to-reach sockets.

Currently seeking funding via Indiegogo, the Switchflip works like this….let’s say you have a power socket that is controlled by a wall switch but you’d prefer that the wall switch worked with another socket (or sockets) on the other side of the room. So you plug the Switchflip transmitter into the original switched socket and a Switchflip receiver into the socket(s) further away. Now when you switch the wall switch all sockets come on (or go off).

The Switchflip uses its own wireless connection so there’s no Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity to mess around with. It’s plug’n’play, or as Switchflip says, “Simple is smart”. Range is up to 100ft, depending construction.

The crowdfunding is going well, with the Switchflip currently over 200% funded with a month to go. There are still a few Early Bird Specials to available, and US$35 will get a transmitter and a receiver. Delivery is expected in October 2017.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

Become a GNC Insider today!

Support my CES 2017 Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transferred .com cjcgnc99 @ GoDaddy.com
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1


Sengled Smart Lights Honored at CES



Sengled has a history of winning awards at CES and this year is no exception with two Honorees in the ‘Best of Innovation’ and ‘Eco-design and Sustainable Technologies’ categories. The former was won by the Sengled Pulse Link, which is an interesting way of improving television audio with the need for wires or expensive  AV amplifiers.

By way of explanation, the Sengled Pulse is a Bluetooth-controlled LED lamp with a built-in speaker, so music can be streamed from a mobile phone or tablet to the Pulse. I’ve reviewed some of these lights and I’m not going to pretend that they’re hi-fi quality audio and just leave it at that. The Pulse Link adds a transmitter into the mix so the (rear surround) audio output from the TV is input to the Pulse Link, which then transmits to a pair of Sengled Pulse lamps. The Pulse lamps can be positioned conveniently near the TV viewer, bringing the soundtrack closer. The Pulse Link Starter Kit is US$199.

The second Honoree is the Sengled Element, which simplistically, is a hub-controlled LED smart bulb. What makes the Element a little bit different is a focus on green credentials and a promise by Sengled to plant a tree for every bulb, making the Element CO2 neutral. The complementary smartphone app shows the energy savings compared with incandescent lighting so owners can see how they’re saving the planet. Price for the Element Classic hasn’t been set, but the Element Plus Kit is $59.99 for hub and bulb. Bulbs are $17.99. The Element Plus bulbs (shown) have white colour-temperature tuning and dimmer switch compatibility.

And purely because I like the idea, I going to mention the Sengled Everbright. This is an LED lamp with a built-in battery providing over 3 hours of lighting in the event of a power cut. Impressively, the lights can tell the difference between normal on/off switching and a power failure. Very clever and perfect if you live with a less-than-stable electricity supply. US$19.99.

Sengled are at CES 2017 at the Sands Expo, Level 2 Hall A #41336.


Devolo Extends Home Control To Humidity and Flood



Devolo LogoDevolo has rounded out the range of sensors in its smart home system, Home Control, with the addition of two new sensors for humidity and water (flood). Although previously announced over the summer, these devices are now available for purchase through several on-line and high street stores. The folks at Devolo were kind enough to send two units for review. Let’s take a quick look.

Devolo Humidity and Water Sensors in Box

Both sensors use the same basic “mini PIR” design that’s shared with the existing movement and door sensors, though the water sensor has a long tail with the water detector on the end. Obviously this is so that the main part of the sensor can be mounted conveniently and the detector positioned down the back of the washing machine, touching the floor.

The sensors are a sturdy white plastic, much as you’d find any domestic security system. The rear clips off to change the battery which has a claimed life of up to 5 years. I’d be a little skeptical of that based on my experience of similar sensors in the range, but YMMV,

Devolo Humidity and Water Sensors

The sensors aren’t much use on their own and have to be paired into the Home Control central unit. All the sensors use Z-Wave to communicate with the central unit and getting them setup is easy to do out-of-the box. Simply pull the battery tab out of the back to put the sensor in pairing mode, and then use the app on a smartphone to detect and add the sensor into Home Control. The app goes through it step by step, with helpful videos presented for information. There’s a new Home Control app which is much improved over the previous version but does have a few cosmetic issues.

   

Once the sensors are in the Home Control environment, they can be incorporated into rules to do useful things. For example, if the water sensor detects water (under the washing machine), then send a text message or email to alert the owner. If the humidity sensor says that it’s too damp, automatically turn on the power to a fan (and then turn it off when the humidity falls). You’re limited only by available sensors and acting devices. The new smartphone app doesn’t provide rule editing features yet, so the full web app at mydevolo has to be used for the rules.

The water sensor isn’t terribly interesting as it’s all or nothing: either the floor is dry, or it’s time to call a plumber. On the other hand, the humidity sensor is much more fun as it records both humidity and temperature. The Devolo Home Control app shows the current state of the sensor and also historical data, so you can review the graphs to look for trends.

