Friday 30 September 2016

Smart homes for a much easier life

Want the lawn mowed while you're on holiday? Mood music when you enter the front door? Jillian Bolger on the most modern tech solutions.

Jillian Bolger

Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30

Want the lawn mowed while you’re on holiday? Mood music when you enter the front door? Jillian Bolger on the most modern tech solutions
Want the lawn mowed while you’re on holiday? Mood music when you enter the front door? Jillian Bolger on the most modern tech solutions

Eccentric fictional inventor Wallace and his sidekick Gromit may have been ahead of the curve in 1993's short film The Wrong Trousers, as Wallace filled his home with robotic labour-saving devices, but animator Nick Park's vision wasn't too far off the mark.

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We mightn't be looking for automated Techno Trousers any time soon, but the notion of a smart home that you can control from your mobile phone is very much a reality now.

When sound engineer Kevin Graham renovated his house in 2014, he spent a lot of time researching the smart home. A self-professed early adopter of new technologies, he was determined to create a hi-tech home that would work for itself.

"Admittedly, I love new gadgets but I decided it made sense to set aside some of my budget for things like a wireless sound system, a remote-controlled thermostat and remote-controlled blinds for out-of-reach windows."

Graham's Nest thermostat allows him to turn on the heating or immersion via his iPhone when stuck in traffic or to customise heating and hot-water plans to suit his changeable schedule. The smart device learns your preferred temperatures and will turn itself down when no-one's home to save energy. His Sonos wireless speakers can be controlled by the TV remote control, allowing him to stream music to every room in his house and have different music playing in different rooms.

"Admittedly the Philips Hue connected lighting was more of an indulgence than a necessity, but I like how I can remotely dim the lights and change their colour to create different moods," he says.

Eric Rondolat, CEO of Philips Lighting, suggests that lighting is the biggest growth area in smart technology for the Dutch electronics company.

"Lighting has become the cornerstone of the Internet of Things. It is recognised as the number one interest in the connected home, being used every day, in every room, by every member of a household. With industry analysts predicting nearly 300 million smart home connections by the end of 2015, the need for standardisation across smart home devices is increasingly important to bring the connected home to life and fuel uptake."

Retailer Currys PC World concurs, witnessing increased demand for connected lighting and heating controls as well as fitness and multi-room audio.

"Smart appliances are now becoming available from most manufacturers and we see this as an area of continuing growth over the coming years," explains Dave Ward, head of new technology and innovation for the store.

"We expect 2016 to see a growth in connected white goods, from washing machines that allow you to pause your washing when you're going to be home late, to dishwashers that allow you to programme the cycle based on the dishes you have in the machine.

"We've also seen consumers becoming fascinated with the 'gamification' of personal performance, using fitness trackers to help them keep on top of their fitness and compare their performance to that of their friends. We think this trend will only continue to grow."

He talks about the growth of "home hubs" that allow the connection of multiple home devices from different manufacturers through one application on your smartphone.

"This will allow you to have one aggregated view of your smart technology and one place to control everything."

Crestron Pyng is one such device, offering homeowners bespoke centralised control over their devices. Pyng is modular, meaning that you can start with one room and add more areas as time and budget allows. Suitable for retrofit applications, it's ideal for someone who wants to trial the benefits of home automation without the expense of a full system, which involves the installation of structural wiring. Using the Pyng app, new wireless devices and accessories can be added, such as lighting, audio, thermostats and security systems.

While these streamlined, connected devices are giving homeowners greater control over our lives, many can seem like costly investments.

Not so, argues Simon Mathieson of Finite Solutions, a UK-based company.

He says: "One of the most fundamental demands for a smart home is the ability to transform houses into environmental hubs by implementing energy-saving features throughout the house.

"New technologies empowered by smart utility provide exactly this."

The smart money- Five easy pieces for a hi-tech home

The lawnmower

Bosch Indego Connect Lawnmower, pictured, is a robotic lawnmower with app connectivity, which allows you to control it from a phone or tablet when you're not at home. Cutting takes nearly half the amount of time of a random navigation robotic mower. (about €1,765; bosch-garden.com)

The kitchen

Hoover's new Wizard kitchen is a complete family of wifi-enabled appliances, including an oven, hob, hood, fridge-freezer, washing machines and dishwashers. The entire range can be simultaneously controlled, monitored and managed via an app; hooverwizard.com

The sound system

The Sonos Playbar Wireless Sound Bar, below, offers a multi-speaker set up and streaming capabilities enhancing all your TV, web content, movies and video games in a compact one-piece design. The app lets you combine music channels like iTunes, Spotify and Deezer and digital radio. (€750; sonos.com)

The window shade

Hard-to-reach windows can be shaded with QMotion UK's wireless Advanced Shading Systems. The technology operates on a timer and conceals the interior by filtering the light at the touch of a button, with open, closed and light filtering settings. (Prices from about €1,016 for a 900mm wide x 1500mm drop; qmotionshades.co.uk)

The thermostat

Nest's smart thermostat automatically adapts heating to your lifestyle while minimising energy consumption. Controllable from anywhere, the thermostat personalises its features

after learning about your home and heat preferences. (€219; nest.com/ie)

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