Home automation

How to Put Together Your First Smarthome (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

If you want to make your home a little smarter, but aren’t sure where exactly to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best starter smarthome gadgets, and how to find ones that will work well together in your house (or apartment).

Smarthome is more accessible than ever. Once upon a time, you either needed to install a complex X10 system, or you needed an expensive, dealer-installed whole-house system like Savant or URC. And while all of those are still options, most people are opting for a more user-friendly, wallet-friendly piecemeal approach: buying individual smarthome gadgets from tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Samsung, and integrating them together. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.

Ask Yourself: What Do You Want to Do?


Before you start completely decking out your house with all sorts of smarthome gear, it’s important to establish why you want a smart home in the first place. Is it for convenience? Then you might want devices that support voice control through something like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Do you wish everything was automated? Then you’ll probably narrow down products with good automation features or IFTTT support. Do you want good home security? Then you’ll want a line of products with sensors and sirens. Maybe you want a bit of everything.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of things to look for as you shop. Not every smarthome product works with other smarthome products, so as you build your home, you’ll want to pick ones that support the devices and services you want.

For example, if you want voice control for everything, then the Amazon Echo is the “glue” that holds your entire smarthome together, and you’ll want to only pick products that work with the Echo. Or, if you’re an automation nut, search for products that support IFTTT. If everyone in your house is an iPhone user, and you want to control all of your devices with Siri (or through the Home app), you’ll want to make sure as many products as possible are compatible with HomeKit.

Luckily, it’s easy to narrow down products by which standard they support. Not only can you look for the proper badge on the packaging, or look at its website for compatibility, but many devices and services have pages with official lists of products they support, which can instantly narrow down your search:

Once you decide which services will be central to your smarthome experience, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which products to buy.

The Best Products to Start You Off

When you begin to finally buy your first products, things can feel overwhelming—where do you even start? Here are some of our favorite smarthome products perfect for beginners:

How ambient computing will help chatbots evolve

The smart home is stupid compared to what it could be.

In order for the Internet of Things (IoT) to live up to its massive global potential, the smart home needs one key thing: consciousness. Rather than optimizing the “things” — the devices that are facilitating the IoT — IoT providers should understand that the real value of IoT will come from the services enabled by the data from connected devices, a 24/7 consciousness that captures and learns from data, not the devices themselves.

We’re currently experiencing a shift in computing, fueled by bots and ambient computing, that is poised to accelerate innovation in IoT. Bots leverage the intelligence of ambient computing to transform idle data into value-added services and give the smart home consciousness. Predictive analytics help to understand a person’s lifestyle, detect patterns, and anticipate problems. This provides developers with a massive opportunity to design services that aren’t possible with a mobile phone or desktop computer. The future of innovation in IoT today resides in the hands of developers.

What makes bot development different

With history as our compass, it’s clear that we are on the cusp of a huge new economy and a paradigm shift in computing — something that happens about every 10 years. You may recall that mainframe computing was the norm in the 1970s until desktop computing changed everything in the 1980s. The 1990s delivered a more powerful personal computer and increased mobility until the next decade, which brought inventive capabilities in mobile and remote computing. We’re witnessing another shift in computing in the 2010s. This change is not just about cloud computing, but the acceleration of the IoT through bots.

So, what is the key factor that signals these shifts? Developers drove them all. The emergence of Apple’s mobile supercomputer — the iPhone — gave developers an opportunity for supercharged innovation by allowing them to create apps for smartphones.

Today, though, most developers would agree that app development has hit a wall and that momentum is shifting toward bots. Bots are now exploding faster than apps did. According to Citi Research, comparing early market smartphone app development to bot development in its first year, we see three times more bot developers and solutions than we did with apps. The number of bot developers in the past six months, 36,000, is triple that of the first year of app developers.

Companies like Facebook are accelerating this by making it very easy to develop and deploy bots. Bot development is comparatively easy, and it’s designed to deliver recurring revenue streams. With apps, people pay a one-time fee of 99 cents, whereas with bots, developers can make 99 cents as a recurring fee every month. Bots are a promising way for developers to begin making money again by enabling services that don’t require a phone screen like apps do.

So, what’s a bot?

A bot enables micro-services that incorporate deep learning algorithms and the benefits of artificial intelligence while operating in the background of your life. Think of a bot as a small computer program that’s listening to the real-time data from your devices. It’s trying to figure out what to do with that data. It can learn, react, and communicate with you.

