Smart homes: evolution, not revolution

Smart appliances beget a smart home, yet somehow we're still all flipping light switches. A promise unfulfilled -- or a quieter type of progress?

Tired of all the stories about how your home will be intelligent?

You know, the stories about how your house will turn off lights for you, tell you when the milk has spoiled and generally make Rosie the Robot look old-fashioned?

The fatigue has set in for us at SmartPlanet, too, even though we've contributed our fair share to the mix.

A little article in last week's New York Times demonstrates that though the biggest promises of home automation have yet to be fulfilled -- sorry, you still have to fold your own laundry -- changes are indeed occurring, right under our noses.

Sam Grobart writes that Nest Labs' innovative thermostat ( we checked it out back in 2011 ), air-conditioner-maker Friedrich's "Kühl" line and Belkin's WeMo line of power appliances are adding network connectivity to previously dumb areas of your home. Suddenly, you can control your HVAC, lights and appliances from your smartphone -- no Rosie necessary.

And it's not just a matter of changing the way you interact with your home; it can be far more subtle.

Grobart writes:

Many appliance manufacturers are looking into making maintenance and repair a cheaper, more efficient process, and Wi-Fi can help with that.

Imagine you have a refrigerator with an onboard diagnostic computer. The computer, with its sensors and algorithms, can tell that a fan belt is about to fail because of a variation in the fan speed.

Armed with that data and a wireless connection to the Internet, your refrigerator sends a message to the manufacturer to mail a new belt to your home address and call you to schedule a service call. The repair professional will then arrive knowing what has to be done, with the new part already on hand.

There have been many "smart" appliances proposed, but the best ones are the least jarring, preserving the user's experience but fundamentally changing its effects. At home, intelligence is an evolution, not a revolution.

Photo: Friedrich

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