/ Technology

Smart homes – who doesn’t want to make their life simpler?

Panasonic smart home

I’m all for an easy life – so my ears pricked up when a press release about ‘smart homes’ landed on my desk. Do you want to watch your home from your mobile or tablet?

This is the latest trend for householders who want to control their homes remotely using their mobile phone or tablet.

According to bosses at Panasonic, which is has just launched its own range of smart home technology, it will help ‘simplify my life’.

Panasonic’s ‘smart home’

Panasonic says the system would allow me to check if I’ve left a bedroom window open, find out if my dog is misbehaving, or instruct a delivery driver where to leave a package. All from the comfort of my desk at work.

And although I’m somewhat of a luddite when it comes to embracing new technology, it sounds great at face value.

The Panasonic system includes cameras allowing for two-way communication, motion sensors and plugs which can all be switched on and off remotely from the same app.

You can also use it to turn your lights on while you are out or to receive an alert when your front door, shed or garage is opened.

But then I started thinking. Would these new-found powers really make my life more simple? So I find out I have left the bedroom window open, but I’m dozens of miles away at work. Imagine the worried calls to friends and family, attempts to get hold of a neighbour with a spare key, the fear of a burglary. That’s probably not going to make my life simpler. Much better surely to be kept in blissful ignorance?

Instructing a delivery driver sounds great. But think about how confusing it would be to explain to them over a camera that your home is “smart”, you’re at work, could they please leave the parcel a fraction to the left… And then they go out of camera range. And so on.

I’m really not sure that sounds so simple.

Smart home appliances

The trend for smart home appliances is growing. And even I can see the benefits of a smart meter so I don’t have to send meter readings to my energy supplier. Or a smart thermostat so I could come back to a warm cosy house after a weekend away. I’m yet to be convinced though why I would need a smart kettle I could boil from another room.

Perhaps it’s like most technology. After all, if you asked the average passer-by 15 years ago whether they would need a phone that could play music, take photos, offer breaking news alerts and 24/7 email access, I’m sure they would have thought you were crazy. But I’m sure few people would be without those luxuries now.

Are you convinced by smart technology? And does it really make our lives easier?


Smart technology is also likely to make your wallet smart. It will give you more stress looking after it, more worry monitoring what’s going on, and take up too much of your time when you should be working. It’s bad enough now when people have phones glued to their ears.

And smart energy meters – only good enough to send readings at a cost of £11 billion. Don’t we have anything better to do with our money?

As a grumpy Luddite (I like steam engines, gardening and woodwork) the simple life to me is one where you don’t over complicate it, and don’t let yourself be controlled by technology. 🙁

Given that you would have to spend quite a lot of money on various adaptations to your home and its fittings and systems to make much use of the smart home app I think it will take some time before it makes much impact on our lives. I can imagine the chit-chat in the office as people show off the remote functionality they have at their fingertips and compete to have the most cameras, remote controlled kettles, sensors and programmable lighting. As Ellie suggests, telling me a window has been left open is only half the story; I want a gadget that closes and locks it for me,

Why do these great leaps into the future always seem to end up with such banal applications, like putting the kettle on? Will it check there’s enough water in it? No; for that you need Cortana in Windows 10 to give you a reminder to fill the kettle before you leave home [ the sweet-talking girl having checked your diary to see that you’ll be bringing a colleague home from work for tea and will need more water in the kettle than usual and then checking how the trains are running to programme the kettle for your estimated arrival time and told you to pick up some milk on the way back from the station because it had a peek inside your fridge and found there was none within its use-by date]. Talk about making an easy life difficult.

One advantage of age is that you have been through several iterations of must have technologies – and pretty much all of them were over-hyped and early adopters got stung for the novelty price. Some technologies of course died a death quickly and some lingered on for years.

Is this anything better. I doubt it.

Of course if you can monitor what is going on so can other people and they may not be friendly. There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, of a divorced husband using his knowledge of the former matrimonial home’s high tech gadgetry to put on the heating full blast when his ex-wife left on her fortnight honeymoon.