While bots became a part of our vernacular this year because of the likes of Facebook Messenger bots, here we’re talking about much more. Messaging bots won’t be what drives big revenue. The bots with huge potential are those that are going to deliver services that get deeper into people’s lives than simple screen interaction. In fact, the next wave of consumer solutions will be comprised of products that don’t even have a screen. Intelligence is beginning to surround us in everyday objects, many having no interface at all — except for a voice prompt.

The interface for bots is the spoken conversation. Connected outcomes…

Why the next Amazon Echo and Dot will have a screen

2017 is already going down in history as the year that voice computing went mainstream.

Amazon leads the pack, selling well over eight million Echos and Dots in just two years, and leveraging their Amazon Voice Services (AVS) platform to get Alexa into everything from refrigerators to dancing robots to Ford F-150’s (the #1 selling vehicle in the US for 40 years).

Combined with other voice computing products like Google Home and the potential launch of an Apple Siri speaker this summer, it’s not out of the question that over 25 million more voice devices will ship this year. Despite this growth, voice computing is already showing some core problems in user retention and discovery. According to a new study by Voice Labs, new skills/actions will lose 97% of their users in just two weeks, while less than a third of the 10,000 Alexa skills have more than one review. But this isn’t because voice computing is failing. It’s because voice is only a part of the coming ambient computing revolution.

“Ambient computing” refers to making the capabilities of a place, such as a home, directly accessible to anyone present, without the need for an intermediate device like a mobile phone or computer. If you have ever stood in your kitchen and asked Alexa to play music or turn on the lights, you’ve used ambient computing. (Incidentally, these are the two most common uses of Alexa, each comprising 30% or more of Alexa requests). If you’ve ever had lights with motion sensors turn off when you aren’t in the room, or armed your security system using a wall keypad, you have also used ambient computing. Voice computing is just one of many ways that you can interact directly with your environment.

Voice computing works well for direct interactions when you know exactly what you want, such as asking for a weather forecast, but is critically lacking in other interactions, such as choosing from a list of options, reviewing information, or discovering what capabilities are available. General purpose ambient computing devices will have a range of interfaces adapted to relevant…

How to Find Out if a Smarthome Device Works with Alexa, Siri, or Google Home and Assistant

Now that voice assistants are becoming extremely popular, many users who want to outfit their living spaces with smarthome products are probably wanting these products to be compatible with their voice assistant, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant (and Google Home). Here’s how to find out whether or not a smarthome device works with these platforms.

Look for the Badge on the Product Box

Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to see if a smarthome device is compatible with the voice assistant of your choice is to take a look at the product’s packaging and look for the badge that says what it supports.

Somewhere on the box you’ll find a small badge that says something like “Works with Apple HomeKit” or “Works with Amazon Alexa”. You may also just see the Amazon Echo logo, which also tells you that it works with Alexa.

However, keep in mind that some product boxes won’t have these badges printed on them even though they fully support Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. Philips Hue boxes, for instance, only have the HomeKit badge, even though they’re natively supported by Alexa and Google Assistant as well. Because of that, you may want to look for a second source.

Visit the Product’s Website

If the product box doesn’t mention anything about which voice…

Behold the Many Builds of World Create Day

World Create Day was huge this year. Over 70 different groups on six continents got together on Saturday to work on projects as a global Hackaday community.

LearnOBots Labs in Islamabad, Pakistan

Perhaps the best documented World Create Day so far comes from our friends in Pakistan. LearnOBots hosted a day-long extravaganza of projects on everything from home automation, to wearable computing.

[Haziq] and [Rafay] didn’t just build an IoT lighting project together, they took the time to present their work in this excellent demo video. The build connects Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and a relay to drive the lightbulbs all controlled by an app they built with MIT app inventor to help a friend who is stuck on bed rest.

Browse through the event logs LearnOBots has posted and see a lot more of what went on. This image shows work on wearable interfaces. Fabric markers are used to draw out interesting designs which are then given interactivity using conductive thread and Lilypad boards. We also get a look at a user interface for Summer camp sign-up that was made using Raspberry Pi Zero and a 7″ screen. Other groups were working on custom input projects using Makey Makey and Arduino. The image at the top of this article shows some of the LearnOBots crew with a World Create Day poster, neat!

Appalachian Forge Works in Newland, North Carolina

World Create Day at Appalachian Forge Works brought a baby guitar amp to life on World Create Day. The basic circuit is built around an LM386 amp. It was designed using a whiteboard schematic before moving to the breadboard for prototyping.

For some folks that might be enough…