When is smart smart?

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As I said in a previous post, I have views on when smart is actually smart and when you just introduce a different way of turning something on. Swapping dumb switches for smart switches, or voice, or an app. They all require an intervention from you to make something happen. To me, that’s not smart. That’s potentially creating an over complicated and expensive solution for something that already exists.

Let’s start with a typical late afternoon in this house. The house is in day mode. Regardless of the absolute time or the time of sunset, the problem we’re solving isn’t to add light, it’s to banish darkness. No darkness, no need for light. So, one sensor in the lounge that detects lux will trigger an automation once the light level drops below a certain value. This just sets the house to evening mode. Nothing more.

Another automation monitors the house mode. When it sees that the house is in evening mode it starts to do stuff. Lights in the lounge come on at a set brightness as that’s where we’re most likely to be. Some lights in the kitchen come on at 10%. The kitchen automation also checks the mode of the house. So the motion sensor in the kitchen doesn’t do anything unless it’s evening. If it is, when motion is detected, the lights that are on come up to 50% and more lights join them. The idea is that you’re never walking into a pitch black room. When no motion is detected, the additional lights switch off again and the background lighting goes back to 10%.

Fast forward to bed time. I get myself into my PJs, clean my teeth and hop into bed. The very last thing I do is turn my phone into “Do not disturb” mode. The home automation system senses that and turns the house into night mode. The bedroom automation, as one example, gets deactivated. So turning over at night doesn’t switch the bedroom lights on. All other lights in the house get turned off as long as there is no motion in the room. This stops the bathroom being plunged into darkness if someone has gone in after me.

Downstairs in the kitchen, the behaviour changes. All the lights are now off. But if someone gets up in the night for a glass of milk and a biscuit or 3, just the LED strips under the cabinets come on at 10%. This is plenty enough to find the fridge, a glass and the biscuit barrel. But not so much as to burn your retinas like you’re some sort of prison escapee who’s been picked up by the guard’s floodlights.

So, I get up in the night. The bedroom lights do nothing so that my significant other isn’t blinded. I leave the bedroom. The landing light comes on at 10% so I don’t fall down the stairs. Into the loo and the loo light comes on at 10%, again, so I’m not clutching my eyes in pain. I go downstairs. 5 minutes later, the landing light and loo light go off again. Into the kitchen and the lights come on as described above. Into the lounge and one light (out of 7) comes on at 10% so I can see enough to drink my milk and eat my stash of Custard Creams. At night, that light stays on for 30 minutes if there is no movement. I finish my midnight feast, back upstairs and back to bed.

The house has adapted itself to my movements. OK, we’re not talking artificial intelligence here, or even basic machine learning. Everything is still only responding to a bunch or programmed triggers but then that’s all we do. Our eyes detect darkness. We turn on a light. A sensor detects darkness. A light comes on automatically.

The point, for me, is that the technology has become invisible. Unless it stops working – which is does from time to time – we don’t even register what’s happening.

Yep, I’ve still got the little conveniences like the water pump on the water feature in the garden coming on as 8.00am and things like that. I could have done that with a £5 timer plug. And if that’s all you need then get a £5 timer. But if you REALLY want your home to start behaving like it knows what you’re doing then it’s gonna take more. Importantly, if you want all this stuff reacting quickly and working even if the internet is down then you need to take a different route. A light that comes on when you’re 2 paces into a room is too late in my book. It needs to react as fast as you reaching for a switch on the wall and flicking it.

So, unfortunately, the Samsung SmartThings hub discussed in the previous post is now consigned to Facebook Marketplace.