Tell her to go to the light!

A seemingly obvious place to start with Smart Home automation is a “starter kit”.  One of the first kits from GE was the Link Starter Kit that contained two smart bulbs and a hub, and it leveraged the Wink application on the mobile device for control. It overcame two obstacles to home automation - it was easy, and it was cheap.

On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy

There are actually more moving parts to this solution than meets the eye;

  • Smart bulbs. These are light bulbs that don’t use WiFi - they use its cousin such as ZigBee or Z-Wave in order to communicate.
  • Hub. This is the bridge between the smart devices like the light bulbs talking ZigBee or Z-Wave, and the outside world talking WiFi.
  • The Cloud. You knew there was a “cloud” here somewhere. In this case, most Smart Home vendors offer a cloud-based application that actually performs the control management functions working through the hub.
  • Mobile App. This is typically just a graphical front-end to the vendor’s cloud application.
  • WiFi Router. Given that the hub needs to talk to the cloud, a WiFi router is required in the home in order to work properly.

In order to function, the lightbulb needs to talk to a hub. The hub needs to talk to the WiFi router. The WiFi router needs to talk to the cloud. The cloud needs to talk to the mobile app. Getting all of these to work together can be very frustrating, even for the tech-savvy amongst us.

What this also means is that Smart Home is now wholly dependent on the ubiquity of the internet. Apparently if you aren’t connected to the internet, your home cannot be smart.

Or can it? For the DIYers in the crowd, there are alternatives that brings the cloud home. Open source solutions such as openHAB hope to provide integration of the different home automation systems and technologies into one single solution that also mitigates some of the risk of depending on external services for support.