So it looks to me like a hackers delight which will be adopted rapidly by people with more money than sense … of security.

I have never been an early adopter of technology, preferring others to discover whether new products are useful and waiting for teething problems to be resolved.

Sometimes I have waited too long. I regret that I did not buy a sat nav sooner than I did.

A friend used to make mock of smartphone users but he is now a convert, thanks to an app that his wife uses to monitor atrial fibrillation. Their son is a consultant cardiologist and keeps an eye on his mum.

Often technology arrives before a purpose is identified but I don’t see a problem with this.

People need to realize that all computer based systems can be hacked . Beware. !!

Phil says:
15 August 2015

A friend has CCTV fitted at his house which sends an alert to his smart phone when the motion sensors are activated.

So now every time a spider or other bug crawls across the lens…

This comment was removed at the request of the user

One problem I see currently is that these are probably all proprietary systems, meaning the apps and communication protocols are specific to the manufacturer. Is this correct? It means if you have a variety of devices controlling, say, lights, radiators, blinds, appliances they may ideally come from different manufacturers (functionality, price for example) and you’d then need multiple apps. Industry standard communication protocols get round this problem. Is it happening?

I can’t believe there is the level of demand yet to justify the investment needed to make this all happen, and while standardised protocols would be more convenient they might be more hackable, not less.

HI Guys,

This is a hobby of mine, I’ve been using “smart home” technologies for 15 years plus from X10 through to now Z Wave, Zigbee (Hue) devices along with various control systems.

There are huge benefits to it all but, from the major manufacturers such as Panasonic, Samsung and LG who certainly are the ones pushing this in appliances you will see in stores, there is no compatibility with other systems or, it’s limited.

The idea being that once you invest in a system you stick with it and you’re locked into that choice then you’re back into the old VHS/Betamax type thing but with a lot more than the choice of only two as there are multiple competing technologies. Which one/s will survive, who knows.

However To give you some of the huge advantages such technology can offer:

– Devices shut down automatically when not in use
– Lights operate only when a room is occupied and shut down when not
– Security randomisation, where it looks from the outside as if your home is occupied
– Macros can be used to set up lighting/devices for your activities
– Energy use can be monitored locally, you don’t need a smart meter
– Safety by linking to heating and fire/smoke detection

The convenience factor is hard to overstate once you get used to things such as lights just working as soon as you walk into a room or, you get up to use the loo at night where you can program the lighting to come on dimmed but leave noisy fans off and things like that.

If you have kids it can be a Godsend. Anyone with kids will know that they have this aversion to using a switch to turn a light off but, with a correctly set up automation system, that doesn’t happen.

The security aspect is fantastic. Looking as if your home is occupied is a far better deterrent than any other I’ve come across. Now you can even have smart locks that will automatically lock your doors, like you have on your car probably, at the touch of a plipper or automatically as you set it up to. You can even allow access to kids or other people just with their smartphone being in range, no keys needed.

Potentially a decent HA system can save you a fortune and possibly lower blood pressures. Done right. 😉

The problem with actual appliances is quite simple, you still have to load them up, put in detergents, fill the kettle and so on before the “smarts” in them are of any use so you have to think, what’s the point of remote operation if you have to be there anyway? Then add that it will often not speak to any other system, including any you may have and you may understand why I strongly advise people to avoid appliances like this as, they of limited (if any) use.

As part of a larger system, maybe and if the protocols used were more open to operation with other systems maybe a little more. You still have to load them up though and I can’t help but feel that negates the functionality hugely.

Then there’s the cost, Samsungs latest washing machine effort is over £1000. IMO the machine isn’t worth that by a long way for what it is mechanically and I’ve heard multiple reports of “issues” with the tech in them.

Same with the connected fridge freezers and, there’s tons of news this past week or two about those being hacked to reveal personal information.

One of the big things that people get sold on is the ability to monitor the use, especially power of these smart products but, you can do that easily with a £38 Z Wave module should you wish, you needn’t have to splash out £1000 or more for a new machine.

