Tag Archives: home automation

Fibaro Doubles Up With HomeKit at CES 2018



Fibaro are one of the bigger names in smart homes with a wide range of products from simple light switches to complex controllers. Originally based around Z-wave, their accessories now work with Apple HomeKit, and integrate with other systems like Philips Hue. Allante and Rich take a quick spin through some of Fibaro’s new products.

First up is a smart power plug with a USB charging port and a coloured LED which changes colour according to the amount of power being drawn through the socket. Although the colour-changing is fun, the measured power can be used within a smart home to initiate other actions or send a warning. Should the iron have been on for a hour?

Next is the big The Button which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a big red button, though it does come in seven different colour. Press it and stuff happens. What happens is configurable by the user – turn on the lights, sound an alarm, play music.

All the products are on sale now, priced between US$49 and $59.

Allante Sparks is a video producer at PLuGHiTz Live Special Events.

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SkyLink Brings the Garage into the Smart Home at CES 2018



Remote controlled garage doors haven’t been particularly secure in the past and many people have disabled the feature because of the risk of break-ins to their homes through the garage. Todd and Frank discuss the problem and look at SkyLink Nova, a retrofit WiFi door opener.

The SkyLink Nova is wired into an existing garage door opener using the standard connections used for the interior open/close button. Once connected up, the Nova can be remotely controlled with the SkyLink smartphone app (iOS and Android). Nova is also compatible with If This Then That (IFTTT) platform and Alexa so the garage door can be opened (or closed) by talking to an Echo.

The Nova itself looks like an LED light fixture and works as a smart home hub too, communicating with up to 100 smart devices. In addition, it can detect sirens from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house. When one of those is heard, Nova will automatically open your garage door to aid in ventilation in the case of an emergency. (I can see how this might help with CO poisoning but surely opening the door during a fire could make things worse?)

SkyLink‘s Nova will be on sale in the spring for under US$100.

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

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Immersive Entertainment with Philips Hue at CES 2018



At CES 2018, Philips Lighting have announced the latest evolution of the Hue ecosystem which brings immersive interaction between entertainment – gaming, movies and music – and Hue lighting. Simplistically, Hue can colour the room around you to complement the action in the game. Sweet!

Following a free, over-the-air software update, Philips Hue customers with colour-capable lights and a Philips Hue v2 bridge can enjoy truly immersive home entertainment experiences. The new software, created as a result of pilots (Sharknardo!), insights and feedback gained from leading companies in the entertainment industry, synchronizes Philips Hue lights perfectly with gaming, movie and music content. Razer, the world’s leading lifestyle brand for gamers, is the first partner to go live.

Accompanying the new Hue Entertainment functionality, Philips Lighting will introduce Hue Sync, an application that will run on any Windows 10 or macOS High Sierra-based computer, in Q2 2018. Philips Hue Sync creates immediate, immersive light scripts for any game, movie or music played on the computer, so consumers can enjoy the content they are playing, watching or listening to even more. I have to say that sounds pretty cool but I hope they bring out a version that can work with DVRs like Sky Q or Tivo and media streamers such as the Roku or Fire TV.

Finally, In summer 2018, Philips Lighting will take the Hue experience outside the home with the debut of an outdoor line. This new line of products will let consumers get more out of their exterior lighting by allowing them to personalise their ambience for any moment outside, whether simply relaxing with family or entertaining friends. It will also increase their peace of mind when arriving home or while away.

Keep an eye on meethue.com for further Hue updates.


The Smart nCube Home



The smart home marketplace is growing rapidly at the moment with new entrants on an almost daily basis. The original “one-trick ponies” like Hue, Nest, Hive and Ring are expanding their single USP feature into a portfolio of smart devices, and well-known electronics companies like Belkin and Panasonic are setting up shop too. Most of these big names sell their own branded accessories creating a small ecosystem and a straightforward user experience. Once familiar with the smart home space, it’s easy to spot that the branded accessories are often rebadged OEM items from specialists.

Underneath the big names, there is a veritable housing development of home automation hubs, including Fibaro, Cozify and nCube, each with their own speciality. Finnish Cozify has more radios than most and works with devices using 433 MHz, whereas Polish outfit Fibaro excel at the user interface with dedicated touchpads and visual controls.

British outfit nCube are notable for three things. First, the hub is blue which makes a change from the usual white; second, they only make the the hub and connect to other manufacturer’s sensors and systems; third, all local processing is done on the nCube hub, ensuring privacy and retaining personal information at home. It also means that it’s not a big problem if the internet connection goes down. Yes, interfaces to other cloud-based systems won’t work, but other activities will continue as normal, e.g. turning on a power socket at a certain time.

As nCube Home doesn’t make anything other than the hub, they connect to a wide variety of other people’s gear, with support for over 120 devices. For Z-Wave gear, nCube works with Everspring, Popp, Fibaro, TKB, Philio, Danfoss and Aeotec, covering heating, lighting, sensing, switching and alarms. As expected, nCube integrates with other home automation systems such as Hue, Nest, LIFX, Sonos and Belkin. Amazon’s Alexa now has an nCube skill, so you can talk to nCube via Echo and Echo Dot.

Done right, this is a great opportunity for an open system giving more choice to the consumer.

As expected, nCube have an app for iOS and Android, bringing together all the devices and controls into a single convenient home. “Cubes” is their term for automation, which could be a command like, “At 7am turn the bedside light on and play music at 20% volume.” Security features can be built in Cubes too, “If water’s detected under the sink, send a text message.”

Originally a Kickstarter project, nCube Home is based around the Raspberry Pi. I interviewed nCube back in 2016 at the Wearable Technology Show and the hub was just about to come to market. You can listen to the interview on Geek News Central.

The nCube Home can be purchased from nCube for GB£149.


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.

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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.


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…..


LIFX Color 1000 Smart Bulb Review



If you are looking for a last minute Fathers’ Day present then an LIFX smart bulb might be just the thing. Getting into smart lighting can be expensive as there’s often an additional wireless hub to control the lights but LIFX have taken a different approach with their lamps as each one connects via WiFi. There’s no Z-Wave or Zigbee here. The folks at LIFX kindly sent one of their smart bulbs for review, so let’s take a look.

LIFX offer four different bulbs, in a combination of two shapes and colour v white only. On review here is the Color 1000 in the A19 size (BR30 is the other size) in a UK variant with bayonet cap. A screw cap is also available and interestingly works across US and UK voltages.

LIFX Color 1000 in box LIFX Color 1000 in box

In the box, there’s the light plus instructions. In addition to the physical light, an app needs to be downloaded from the appropriate app store to your smartphone or tablet. Apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows.

The bulb itself is solid, weighing in at 243 g and measuring 117 mm tall and 63 mm wide. It’s no lightweight.

LIFX Color 1000 LIFX Color 1000

In common with most “IoT” Wi-Fi devices, there’s a two step setup process that the app takes you through. When first powered up, the light will create a small Wi-Fi network that your smartphone connects to. Using the app, you can then configure the bulb to connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, selecting the SSID and providing the passcode. Both the smartphone and bulb disconnect and reconnect as normal to the Wi-Fi network. With the configuration out of the way, you can now start to have fun.

During the setup, you need to create a username and password which you generally don’t need to use unless you are going to use the bulb with other smart home gear, such as Samsung’s SmartThings. More on this later.

As an aside, during my setup, the bulb needed a quick firmware update which all happened automatically and painlessly, though it did delay getting going by a few moments. Good to see that it’s easy to keep the bulbs up-to-date.

The LIFX app provides all the tools you might expect to manage bulbs in a smartly-lit house. Bulbs can be collected into names spaces, such as “bedroom” providing quick access to multiple bulbs based on location. Obviously in this example I only had one room.

Screenshot_20160609-001949 LIFX Colour Wheel LIFX White Wheel

The bulb can be switched between colour and white modes depending on you mood, with a straightforward wheel to choose the desired hue. The brightness can be controlled too using the control in the middle of the wheel.

LIFX White LIFX RedLIFX Greeen

LIFX say that the Color 1000 puts out a little over 1000 lumens which is equivalent to a 75 W incandescent bulb. It was definitely a bit brighter than my Philips Hue colour bulbs, though I did notice that the Color 1000 got fairly warm too and will consume 11 W at full brightness.

Fiddling around with the LIFX Color 1000 is tremendous fun and children will love co-ordinating with their favourite Disney colours. You can imagine the colours generated from Frozen…. There’s even a special effects mode which has selections like “Spooky”, “Flicker” and “Color Cycle”. Themes sets up preset colours for easy access and schedules can turn lights on and off automatically it’s all simple to use.

Contrary to my original review, the Color 1000 can be controlled from outside out of the premises. Using my mobile phone and 3G only, it worked as if I was at home, turning the light on and off, changing colours and so on. Great if you want to use the LIFX as a security light and turn it on when you are unexpectedly late coming home.(I’m not sure what went wrong the first time I tested and it didn’t work, but I can only assume it was a temporary connectivity problem from outside my home. It definitely does work – sorry LIFX.)

In addition to being able to control the bulb via the native app, LIFX have put some work into integration with connectivity from Nest, IFTTT, “Ok Google”, SmartThings, Echo and Logitech’s Harmony. I tried it with Samsung’s SmartThings and it was very easy and straightforwad. Select LIFX lights in SmartThings, stick in the username and password created during setup, and job done with the Color 1000 appearing in SmartThings for control.

In summary, the LIFX Color 1000 is a good choice if you want to get into smart lighting at a reasonable cost – the UK price of the bulb is £59.99. Admittedly that’s still not cheap and it is £10 dearer than the equivalent Philips Hue but you don’t have to buy the Hue Hub at £50 before you get going. LIFX have future-proofed the investment with their integrations, so if you get into smart lighting and then smart homes, the LIFX Color 1000 can still be used as part of the system. The Color 1000 is a big bulb so if there’s a particular lamp that you want to use with it, just check the bulb’s going to fit.

The LIFX is available from Amazon and other online retailers. Thanks to LIFX for the Color 1000 to review.


Devolo Updates Home Control



Devolo LogoLast night Devolo pushed out a major update to its Home Control platform, providing additional functionality in four new areas. The update occurred painlessly on my system and while I wasn’t able to fully explore the new features, I’ve managed a few screenshots.

Devolo New DevicesFirst, there are three new supported devices with two sensors, flood and humidity, and one actuator, a siren, which are all coming soon. It’s not clear if the siren is for internal or external use though it will be useful in rounding out the security features of the system.

 

Second, there’s now integration with Philips Hue lighting system and Home Control picks up the configuration directly from the Hue hub, inserting the available lights into the list of devices. This addresses what I felt was one of the main flaws with Home Control and brings it up to scratch, as it were.

Devolo with HueThird, Home Control has improved third party integration with web services and this comes in two parts. The first is what Devolo are calling “scene sharing” and this is the ability to trigger remotely a scene (e.g. living room lights on). Effectively, this allows integration with tools like IFTTT, so you can do things like “If my GPS says I’m within 300m of home and it’s dark, then turn the hall and porch lights on.”

Devolo 3rd Party IntegrationThe second part of this integration allows the Home Control system to access other devices by URL, e.g. http://……, so if another device can “do stuff” via a web address, then Home Control can potentially access it. I haven’t explored this area but I imagine you could use this to integrate with other 3rd party devices like webcams that often present a web-based view, as well as working with IFTTT.

Finally, the dashboard functionality has been improved with the option to now have multiple dashboards so that it’s easier to construct different views of your smart world. For example, you could have a room-based dashboard or a device-based dashboard that could be used for a security view of the home. Again, I didn’t get a chance to play with this functionality so can’t comment in more detail, but it looks handy.

Overall it’s a worthwhile update that brings some much needed functionality to Home Control.