Devolo Home Control Humidity Devolo Home Control Graphs

Overall, these are handy additions to the Home Control ecosystem. Each fulfills a slightly different role, in that the water sensor is for emergencies, whereas the humidity sensor has a day-to-day function. The sensors aren’t cheap, with an RRP of GB£49.99 (and they are a little more expensive than their main competitor) but if you are bought into Home Control, they’re worth considering. For me personally, the water sensor is ideal for my garage as it has a tap without a drain. If the tap is left on, even just slightly, the floor floods over a couple of days. With the Devolo water sensor installed I’d get a quick warning of the problem.

If you want to see more, there’s an unboxing video below.

Thanks to Devolo for providing the sensors for review.

 


Ding Smart Doorbell Hits Kickstarter



Ding LogoEarlier in the year I interviewed Avril at The Gadget Show as part of the British Inventors’ Project. She was showing off Ding, a prototype smart doorbell, and I’m pleased to say that Ding is now live on Kickstarter. Way to go!

Ding ButtonDing comes in three parts, the Ding Button, the Ding Chime and the Ding app (for iOS and Android). Much like any doorbell, pressing the Ding Button rings the Ding Chime via DECT, and if home, the owner can open the door to the visitor.

But unlike most doorbells, the Ding Chime in turn communicates via wifi to the Ding app, allowing the homeowner to then chat with the caller at the door, whether simply out in the garden or miles away at work

I like Ding because it’s beautifully designed and looks great. I like Ding because it takes a problem and extends it just enough to solve the problem. There’s no video camera requiring bandwidth or online remote controlled lock, so it’s relatively inexpensive, works with ADSL and security isn’t a big concern. If someone steals the Button, all they have is half a doorbell.
Ding Chime

Launched today, Ding can be backed at a couple of price points, starting at GB£92 for a charcoal Ding, rising to GB£106 for a teal, salmon or cobalt one. Delivery is expected in August 2017 with delivery worldwide.

There’s plenty of info on the Ding Kickstarter page and even more at Ding Products, including some very cool clocks.

Good luck, DIng!

 


Bold Euro Cylinder Smart Lock on Kickstarter



Bold LogoSmart locks have been gradually appearing on the US market over the past few years, with the Kevo Kwikset being one of the more popular. Over on the European side of the pond, it’s taken a little longer for smart locks to appear but they’re beginning to come onto the market from both established vendors and start-ups. Locks in UK and mainland Europe use different styles and standards from the USA so it’s not simply a case of rebranding an existing product.

Yale announced their entry into the market earlier in the year and you might have listened to my interview with them at this year’s Gadget Show Live. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some of the early smart locks have left a great deal to be desired aesthetically, with boxy designs  and limited colour choices. Black anyone?

Fortunately, there are some smart locks beginning to appear that work with European doors, match the door furniture and look good. Case in point, the Bold smart cylinder lock which has just launched on Kickstarter. It’s a plug-in replacement for doors that use the Euro profile cylinder lock, comes in four different colours and looks like a door knob.

Bold Smart Cylinder Lock

The Bold uses Bluetooth technology so it unlocks based mainly on proximity of a smartphone or key fob using the Bold app. One of the big benefits of pure wireless (no keypad) is that all the electronics can be on the inside of the door, safe from both the elements and criminals. There’s no remote unlock feature so you can’t unlock the door from the comfort of your desk to let a neighbour in but you can invite or authorise them to use their own smartphone to unlock the door. There’s benefits of both approaches and you’ll have to think through your use cases to decide what’s best for you. A keyfob (say, for children) is available for extra cost.

Bold Key Fob

The Bold seems to keep it simple from a hardware point of view too. The Bold isn’t motorised so it doesn’t actually unlock the door itself, though it engages the handle with the mechanism so that the door can be unlocked (or locked) by turning the handle. The benefit of this is a much longer battery life (three years) and lower cost for the lock while eliminating the need for often troublesome moving parts.

The team appear to have given some thought to security, working with specialists Ubiqu and their qKey to provide a secure system. Can’t say that I’m qualified to comment further but it does provide some reassurance that the Bold team aren’t making it up as they go along. To see the Bold in action, check the video on the Kickstarter page.

If this interests you, the lowest price point currently available is €149. Just remember with all things Kickstarter, there’s a risk to your money so don’t spend what you can’t afford. You might also want to check the dimensions on your door to check that the Bold doesn’t foul existing door handles.

Personally I’ve mixed feelings about smart locks. While I know that most door locks can be defeated by the determined criminal, I’m still confident that once I close my front door behind me and turn the key, that door is going to stay locked. With smart locks, there’s still that kind of nagging feeling that it might automagically unlock itself…and of course a mechnical lock is still going to be working in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time. Still, I’m tempted…..