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Control your home with your phone: are we there yet?

Control your home with your phone: are we there yet?
We remember reading a couple of years ago about Bill Gates's fully automated, yet cosy mansion, with its 40 miles of optical fiber, floor sensors that can track your location with up to six inches accuracy, and a hot tub, which can be set for the desired water temperature before you get home.

We were then just drooling, sad that we can't outfit our own cribs like that. Well, in a few short years, the field of home automation (HA) received a significant boost, the technology is within the reach of many, and now smartphone owners have the perfect tool to carry the control unit with them at all times.

Home automation can be divided into a few broad categories, depending on what you are trying to control – lighting, HVAC, appliances, security, entertainment or others, like sprinklers or a cat feeder. We won't be delving into the hundreds of brands and ways to adjust your home environment from afar, since there are currently more than 10 competing standards, but barely a thing you can get from Home Depot on the cheap and drive home to install yourself - we are just looking at how HA relays to your smartphone or tablet.


Mobile industry sets its sight on home automation

Proof that the mobile players are focusing on home automation projects are two recent events. At the Google I/O conference, Android@Home was announced, which will provide the software tools necessary for remotely controlling your home in the upcoming version of Google's mobile OS. Have a look at a presentation of the Android@Home concept below, starting at 43 minutes into the video:



The other development that caught our attention was when Verizon announced its LTE network, and mentioned afterwards that we finally have the stable wireless broadband connection needed for complete home automation. Verizon Investment's 4Home pet project was acquired by Motorola, so the carrier, Motorola handsets, and a home automation solution based on this HA communication platform might turn out a match made in heaven.

Verizon's home control ecosystem

Verizon's home control ecosystem

Actually, a Home Control and Monitoring service from Big Red was announced in January, and pricing detailed just recently. A Verizon manager spilled the beans on the subscription-based home automation solution with Z-Wave devices, and the price range is to start from $9.99/month for the basic package, which controls the monitoring cameras, lighting, motorized door locks and appliances.

Another option is geared towards energy monitoring, with an automatic thermostat, Wi-Fi adapters to control appliances and lights, and a sensor to measure the overall  consumption. The third option is a combination of those two, but no pricing has been disclosed for it.

The Android interface

The Android interface

The monitoring cameras are where Verizon's LTE network will shine on select smartphones due to its high bandwidth and low latency. The whole service is based on the 4Home communication platform, which also allows for various house automation devices to be controlled by an Android app, as demonstrated on the Motorola DROID X at CES 2011. The handset has an OMAP silicon inside, from Texas Instruments, which in its turn has been developing gear for the competing ZigBee standard in home control, so Android handsets with the OMAP family of chipsets might have an edge over the competition when it comes to HA.

Motorola also announced last month that it is in cahoots with Honeywell for a complete home security and surveillance system, which will combine the alarm panel hardware with Moto's carrier-grade 4Home platform, and that would be a great addition to Verizon's new Home Control and Monitoring service.

The weak point of Verizon's service is that it includes surveillance cameras, but not burglar or fire alarm control for now, and that could be remedied in the future by the Motorola-Honeywell collaboration. Also, the carrier's package monitors energy consumption to the device level, but doesn't offer adjusting it via smart meters and grid for now.

Let's not forget, though, that the security giant ADT also offers to monitor and control your home from afar with your smartphone, and it will be tough for a carrier like Verizon to steal users from ADT, when it comes to security. The ADT Pulse service, however, costs $47.99, and other providers, like Comcast and Vivint, are also $40+, which makes Verison's somewhat limited offer the most affordable monthly option, despite that equipment and installation are extra.

At launch you have to get the devices, like door locks, thermostat, lighting and appliance Z-Wave devices from Verizon, with eventually being able to get them from anywhere down the road, the carrier clarified. “We don’t want to get into the hardware business, but we want a good consumer experience,” says Verizon product manager John Gravel.

Here's a homey PR video of Verizon's Home Control and Monitoring service in action:




The Appliances

Control your home with your phone: are we there yet?
Besides the lighting, HVAC, access and security systems in your home, you'd also need to control the household appliances themselves. It actually makes more sense if your appliances are smart, self-diagnosing and sending notices of their consumption, rather than you retrofitting the house with meters and sensors. Those companies that happen to make both smartphones and washing machines, TVs or refrigerators, definitely have an edge here, and are marching towards convergence.

LG introduced its THINQ technology line of appliances, that can be controlled from your Android handset, in the beginning of this year. The complete package includes a smart meter which shows a recommended time slot for your washing, baking or other energy-consuming activities, for instance.

The daily totals for consumption and the respective charge can be available on your Android smartphone or tablet, plus you can control the washing machine cycle, the vacuum cleaner or your refrigerator temperature from afar, via their Wi-Fi connection, and your phone. Watch the system at work in the video below:



The other big Korean electronics maker, Samsung, also announced in the beginning of July that it is entering the intelligent home automation business, and is about to provide complete solutions, including smart appliances. Have a look at a preview of Samsung's works, including a neat Android app to manage it all in the video below:



In short, each major home appliance manufacturer is smartening its lineup for remote control and diagnostics, and don't even get us started on things like smart TVs or entertainment centers - the possibilities are endless. And what better way to control it all than your trusted smartphone that always sits in your pocket. How about the software, though?


The Apps

It turns out that the all major home automation platforms and device manufacturers, like the good old X10, Z-Wave, Insteon, ZigBee, and many more, are already present with their own apps in the App Store and Android Market. Apple's iOS has a headstart with the early launch of an application store, so there are more home automation varieties in there.

The apps vary in price from free for the basics, or the ones that come with already purchased HA equipment, to $1000 in the case of the SpeakerCraft's iPhone interface for its MODE multiroom A/V setup. Here are two presentation videos of iOS and Android apps that deal with home automation to gauge the possibilities.






Expectations


Proprietary panels for home control that cost thousands of dollars are now a thing of the past, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. We are still, however, far away from a common standard for home automation, so any initial investment of yours has to come after a fair bit of research.

Most major brands that enter our homes to supply some form of service, though, be it cable, utility, security or wireless, are now aiming to corner the home automation market with affordable, prepackaged solutions, often complete with an installation service.

Household appliance manufacturers, on the other hand, will be attacking this field with entire smart lineups of their own, that allow you to control them via Android and iOS devices, and are also supplying remote diagnostic apps for their gear.

Once the equipment is installed, though, that smartphone in your pocket finally provides the perfect tool to control it all from afar, not to mention that new homes and household appliances are being developed with home automation in mind. All in all, if you put some effort into it, you can easily be turning the AC at home from your phone while driving down the highway in the sweltering heat, or have a quick look at the monitoring camera stream whether you closed the garage door on your way to work, all without breaking the bank.

4 Comments
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posted on 11 Aug 2011, 05:11 2

2. PeterIfromsweden (Posts: 1230; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


Cool, but they need to make it available to bada phones.

posted on 11 Aug 2011, 07:59

3. QWIKSTRIKE (Posts: 829; Member since: 09 Mar 2010)


You don't need Verizon to do any of this lol....IMHO it's a waste of 9.95 since I build thses systems I can tell you it is a waste of your money.

posted on 12 Aug 2011, 06:51

4. rabbit (unregistered)


great concept but you might as well leave the front door of your house open cause any one with a smart phone and knowledge to know how to hack can open your front while your at work, they didn't think that all the way thru did they?

other than that i like the freezer and washer and dryer idea, when ever I am buying food i forget what we have and don't have, now if the washer and dry send your phone a alert when its done that would be awesome

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