The smart home has come a long way since the Clapper.
While many home-automation products are still nothing but talk, this past year has seen a number of viable smart-home devices hit the market—focusing more on practical applications and affordability than in previous years. The technological advances in smart-home devices on display at the January CES in Las Vegas show that the industry is moving out of its infancy—and quickly toward its promise of creating a house that can anticipate the needs of its occupants, saving energy and money at the same time.
Here are a few smart-home devices to watch if you're interested in raising your home's IQ.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 11 March 2014
Nest Labs, which was recently acquired by Google, is a leader in the smart-home space. Its electronic, programmable Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, released in 2012, was one of the first smart-home products to strike a chord with users. It keeps track of your temperature habits and can learn your preferences.
In addition, the thermostat remembers if you turn the heat down at night and can turn the heat or air-conditioning down automatically if no one is home. And seeing as a change of just one degree can impact your energy bill, those changes could mean sizable savings.
Even door locks are getting smarter. The Goji SmartLock is a deadbolt that uses a number of methods, including a proximity sensor and an accelerometer to control home security. It also has a separate feature that allows owners to unlock the door for visitors when they're away, like when a neighbor comes over to feed the cat.
Moreover, users can send virtual keys to friends and family and put expiration dates on those keys for limited time uses. And if someone's knocking on the door, the lock takes a picture and instantly sends it to the homeowner.
LED lightbulbs were only the beginning. Several manufacturers are making Bluetooth-enabled smart bulbs, giving homeowners more options with their lighting. Lumen's TL800 flashes when the phone rings, can sync to your music to create a dance floor in the home, has relaxation and romance modes (with colored and dim lighting) and a wake mode, which slowly raises the light in your room so you don't have to wake up to a blaring alarm.
Home security can go a lot further than just sounding an alarm when an intruder attempts to break into your home. The DropCam Pro is a small camera with night vision and a wide field of vision that keeps an eye on an entire room by uploading video (and audio) to the cloud, ensuring that would-be burglars can't abscond with the footage (even if they take the camera).
There's an annual fee for that cloud service, though, ranging from $99 to $299, depending on how far back you want the video archived. You can also monitor in live time.
For those who prefer to slowly ease into home automation rather than taking a leap of faith, the WeMo is a safe bet. The system's Switch Motion simply plugs into existing outlets and makes anything with a plug a smart appliance. Once a device is attached, it can be controlled and programmed via Belkin's app, using "If this, then that" instructions. For example, if it's 5 p.m., you could turn on the TV and light when heading home so you can avoid these steps when you walk in the door.
Nest's follow-up to its thermostat revolutionized the smoke detector, which does away with some of the more annoying features we've learned to live with—like the low-battery chirp or that ear-piercing shriek when you've only burned toast. The Protect, instead, first warns users in a human voice when there's smoke or CO2, letting them silence alarms with a simple wave. Even better, it announces where the problem is occurring, so you can avoid it if you need to exit the house.
Z-Wave is less a smart-home device than a central protocol that's trying to unite current and upcoming products, much like Wi-Fi has a standard frequency on which all devices operate. It's a forward-looking, unified strategy that already has nearly 1,000 products under its wing. Among the companies supporting the movement are GE, ADT, Lowe's, Schlage and Verizon.
Having the greenest lawn in the neighborhood takes a lot of work, but remembering to turn off the sprinklers when it rains and giving them a little extra time when it's dry can be a challenge. Skydrop uses Wi-Fi to communicate with a cloud-computing service, integrating weather information and adjusting your lawn's watering needs based on weather conditions.
With so many varying smart-home technologies, it can be hard to get them all to work together. Revolv acts as a central hub for several different kinds of tech, including Philips Hue lights, Yale locks, Sonos Hi-Fi speakers and Belkin's WeMo.
The device automatically seeks out smart tech—using Z-Wave and other protocols—and lets you control it all from your phone, giving users the ability to create actions using motion sensors on a time schedule or as it senses you are nearing your home.
Piper's about as close as it comes to an all-in-one smart-home monitor. It comes with a camera, a siren, a motion detector, environmental sensors and, if you'd like, integration with the Z-Wave central technology. That connection with a central hub enables users to customize alerts. For instance, if you're away from the house and motion is detected, it can sound an alarm and alert you via text.