“Hey Siri, Good night”! That’s all I have to say to call it a night.
My home lights are turned off except for the night lamp, front door is locked; my air conditioner dips in temperature and I am all set for a good night.
It is not just convenient, these features save energy and money on utility bills. It may seem a little overwhelming to a few but that is only because it is a relatively new technology. Believe me, it is a lot simpler than it seems. Smart home technology is simpler now than ever before. The market has enough DIY (Do it yourself) devices for you to get started.
What Is Home Automation?
Simply put, Home Automation is the automatic control of electronic & electrical appliances in your home. The electrical system is connected with your IP system and that enables you to control electrical & electronic devices on connected devices anywhere in the world.
Your home devices can be controlled via an app or voice assistants. Not just control, you can monitor usage, create schedules so that they turn on or off automatically at a time of the day. For example, you can schedule your lights to turn off automatically at the time you normally go to sleep. With security cameras, you can always check up on your home and smart door locks enable you to let the right people in, even when you are away from home, without having to leave the key under that mat.
With geofences, you can turn on the AC and pre-cool your home before you return from work. IoT (Internet of Things) based Home Automation makes life more convenient, safe secure and also saves money on energy bills.
But what is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things or IoT refers to any device that is connected to the Internet beyond smartphones and computers, those devices that are not normally connected from lights to kitchen appliances, sensors, etc.
When a device is connected to the internet then many possibilities open up, as they can share & receive information. Take for instance the cell phone; before smartphones, all you could do was call, send texts with them. Now you can read, write, take pictures, navigate in a new city, and make flight bookings all with one single device.
IoT devices can be broadly classified into three categories;
1. Things that collect and then send data,
2. Things that receive data and then act on it
3. Things that do both.
Connecting things in your home to the internet will enable access to devices from anywhere in the world. IoT devices are also called Smart devices because these things are now able to act on information from users or other devices.
Smart Home or Home automation is what you build using IoT devices to make your life simpler and a tad bit easier.
How Does Home Automation Work?
A network of devices is connected to the internet and other devices through different communication protocols (Wi-Fi, BLE, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and others) and enable home automation to work.
Home automation consists of three main elements; controllers, actuators, and sensors. The app interfaces and voice assistants make your controller interfaces and used to send or receive information from devices at home. When you turn on an appliance with your mobile device, the signal is relayed to an actuator which acts on it and switches on the electrical appliance.
Many IoT devices are embedded with sensors that monitor changes in motion, ambient temperature, light, and humidity. Users can create actions on other connected actuator devices based on the sensor output. For instance, you can turn on light bulbs based on the ambient light as you walk into a room.
With home automation, you can control, monitor, and automate your home.
Control: You can control devices remotely using voice assistants and app interfaces. Like opening the window shades, panning a security camera to a different angle.
Monitoring: You can check on the devices and your home using security cameras. You can watch live footage outside your front door when a doorbell is pressed.
Automation: You can set up schedules, geofences, and sensor-based triggers. With Automation your home takes care of itself. Your lights turn off automatically when no one is in the room or it is time for your bed. The siren goes off when someone tries to break into your home.
Home Automation System Components
Home automation systems generally require a connected application and a device but some systems also require a hub additionally. In a hub-based system, the hub is the command center for the entire house. It connects with individual sensors, actuators, and controller interfaces.
Now that we have cloud communication with high speeds, it is no longer required to have a hub-based system. You are good with Wi-Fi enabled devices that directly connect with your internet routers.
Mobile Application: The mobile application allows users to control, monitor, and manage their devices in real-time, whether it’s turning off the lights or opening the front door. The app is also used to add, remove, customize devices, and create schedules, group loads as scenes for easy access.
Voice Assistants: With artificial intelligence-enabled voice assistants, controlling your home is a breeze. You can turn on lights, open window shades using simple voice commands. You can also ask assistants to show the video feed of your outdoor and indoor cameras and activate security systems when you are away from home. Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are the major assistants today for smart home control. Say simple voice commands like "Turn off Lights" or "It's Bedtime" & watch your home respond.
Alexa: Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant that’s built into Echo range of smart speakers and displays. It is also available on mobile devices. Alexa is integrated with the highest number of smart devices. In addition to playing your favourite music, reading news, it also can switch on and off your lights and appliances.
Google Assistant: Google Assistant comes with any Google Home Hub, Nest Hub, or Nest Mini speaker. Just say “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” to activate the voice assistant. Although Google Assistant has fewer “skills” or “actions” than Alexa, it has been proven to be the most accurate voice assistant in terms of understanding and answering queries correctly. Much like Alexa, Google has devices built-in with the Assistant and devices that can be controlled by it. The major factor behind the popularity of Google Home is that it is the default assistant of Android devices that comprises the majority of the smartphone market. With Google Assistant being the default voice assistant in all android devices and people’s familiarity with the app gives it an edge over Alexa.
