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Understanding Internet Of Things for the Home

Last week Rory Cellan-Jones, a reporter for the BBC, tried to explain in his CES2015 news article why we, all of us, should be interested in the progress of “Internet of Things” for the home. Even our Intel President admitted it’s a hard topic to generally appreciate

I asked Intel’s President Renee James whether she thought anyone outside the show got this idea – and she admitted that they probably didn’t. “It means a lot to us,” she said “but this show is largely about the industry talking to itself.”

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News 

In my opinion Rory also misses some of the real value that’s being created in this space, so let me relate some thoughts on the good, and bad of “Home IOT”

Firstly, let’s talk about the bad, and forgive me for picking on – Phillips Hue lights.

Here we have a set of LED light bulbs connected to a IOS/Android App, so you can turn your lights on and off using your phone, and even change their color to match your mood.

Sounds cool – We started in my home by putting them in the bedside table lights – No need to reach over and try to find the switch in the middle of the night etc – but reality is far from this heady dream. Having to find your phone, enter the pin, start the HUE app, navigate the pretty dire UI just to turn on the bedroom light is really, really painful. In fact, we soon learnt that if you flick the switch, the hue light will turn itself on (bypassing the need for the phone, or smart bulb entirely).

Next, an experiment between IFTTT and Hue – we set up some rules, like if I send my wife an email, the light flashes red. Funny for a couple of hours, then SO annoying. Then a rule that changed the light color if the weather was stormy. That saved us looking out of the window, then there was the inevitable fun with one of us turning the light on from a different room, and the other turning it off..

Six months later, and it’s probably five months since I opened the hue app. The Hue technology is great – it works perfectly, but on its own, it’s just not very useful.

Now for the good – things you might care about. You may remember at CES Intel announced a deep partnership with ADT, and they themselves announced technology partnerships with IFTTT etc –

Brian Krzanich demonstrated a great system where we used a very accurate 3D camera and facial recognition to automatically unlock your ADT secured front door – no more fumbling for keys when your arms are full of groceries. Sure, we could have used the same technology that many cars use – proximity based key fob devices etc – but why not eliminate the need to carry anything, when your face can authenticate you ?

Obviously connected devices let you do clever things – you could put those Hue bulbs on the outside of your house, and tie them into your security alarm motion detector, so they light up when a car comes up the drive – use technology to replace a $20 motion sensor in other words.

What about this though – with IOT and connectivity between your alarm system and door locks, you can use logic like “if this doesn’t happen”. For example, you can create rules like “If the front door does not open between 3:30 and 4:00 using my child’s pin code, send me an email”.

And, you can start integrating information from other sources – for example calendar and alarm clock – “If my calendar indicates I have a flight the next morning, change my alarm to be 2:45 hours before the departure time.”

How about a security system/network detection/calendar integration? – “If the garage door does not open before 9am, and my car is still present, and the calendar indicates my housekeeper is due, send them an email asking if they can delay for two hours”.

Or your heating system and calendar to make sure you’re not heating/cooling your house when you’re at work – “Make sure the house is at 75f at 5pm unless my calendar shows I have a meeting, in which case set it to be 75f by 45min after the meeting expires.”

When you connect personal information, like your calendar, with the physical world – you can create a kind of “digital butler” experience. Of course it requires you to be dedicated to making sure your online calendar is accurate – but with the popularity of smart phones that’s becoming ever more common.

Home IOT is not just about about remote control – though that is a fundamental characteristic of IOT devices. Home IOT is all about automating the way devices work to make our lives easier and more efficient, by combining the data from different devices and other sources together.

Finally, two of my favorite cost-saving rules which have shown that IOT can really make things safer and easier for my family –

“Dim the Hue lights to 10% if the quirky motion sensor  does not detect activity for 5min, turn them completely off after 10min”

Living in a flood zone – “Turn all the lights on, sound the alarm, and email my wife and I if the Quirky overflow sensor  in the garage detects water”

And one that’s close to reality, completely possible given current technology, but not there yet.

“Warn me in my car if I am driving near a gas station, and my calendar indicates I have an early morning flight within 3 days, and I don’t have enough range in my car for my normal average daily milage plus a return trip to the airport”

What ideas do you have?

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