What We're Working On: My Smart House
I finally made my first step into the Internet of Things. A common entree into this arena is a programmable thermostat with bluetooth or WiFi connectivity, but living in Southern California with no AC and a furnace that hardly ever has to come on (sorry, rest of the country), that wouldn’t be a practical investment. Instead I got this Insteon starter kit that includes a base station and two plugs that jack into your outlets, plus two LED bulbs that also communicate with the hub. Time to upgrade my home for the 21st century.
Spoiler alert: there are pluses and minuses, but ultimately I’m for it.
The Base Station
It’s called The Hub, and it’s about the size of a paperback book. Plug it into a power outlet and connect it to your WiFi router with the included cable. That’s pretty much all the instructions card says - that and to download the app and follow the install wizard. I’m used to tools and devices not coming with thick manuals anymore, but the brevity of the documentation doesn’t really allow for anything not going as it should. There is no troubleshooting section. There is a phone number for customer service (but who wants to go down that road?) and a customer service URL. Since I’m laying this out, you can guess that there was a hitch.
The app found my router, but said it was the wrong one, and that I should connect the Hub to the correct router. I restarted the wizard several times with the same result. Not wanting to spend the evening scrolling around customer service, I moved on to other things and shut my lights off manually at the end of the night.
Next day, I was ready to troubleshoot. On a whim, I tried the wizard on my smartphone one last time, and it worked. I guess the Hub and my router worked things out while I was sleeping.
Once the Hub was working properly, setup was very user friendly. The app found my devices without any trouble and I set their on and off times, changed their names and assigned them appropriate icons. You can also set “Scenes” with multiple devices coming on or turning off all at once. I got everything programed, and then turned it all on and off for a little while from the comfort of my couch.
I do wish the app was a little friendlier once it’s set up. I’d like to turn a device on or off just by touching its icon, rather than touching the icon, waiting for an on/off switch to appear and then selecting on or off. There are too many steps between you and your virtual light switch. This is all with the iPhone app. They have apps for Android and now Windows Phones too.
The very first place I knew I wanted one of these LED bulbs was my porch light. It’s easy to put a low tech timer on a plug-in lamp so it comes on at dusk, but you can’t do that with a hardwired fixture.
I could put a light sensing adapter in the socket, but then the globe wouldn’t fit over it. Not only that, but the light would be on whenever it’s dark, and I want it to turn off when I turn in. The app allows me to set the on and off times for the bulb, or even turn it on or off with my phone if I’m coming home in the dark and I set the timer wrong.
The other LED bulb goes in The Audiopticon.
This is my jukebox upcycled from an old outdoor heater. It needs to light up, but it also needs to have all the controls be invisible. Controlling the light with the app is the perfect solution.
These are an important part of the system for me because I have some unusual lighting situations that I’d never want to put an LED bulb in.
I made this steampunk lantern and oak and steel floor lamp with old-fashioned Edison bulbs as part of the design, so the outlet plugs allow me to include these pieces in the smart house, meaning the internet of things doesn’t have to be as cold and stark as it sounds.
Apart from a bit of a buggy start of the install process, the system works very well and I’m thinking of ways to expand it.
The Next Things
I am seriously underutilizing this technology as a simple on/off switch and a timer. The system already has available options like home security sensors and cameras, thermostatic controls and monitors, hard wired switches and outlets, leak detectors, sprinkler controls and the ability to open your garage or lock your doors. Different items are more or less useful to different people and situations, and the applications are still things that we can mostly do manually without too much trouble. But as our bulbs and thermostats and garage doors begin learning from us and talking to each other, and including our refrigerators, microwaves and flat screens in the conversation, the internet of things will expand to our search engines, online retailers and entertainment delivery systems – and that could change everything.