Siri: Siri is Apple’s voice assistant that’s integrated into all Apple devices. There aren’t a lot of connected devices that work with Siri. The list of devices that work with HomeKit isn’t as comprehensive as Alexa or Google Assistant but quality products are being added all the time. HomeKit itself is a framework of Apple which all the devices need to comply with to get access to it and make them work with all Apple products.
The way that IoT devices communicate with other devices and the Internet is their communication protocol.
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is by far the most common communication protocol. Most of your devices like phones, laptops are already connected to the internet via Wi-Fi. It is used for long-distance, high data rate applications. It provides a wide range of coverage.
Z-Wave: Z-Wave is a wireless technology that won’t interfere with your Wi-Fi; rather it operates on a low power mesh network using low-energy energy waves. It operates at different frequencies in different geographies, so a device that operates in the US will not work in India.
Zigbee: It is primarily designed to create personal area networks for home automation. It is low -power, low data rate, and close-proximity protocol. It works on 2.4 GHz ISM radio band.
Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a mesh technology that lets control and monitor IoT devices and automates systems. Most people are familiar with it as it is built in almost all smartphones in the market. Bluetooth makes secure connections to nearby devices. Its most common application is wireless connectivity to speakers, headsets. It is also used with car stereo systems, keyboards, and gaming consoles, and it’s less common in smart home security.
Pros and Cons of Home Automation
What’s not to love about smart home automation? While it has many positives, it comes with a few negatives, some that will correct shortly and others might take a little longer.
Comfort: You are all set to call it a day and go to sleep and then you realize you’ve left the bathroom light on? With smart home automation, you can turn it off with a simple voice command from the comfort of your bed without having to raise a finger.
Convenience: You will be able to automate your everyday tasks and go about your day on auto-pilot. Create schedules to turn off and on your lights to sync with sunrise and sunset. Your door locks itself and security systems activate once you are out of the home. Imagine being able to wake to a pleasant morning with sun rays entering your room, your bath getting prepared, and coffee getting brewed without having to push a button.
Remote access: You can control, monitor your home from anywhere in the world. Want to check up on your pets, open the app and turn on the pet camera or have to let in your friend in open the door from your office without having to leave the key under the mat.
Energy efficiency: I don’t know about you but I have left the water heater on, several times rushing to work. How much energy would have been wasted? With home automation, you can set your thermostats and water heaters to turn off automatically when they are unused.
Safety: With cameras, video doorbells, and sensors for windows and doors you can detect people and only let in the right people. If someone tries to break in you through the windows, you will be alerted immediately.
Costs: Smart devices are certainly more expensive than normal electrical appliances. For example, the average smart bulb costs around five times more than a regular light bulb. Of course, smart bulbs come with multi - color, dimming, voice integrations, and many other features but overall, smart devices aren’t cheap.
New technology: As IoT is a relatively new technology; you may run into some bugs, like trouble connecting with your cameras due to low data rates or experience lag or IoT device getting disconnected from the network. It depends on the make, model, and the type of communication protocol used.
Data Security: Any device connected to the internet is vulnerable to hacker attacks. It is probably better if most of your data communication happens locally and not through the cloud. When getting your Home Automation done, it is better to opt for devices from brands with good data security protocols in place and use the best encryption algorithms available.
How to Setup Home Automation
Setting up your home automation system is a lot less complicated than it may seem. Just by following these simple steps, you can create a smart home that is future-proof and very simple to use.
The main issue with smart home automation is interoperability between IoT devices. You might be wondering what is Interoperability? It is defined as the ability of two systems to communicate and share the services of each other. With countless devices in the market and their communication protocols, the IoT market is highly fragmented and no single company offering solutions to all of your requirements.
Smart home ecosystem: First, choose the “smart home ecosystem” that is right for you. Apple HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung SmartThings are the popular smart home ecosystems in the market. If you ask us, we would say go for Apple HomeKit, Google Home. All your connected devices will be integrated with this system and it is critical that you make the right choice.
The ecosystem will decide the voice assistant that you will use. Of course, you can opt for devices working on multiple ecosystems but it might get a little confusing to remember the voice assistant associated with an IoT device. The next step is to decide, hub-based automation, or Wi-Fi?
Communication protocol: Which protocol you want your devices to communicate with, WiFi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, or BLE? If you’re starting with a smart home, WiFi will be the right option, as most IoT devices work with Wi-Fi.
Types of products: Next, go room by room and decide which types of products you’ll need, be it security cameras, light bulbs, window shades, switches, locks, sensors, etc.
Brands & devices: Then, do some research as to the best smart home companies. Finalize on the brand and the type of device matching your needs. We recommend buying in bulk, as many companies offer discounts on larger packages.
Installation: Now, it’s time to install the IoT devices where you want them. Most IoT devices have DIY installation, meaning you can do it yourself for free.
Customize settings: So you’ve researched, purchased, and installed your IoT devices in your home. What’s next? Now, the fun starts, as you can customize the devices to your liking, whether that means setting them on schedules, dimming lights to ambient sunlight.
Features of IoT devices
After you buy and install your devices, now it is time to make the most of the functionalities that made you buy them in the first place.
Remote control: The main feature of smart home technology is that you’ll be able to control your devices remotely through their respective mobile applications. This comes in handy, especially if you forgot to do something before you left home, be it to turn off your air conditioning unit or to make sure your doors are locked.
Voice commands: Most smart devices work with one of the voice assistants, either the two most common, Alexa and Google Assistant, or the less common Apple Siri or Samsung Bixby. That means you’ll be able to command them using your voice alone, but it’s important to make sure that all the devices in your homework with the same voice assistant for convenience.
Geo-fencing: Geofence is a feature more useful with smart locks, primarily. The automation system uses the GPS from your phone and controls your device so that it locks or unlocks based on your location. For example, you could have your door automatically unlock when you’re within a certain distance, or have the air conditioner dip in temperature when you’re near.
Schedules: This one’s pretty obvious; many devices can be set onto schedules so that you don’t have to control them manually every day. For example, if you know that you always sleep on weekdays at ten PM, you could have your home lights turn off to call it a night.
Scenes: Scenes are a set of appliances that you’ve grouped to easily access them all at once. We have different scenes for lighting, from reading to bedtime to house parties, and since we’ve already customized the colors and brightness, we can activate it with a simple voice command or tap on the mobile app.
Notifications: You’ll also be notified on your mobile app of any events that happen with your smart device. This mainly applies to security cameras, systems, and smart locks. You can be notified the second someone opens your front door, walks in front of your video doorbell. As you can see, notifications are especially useful when it comes to the security and safety of your home.
Activity log: An activity log is simply a list of the IoT devices’ activity, like what times the smart locks were opened, when the lights were on, and more. This is very useful for smart locks and security systems, in particular, but may not be as necessary for appliances and other devices.
Energy monitoring: Energy monitoring tells you how much energy is consumed by your devices. This is useful for smart thermostats and plugs connected to heavy power appliances rated 2000W and above.
With smart home automation, you can make your life easier by automating actions. Have your coffee ready for you in the morning and increase light brightness based on the time of the day, or simply get notified the second your kids come home. With thousands of devices to choose from, the possibilities are endless.
Tips for Securing IoT Devices
Good router: An easy way to secure your home automation system is to use a secure router from a company other than your Internet Service Provider. We recommend looking into routers from Ubiquiti, Arlo, Netgear, Linksys, and TP-Link updated to their latest firmware.
Give your router a name: Don’t use the name the manufacturer or your internet provider gave it. Give it an unusual name without letting out personal info like name or street address.
Encryption: Choose a strong encryption method for your WiFi under settings like WPA2. This will ensure your network and communications are secure.
Keep a Guest network: Your visitors, friends, and relatives can use the guest network and all your devices are only in your private network.
Wi-Fi password: Make sure your network has a long, complicated, and unique password. Avoid common words or strings that are easy to guess like “123456” or “password”.
Device settings: Often, devices have features enabled by default that aren’t necessary. Turn off these features when not in use, like WiFi, Bluetooth, and access to your location.
Software updates: Software updates are a good thing! They often include updates specifically targeted at improving digital security, so be sure to perform all software updates as soon as they’re available.
Authentication: Use two-factor authentication wherever possible. The one-time code sent to your cell phone can keep your accounts secure.
Avoid public Wi-Fi: If you have to manage your IoT device in a coffee shop, be sure to use a VPN if you are connected to public Wi-Fi.
Following these simple steps, you can protect your home from getting hacked.
Automating your home isn’t a one-time affair, it is an evolving process. As your needs and requirements change, your home automation system should evolve. Start small and then build up your system matching your needs and requirements. With so many devices already in the market and the devices being added every day, the possibilities are endless. Make your life simpler, more convenient & secure than ever before with smart home automation.