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The Smart Home Conundrum

In the opening sequence of the first installment in the Back to the Future franchise, Doc Brown’s house appears t...

The Smart Home Conundrum

In the opening sequence of the first installment in the Back to the Future franchise, Doc Brown’s house appears to be the Smart Home of the future. It performs functions like cooking breakfast, brewing coffee, and feeding the dog. The problem is that Doc’s inventions don’t stop working when he isn’t home for several days, and so the eggs, coffee, and dog food  are piling up during the first minutes of the film.

 

That’s precisely the problem with smart home technology in 2014: it still isn’t smart enough.

 

Where is the Technology Now?

Technically, there aren’t any “smart” homes yet, but the technology is headed in that direction. Whether it will get there in one piece or not is another question.

 

The key to truly “intelligent” homes is communication. While there are many appliances and gadgets that can be controlled remotely via laptop or mobile device, at the moment they have to be operated individually. For example, there are thermostats that adjust automatically based on user preferences, and that can be controlled remotely. There are lights that act similarly as well. Yet both require different apps to operate. You have to switch from one to the other. Nothing too intuitive about that.

 

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Setup

Configuring each app isn’t exactly a walk in the park. First, you have to position them precisely to make them detectable in the home network. Sometimes, gadgets like the so-called “smart bulbs” refuse to be reached via WiFi, and require a repeater to properly function.

 

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Then, you’ve got to figure out how that works and customize its settings (it’s easier to upload to your smartphone afterwards). It can be simple, but it can also be quite complicated. You might be able to set up the security system, but good luck trying to get it to distinguish between a person and the family cat.

 

You might just end up getting rid of the cat.  

 

 

Law of Inertia

Once each of the gadgets have been configured, they’re basically set in stone. It’s fairly labour intensive to make any changes. In all honesty, and in my own experience, it’s probably not worth the effort.

 

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a central controller. One device to rule them all, as it were. But the reviews I’ve read so far have been discouraging. I’m going to wait until they find a hub that will work for all the various smart gadgets, because the configuration process is painful.

 

Bugs

There have also been horror stories going around about some smart devices that are, quite frankly, dumb. I haven’t actually experienced anything too bad with any of my own gadgets, but there have been warnings about programs randomly going rogue.

 

Rumors of security problems are being bandied about. Especially frightening are stories concerning security systems that mistakenly allow hackers in to run amok. These reports certainly make me feel less than secure.

 

I guess if you’re into tinkering, you might enjoy trying to get these smart gadgets to talk to each other. Personally, I have neither the time nor the patience, not to mention the extra cash, to monkey around with the trial-and-error required for a fully functional smart home.

 

I was pumped at the prospect at first. After all, who doesn’t want a house that handles everything for you? I realized, however, that before I got to dessert, I’d have to eat my vegetables. My appetite and enthusiasm were both curbed.

 

Whenever the techies get together to create a secure, cohesive, and viable system where the thingamajigs all speak the same language, I’ll give it another try. Until then, I’ll make my own coffee.



 

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