Home automation gives you access to control devices in your home from a mobile device anywhere in the world. The term may be used for isolated programmable devices, like thermostats and sprinkler systems, but home automation more accurately describes homes in which nearly everything — lights, appliances, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems — are hooked up to a remotely controllable network. This also includes your alarm system, all of the doors, windows, locks, smoke detectors, surveillance cameras and any other sensors that are linked to it.
Automation is one of the two main characteristics of home automation. Automation refers to the ability to program and schedule events for the devices on the network. The programming may include time-related commands, such as having your lights turn on or off at specific times each day or the thermostat set to a different temperature while you’re away. It can also include non-scheduled events, such as turning on all the lights in your home when your security system alarm is triggered.
Once you start to understand the possibilities of home automation scheduling, you can come up with any number of useful and creative solutions to make your life better. Is that west-facing window letting in too much light? Plug your motorized blinds into a “smart” outlet and program it to close at noon each day. Do you have someone come by at the same time each day to walk the dog? Program your home automation system to unlock the front door for them, and lock it when they leave.
The other main characteristic of cutting-edge home automation is remote monitoring and access. While a limited amount of one-way remote monitoring has been possible for some time, it’s only since the rise in smartphones and tablets that we’ve had the ability to truly connect to our home networks while we’re away. With the right home automation system, you can use any Internet-connected device to view and control the system itself. The real hands-on control comes in when you start interacting with the home automation system from the app on your smartphone. In addition to arming and disarming your security system, you can lock and unlock doors, reset the thermostat and adjust the lights all from your phone, from anywhere in the world. As manufacturers are creating more and more “smart” devices and appliances all the time, the possibilities for home automation are virtually limitless.
Monitoring apps can provide a wealth of information about your home, from the status of the current moment to a detailed history of what has happened up to now. You can check your security system’s status, whether the lights are on, whether the doors are locked, what the current temperature of your home is and much more. With cameras as part of your home automation system, you can even pull up real-time video feeds and literally see what’s going on in your home while you’re away.
Even simple notifications can be used to perform many important tasks. You can program your system to send you a text message or email whenever your security system registers a potential problem, from severe weather alerts to motion detector warnings to fire alarms. You can also get notified for other things, such as programming your “smart” front door lock to let you know when your child returns home from school.
Home Automation Components
What kinds of things can be part of a home automation system? Ideally, anything that can be connected to a network can be automated and controlled remotely. Home automation most commonly connects simple on and off devices together. this includes devices such as lights, power outlets and electronic locks, but also devices such as security sensors which have only two states, open and closed.
Where home automation becomes truly “smart” is in the Internet-enabled devices that are able to attach to the network and control it. Today’s home automation systems are more likely to distribute programming and monitoring control between a dedicated device in the home, like the control panel of a security system, and a user-friendly app interface that can be accessed via an Internet-enabled PC, smartphone or tablet.
Chances are, if you own a smart speaker or have seen one at a friend’s house, it’s equipped with Alexa. In fact, over 40% of respondents to our survey said an Amazon smart speaker — like the Echo Plus or Dot — was their first smart device. One of the world’s most popular smart assistants, Alexa serves as the built-in assistant of choice for major brands like HP, Ford and BMW, and is compatible with over 3,500 brands. It also, of course, pairs seamlessly with many Amazon products.
Alexa devices include budget-friendly smart speakers like the Echo Dot, as well as the higher-end Echo Show and Echo Spot. It also comes standard on Amazon’s Fire TV devices and Fire 8 Tablet. With so many entry points into Alexa’s technology and hundreds of compatible third-party devices, it serves as a good gateway for people just starting to explore smart home automation.
Amazon Alexa’s Skills
The number of available skills continues to grow every day. Alexa includes over 56,000 skills in the U.S. And, if you’re a smart home hobbyist or interested in expanding your Alexa’s capabilities, Amazon lets you create your own unique skills with Skill Blueprints. With over 20 templates to choose from, you can create a guide for your babysitter that provides contact info and your child’s schedule, or a chore chart that logs chores for your family. When it comes to automating both your home and your day-to-day life, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Alexa also lets you combine multiple tasks into a routine. These tasks are performed consecutively when using a specific voice command or at the scheduled time of day. For example, if you want your bedroom light to turn on, your ceiling fan to turn off, and a traffic report when you wake up, you can create a Routine that occurs when you say, “Alexa, start my day.” Routines can be created through the Alexa app and can really help you make the most out of your smart home, as well as your enabled skills.