Home Smart Home

Once an ahead-of-its-time idea, the Internet of Things is, today, smartening up our living rooms and kitchens. Here are simple solutions to turn your home into a 'smart home'.
By Nidhi Singal   Delhi     Print Edition: July 3, 2016
Photo: Tanmoy Chakraborty

Imagine a life where you don't have to move an inch to operate devices; when home appliances can read your mind and the smartphone becomes the remote control for your home. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making this possible by allowing objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across an existing network infrastructure. Connected devices can be accessed using a smartphone or a PC app. IoT is not just restricted to Internet and Wi-Fi; there are around 11 IoT protocols such as Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) that have been identified. Although still ahead of its time, IoT-enabled products are making a splash in the following categories.

Lighting: This is one of the earliest markets to have ushered in IoT. The Phillips Hue exemplifies IoT perfectly. Its starter kit includes three LED colour-changing bulbs along with a wireless bridge that connects to the router using a LAN cable. Using the Phillips Hue app, the bulbs can be paired and controlled. With a single tap on the phone, the colours can be changed and up to 50 bulbs can be controlled from a single bridge. Based on ZigBee, a low-power, safe and reliable technology to control lights, the Hue system can be easily integrated with other ZigBee-based systems for additional home automation. Although the starter kit costs Rs 16,995, start-up Cube 26 offers a similar smartphone-controlled, light-changing LED bulb for Rs 1,899. IOTA Lite is a 500-lumen bulb with Bluetooth 4.0 that pairs with the IOTA Lite over an app. Using the app, you can change colours and brightness, and select the light to sync with music. Syska, too, has launched an app-controlled wireless lighting with 'three million shades in one', available for Rs 1,999. Lutron, known for energy-saving, wireless lighting and shade control solutions, offers customisable solutions (Rs 2.5 lakh onwards) that allow you to control the lighting, blinds and HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) in your house at the click of a button.

Smart Plug Sockets: It's not easy to replace lights, thermostats or home appliances just for the sake of an additional feature of controlling them through smartphones; the costs attached to this are high. But there are intelligent solutions, such as Belkin's WeMo (Rs 4,306), a Wi-Fi-enabled smart switch (designed as per international specifications) that plugs into the traditional socket available in the market. Connecting your device using WeMo (which connects to a home Wi-Fi network), allows you to control (on/off) it through the WeMo app. It even monitors electronics and sends energy usage details on the smartphone. It can pair with ACs, TVs, washers, dryers and lights. D-Link's DSP-W215 (Rs 2,845) is also a home smart plug that works on similar lines. Its thermal sensor helps prevent the plug from overheating. Oakter and Pert, both India-based, provide similar solutions. Oakter offers a kit (Rs 10,000) comprising Wi-Fi Hub, 6-AMP and 16-AMP plugs, a smart thermostat duo with plug for AC and a wireless switchboard. Pert, priced at Rs 5,999, uses your home's wireless network to give you complete control over switches and appliances by automating the switchboard.

Security: With the help of IoT-enabled watchers and home solutions, you can monitor your home and family when you are away. You can have an individual camera mounted on the front door or a multi-camera system installed. Internet-enabled security solutions not only notify you of unusual movements, but also allow you to watch a live stream on your smartphone or desktop. Motorola has a range of home monitoring systems of which the Focus85 (Rs 8,990) is a Wi-Fi-enabled outdoor unit that sends motion alert and comes with infra-red night vision. It can capture images as well as videos, and can remote-pan, zoom and tilt. Using the Hubble app, one can also monitor the camera on a smartphone, tablet or computer. The company offers Wi-Fi-enabled baby monitors, too. Evoxyz Evotag (Rs 1,399) is a Bluetooth tracking device that works with a companion app installed on your smartphone. It sends an alert on your smartphone on detecting a security intrusion and helps in locating keys, luggage and pets.

Home Appliances: The Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas saw quite a few smart home appliances being launched. Samsung launched a smart refrigerator with embedded cameras that alert you when something is about to get spoilt. LG launched the Twin Wash washing machine that enables two separate loads at the same time, and is Wi-Fi and NFC-enabled. Maid, launched by start-up SectorCube, is a smart microwave oven that knows what to cook and how. Connected to a sizable recipe store on the Internet, it learns your calorie requirements and delivers personalised recipe suggestions. While none of these are available in India yet, we are surely catching up.

Blueair's Sense+, a smart air monitoring and purification system available in India for Rs 39,990, eliminates airborne germs, chemicals and other harmful particles. It can be controlled and monitored via Blueair's Sense+ app. The Wi-Fi-enabled purifier collects data from multiple sources in each city and, depending upon the usage, suggests when to change the filter. Videocon, too, had launched a range of 5-star BEE-rated Wi-Fi split ACs in India (Rs 35,990 onwards) and created custom software that allows ACs to be operated using the Android App. Its 'Away Mode' tracks the smartphone's current location and turns the AC on/off automatically. Its weather feed feature tracks the ambient temperature and sets the AC temperature accordingly. Vacuum cleaning company iRobot is launching Roomba 980, priced at Rs 69,900, which is Wi-Fi enabled and can be controlled and programmed using the Roomba mobile app. LG, too, has launched its Rolling Bot - a home monitoring and pet entertainment system - in India. Most printers available in the market from HP, Epson and Canon support wireless printing - you can print wirelessly by emailing the document to be printed to the printer directly. Even speakers are turning smart. Accessories such as Chromecast Audio (Rs 3,999) can convert your good old traditional speaker into a wireless one.

There are a few other advanced solutions that have been launched abroad. Amazon's Echo, an Alexa-enabled (cloud-based) hands-free speaker that allows voice control, is one such. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores and weather, instantly. It can control light switches as well as order a pizza for you. Google Home Speaker is being built on the same lines. Samsung's Smart Hub and Apple Home Kit, too, are focused towards IoT-enabled smart homes. Amazon Dash, a small, wireless-enabled button, is an example. It makes shopping and reordering stuff simple. When connected devices run low on supplies - for instance, if your washing machine is low on detergent - Dash will automatically order them from Amazon. Another example is that of MESH, a DIY kit comprising small, wireless tags that can be attached to any physical object to make them smarter, using the MESH app.

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