Is your home going to get smarter?

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Syd Bolton, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:59 PM ET

Home automation was once the product of science fiction but has gone through some amazing transformation over the years.

Not long after the turn of the 20th century (and with the decline of servants), mechanical replacements for many functions were required. When distributed electricity increased, more automation followed.

Today, with the widespread presence of the Internet, home automation has taken an even bigger step forward.

Microsoft made a recent announcement that they have partnered with Insteon, a company that has long been popular with hobbyists. This CNET article describes the acquisition and some of the products that will be available.

While not the only solution out there, Insteon has a big following and now supports more than 200 different devices including the Nest Learning Thermostat. While home automation used to consist primarily of turning lights on and off automatically, it is now expanded to all kinds of functions.

A leisurely stroll down the electronic aisles of smarthome.com was a real eye opener for me. I didn't know that you could actually control your air vents with your smartphone. (Did you?)

There are energy dimmers with remote control, but you can actually monitor energy usage from anywhere. Are there teenagers at home leaving the fridge open all the time? Catch them in the act without a camera (although you can get those too). Imagine the surprise when you ask if they raided the fridge at precisely 3:02 p.m.

While these amazing new solutions work quite well with your smartphone, there are actually some old school solutions that can be used in new ways. If you have one of the old round timers that is used to turn a light on and off, you can use it to turn any old coffee maker into an automatic one. Just follow the tips in this Instructables.com article and you can stumble into the kitchen every single morning with coffee already made.

If you thought the doorbell was just an annoying binary device (either on or off) you'll have to think again. Doorbells have even gotten smarter with products such as Chui. It lets you talk to the person at the door via your smartphone. You can even have it identify friends and family and let them in without having to answer the door yourself.

Lighting has probably been one of the things that has always gone hand in hand with home automation. Devices that would turn lights on and off to indicate someone was there was just the beginning. Now, we have the ability to have our homes illuminate lights as we walk around, allowing for the path to the fridge to be illuminated for that midnight snack or providing us with a safe walkway to the bathroom.

How smart has your home become? Your thermostat is likely automated to keep the temperature controlled (whether or not it learns or you can control it with a smartphone) and perhaps you have a security system that warns you about intruders. That's about the extent of what most of us have today, but all indicators point to much more automation in the home in the future. It's a market that will continue to grow as we desire the conveniences it affords us.

I recently watched a video from Corning called "A Day Made of Glass" and was amazed at how what we once thought of as science fiction has become science fact. It's easy to see our lives changing with tablets and smartphones in a certain way, but technology built into our homes is a different matter altogether. Yes, computers sit on our desks and in our living rooms but as it continues to find its way into our walls, into our windows, and resides in our appliances it will truly change the way we live. Are you ready? Are you prepared for all the ways your home will get smarter? It's just a matter of time.

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC / Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or on Twitter @sydbolton.

 


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