Find out what's new in smart home technology.
By John RihaMore in Home Improvement
Security meets health care
While web cam monitoring has been around since way before Robert DeNiro snuck a video cam into Ben Stiller’s bedroom in Meet the Parents, current home systems can employ multiple tactics to keep your home safe. For example, motion detector technology allows you to keep tabs on everyone’s movements inside and outside your home, and radio frequency I.D. tags can even let your system know who belongs there — and who might not.
On the practical side, imagine your housekeeper is due to come over every other Tuesday between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. You can program the system to allow entry at that time, and for your video cam to flash footage of your housekeeper via iPhone for positive I.D. Your system can confirm that the housekeeper has vacated the premises on schedule, and that the house is again locked and secure. Parents can apply a version of this scenario to confirm that young kids are home from school safely, on-time, and without any boyfriends tagging along.
Variants of security systems — easily monitored from remote locations — are a boon to the care of the elderly and infirm. On the home front, a system can offer a friendly, easy-to-use touchscreen interface for email, photos and music that also provides both email and voice reminders for doctor’s appointments and medicines. Video chats allow family members, doctors and other caregivers to check in on a regular basis.
More sophisticated tools are making their way to market, too. Motion-sensors imbedded in flooring can be programmed to “remember” the footfalls of the inhabitants, and to send out a warning signal to caregivers if an abnormality occurs, such as might happen if someone suffers a stroke. The sensors also send alarms for falls, and at the absence of normal everyday movement and activity.
“The grand idea of automation,” says Greg Rhoades, “is that while the individual control is great, what you’re really after is an eased lifestyle with less worry.”
Geeks not required
Thankfully, understanding modern home automation doesn’t require a degree in geekology. Nevertheless, before you plunge into the wild world of home automation, here’s a few techno-terms for the types of home automation systems you’re likely to encounter:
• Zig bee and Z-wave are wireless home networking standards that let compatible devices share data, such as on/off commands for light switches, security sensors, smoke detectors and thermostats. They have extremely low power requirements and an effective range of up to 300 feet, making them ideal for household management.
• X-10 is a protocol that carries control signals across standard electrical wire that already exists in the walls of your house. X-10-enabled devices are used for simple controls, such as turning lights and appliances off or on. The wired connections make the signals extremely reliable. Most X-10 products are reasonably priced, and the fact that they communicate using existing wiring means costly rewiring is unnecessary.
• Insteon uses existing wires (power line) and radio-frequency communications to control automated devices. Insteon helped pioneer reliability for automation—a command sent through an Insteon controller is instantly confirmed; if something interrupts the transmission, the system immediately sends a back-up command.
Need help with home automation terminology? Check out this handy glossary from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB):