As the field of domotics advances, smart homes will not only provide their owners with remote control over the installed equipment, they will soon be able to send messages about what needs to be done at the premises in the owner’s absence.
A Twitter account for a house? If you think that’s rather strange, it is nevertheless what Londoner turned San Francisco-based web technologist Tom Coates has set up. He has developed a system whereby his house spontaneously tweets about events that might require its owner to react. The San Francisco house tweets messages on a daily basis to inform Coates, wherever he happens to be, about the temperature at the house, lighting in different rooms, and even when a plant need watering. The house can also warn the owner if an unknown person is moving around inside the building. Coates has built the system using many inexpensive off-the-shelf electronic devices and Internet applications.
Smart house, social house
At his home, Tom Coates has taken the field of domotics – automated control systems for houses – a step further with two-way communication. A plant placed in the corner of the living room is fitted with a sensor connected to a little box. As soon as the sensor detects that humidity around the plant is low it automatically transmits this information to the box, which is in turn linked to a free web tool – If This, Then That (IFTTT) – that is designed to enable users to set automated online actions in response to specific triggers. In Coates’ home the app transforms the data coming from the sensors in the house into messages which it then publishes instantaneously on Twitter. Coates has installed a number of devices in the house. Using Belkin WeMo (a firm specialising in smart solutions for turning electronics on or off from anywhere) switches, he can control the lighting in any room in his home from his smartphone, and a movement detector alerts him if someone goes into one of the rooms.
Security aspects of the smart home
In deciding to make all this information on his home public, Coates has raised a key question on the future of smart home systems: security. For one thing, anyone reading his house’s Twitter feed knows when the house is empty, but what would happen if someone with malicious intent got hold of his smartphone? “Just because it’s a ‘smart’ home, it doesn’t necessarily have to tweet,” stresses Damien Van Achter. This Brussels-based entrepreneur and digital consultant also has an interconnected home which he monitors remotely via IFTTT. He concurs that “Giving your home a ‘soul’ brings the ‘smart home’ concept closer to people,” but warns nevertheless that “mass market adoption of the smart home will first and foremost call for implementation of the security measures which the smart home concept makes possible, such as data protection and surveillance systems”.