Smart homes may make life easier and more convenient. Who wouldn’t love being able to control lighting, entertainment and temperature from the comfort of their own sofa?
Today, our homes are getting smarter and more efficient, accelerated by smartphones and tablets interacting with connected devices. From basic security monitoring to smart appliances, lighting, window coverings, entertainment systems and more. Mainstream IT companies including Apple, Google and Philips are playing a key role in bringing smart home technologies to the masses, at an affordable cost.
We’ve tried to summarise the main smart home options here, beginning with mainstream options and then providing details of more specialist solutions.
Mainstream Smart Home Solutions
A Virtual assistant is a computer program that can perform tasks or services for an individual which are accessed by online chat. These services are developing and now provide support for home automation which enables control of home appliances by voice control.
Google Home speakers enable users to speak and interact with services through Google’s intelligent personal assistant called Google Assistant. A large number of services, both in-house and third-party, are integrated, allowing users to listen to music, control playback of videos or photos, or receive news updates entirely by voice. Google Home devices also have integrated support for home automation.
The Amazon Alexa is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information, such as news. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system.
Apple home kit
HomeKit enables users to set up their iPhone or other Apple device to control smart-home appliances. Users can enable automatic actions in the house through a simple voice dictation to Siri or through apps.
What can be controlled
As mentioned typical devices include entertainment (tv, music system), security, lighting and heating controls.
Other items include
A door opener can be fitted to a standard door so that it can be automatically controlled by the user. Control of the door can be accessed by an alternative remote control, a switch, an infrared signal or controlled via a door intercom unit. Door openers are available for both internal and external doors. It is advisable that door openers should be battery backed-up so that the door can be opened in an emergency situation. Settings such as: how fast the door shuts, closing force, and opening times are adjustable on the door opener.
If a person has difficultly opening and closing windows within their home, window openers can be fitted to the windows. Control of the window can then be made from a well-positioned switch panel for the user to access or can be controlled by a remote transmitter. Windows can be opened, closed or stopped in any position. In the closed position window openers are as secure as standard window locks. They also feature quick release catches for use in the event of emergency evacuation.
When inserting plugs is difficult for a person, appliances modules can be fitted into a standard mains socket. This will enable sockets to be remotely switched on and off. For example appliances such as TVs, electric blankets, lamps etc., can be powered on or off. Appliance modules can be controlled by remote radio control transmitter or by smart home app on tablet.
Curtain and Blind opener
Curtain and Blinds can also be easily controlled remotely. Motor controlled curtain rails and blind poles are mainstream products. Similar to window openers they can be opened, closed or stopped in any position. Control of the motors can be via a mounted switch panel or via a remote transmitter.
Other more mainstream items include door intercoms. These allow remote communication with a door station positioned at an external door. The unlocking and opening of the doors is also possible. Door intercoms are available where all functions can be operated by infrared control or by large external switches connected to the unit. A door indicator may also be able to indicate to the user whether the door is open or closed.
DuoCom is a door-entry system
For controlling the home telephone a specialist telephone is required. Remote controlled, loud speaking telephones are available. These telephones allow a user to remotely answered or hand up a call without using the handset. The caller’s voice can be heard through the loudspeaker. Other features that may be available in these phones are basic communication aid functions. Recordable phrases can be stored on the phone and allow someone with partial or no voice to communicate crucial messages over the telephone. Also the telephone may utilise caller I.D. services and speak the name of the person calling.
The transmitter used by the individual is probably the most important aspect of the smart homes installation.
SeKi Grande remote is the big sister of smaller SeKi Medium and features an additional numeric keypad for choosing channels directly. All buttons of SeKi Grande remote control can be programmed twice. This means that, when using both programming levels, it is possible to replace two different remote controls.
TwoXTen is a compact InfraRed remote control with auditory feedback using recorded speech.
It has two jack sockets for single switch and two switch scanning. Learnable InfraRed transmitter that can record up to 20 signals and macros from other remote controls.
IR-transmitter with scanning, built in IR-signals and able to learn other IR-signals. The Pico16 has 18 keys. 16 keys with 2 levels, 1 level independent key for door and 1 key for page-select.
The Ablenet Relax is an accessible infrared (IR) learning remote that provides simplified control of almost any IR device. With a light touch or with the use of one switch, an individual can control up to eight functions on their favorite IR device.
The devices above shows a sample of dedicated transmitters. They are all transmitters that can learn infrared signals from other remotes. This is accomplished by placing the original remote beside the learnable transmitter and coping the required infrared signals into a selected position on the learnable transmitter.
These transmitters have various special features that extend the access range for a diverse range of users. Features of some of these transmitters may include control of the device using a single switch, joystick, or via speech command and may also include auditory feedback.
Also the size, screen quality, tactile buttons, ease of use, battery life, and the number of stored infrared signals will vary.
Another aspect that needs to consider is whether the transmitter should be a standalone device or should it be ideally integrated into other assistive technology items that the user has. Other items that a user may use is a power wheelchair, communication device, computer, tablet or mobile phone. All these other devices have the capability to integrate environmental controls within the device.
As with all assistive technology devices, it must fit the individual’s needs and their preferences.
Smartboxat Servus tablet
Evoassist RSL Steeper
This pictures above a sample of the various mobile device with smart home apps installed. These apps provide many of the same features of the previous dedicated controllers. I.e. they can learn the infrared signals from remotes and can be customise around the user’s needs. They have interfaces that enable switch access to the tablet. This is a growing area as there is an increasing number of suppliers providing similar solutions.
It may be easy to find a smart home supplier who can provide a service of integrating the latest smart technology into your home. However, their focus may be more on only entertainment, security, lighting and heating control. Although these are typical components of most smart homes, they may not fulfill all the needs of an individual with sensory, mobility or dexterity issues. Luckily, there are installers/suppliers (details below) in Ireland who supply and install smart homes equipment and take into account all the user’s needs. So if it’s gaining access into a room via a door opener or opening a hard-to-reach window via a window opener, then this can also be integrated as part of the smart home control.
Although suppliers can provide valuable input, for someone with sensory or mobility issues then getting advice and guidance on smart home equipment is essential to ensure all the needs are met for the user. This help can typically be provided by an experienced Occupational Therapist or Assistive Technology specialist who will look at the devices that the user needs to control and the appropriate user interface to control the home devices.
Manufactures and suppliers
A sample of supplier based in the UK an Ireland.
- SafeCare http://www.safecaretechnologies.com/
- ie www.environmentalcontrols.ie
- Ideal Technology: davecarthy.com
- Odel: odel.co.uk