So my advice on the appliance side is, avoid until they get it right, more open and make it worth the extra cost.

I would not however say that was a reason to stay away from the notion of making your home smarter as there is so much more to it than just that.


I hadn’t realised control over lighting would be so beneficial but I am intrigued with how it works in practice. Let’s say it is evening and you go into the lounge; the lights [or some of them] come on automatically. After a spell you decide to watch television and prefer to turn off the main light(s) and put on some indirect lights. Presumably you have to use the control device to do that. And do you have take the controller to bed with you so that you can turn the main lights off and the bedside lights on if you want to read, and then use it again to turn them off when you are ready to go to sleep? Is there a controller for every room so that the occupants can turn the lights on and off as they please. What adaptations are required to lights and switches to enable the switching/dimming function to operate? Surely it is not as complex at it seems so could you please give us a bit more information.

No John it is both simpler and yet more complex.

In HA circles what you mean is commonly referred to as “activities” and there’s a multitude of ways to accomplish exactly what you want. The issue is that it requires some logical thinking which, at times, can be a proper pain to get right, just the way you want it.

However, it is immensely satisfying when you do.

What I do is have an IR signal so that when I select on a remote (can be anything these days, IR, tablet, whatever) you actually send a signal to the controller that performs a macro, multiple actions to get what you want and in my case sets parameters on what happens when certain devices are on or, virtual flags are set.

I know that may sound a bit daunting but it’s actually very simple.

I have a home cinema setup, been into that stuff since I was a kid and kept forgetting to switch off things, hence the foray into automation.

So, what happens now is that when I tell the house to set itself up to watch TV it shuts down all lighting that isn’t required, turns on the TV, amp/s, subs and so on. Now, in that state, certain devices such as the lights in that room will not operate while that lot is powered up as it “knows” what is on and what is off.

When I switch it off, all goes back to normal.

In my case it’s not that simple as, over time, I’ve built up the logic to make it do exactly what I want, when I want.

I have a button on a programmable remote that is known as the “bed” button.

I press it, confirm and the whole house shuts down. All lights go off on a sequence and bedroom and hall lighting comes on to show me the way as it were, then shuts down after a predefined time.

The bedroom lamp is on by this stage and, I’ve not touched a single switch.

When I go to sleep, tap the switch at my bedside almost like a normal lamp switch and, it’s off as well.

As the house controller now knows that I am “asleep” it behaves accordingly and will not bring up lights as it would if I were not.

I could get a bit more adventurous than that with the last bit but it’s not worth the hassle for wha is a very simple gesture.

Meanwhile, I know the whole house is shut down, all lights are off and, if anything happens out of the ordinary such as an alarm etc then lights come on all the way to where I need to go. Of course, at night, they are on at a lower level unless it really is an emergency, then they all come on full blast to get everyone moving.

The easiest, cheapest and most compatible way to do this now is using what is known as Z Wave in my opinion. There are other technologies out there but ZW is hard to beat on all counts, not least of which is simplicity.

You can start with just a plug in module or two, a controller of some sort and go from there. The controllers range hugely in price and technical depth and I use a PC based system called Homeseer, it’s extremely comprehensive but probably not suited all that well to novices. A better bet is probably Mi Casa Verde or a Fibaro controller.

But, you can use a simple remote control and associate modules.

For dimmer control of in wall switches, in other words a standard UK wall switch, it’s pretty simple, you just change like for like and register the control, that’s it pretty much bar the programming of what you want it to do.

Switches are harder as they require a neutral connection, fine in newer builds where this has become the norm, not so much fun with older wiring and can be a challenge but, not insurmountable.

If you are of a technical nature this stuff is easy, frustrating getting it right at times the way you want it but, ultimately not that hard.

Even for non technical people it’s largely not that difficult for most of it but some of the wiring stuff could present a challenge.

The programming is all largely common sense.


Thank you , Kenneth. It sounds impressive.

Home automation has a lure which is curious. It’s not cheap, yet it’s a sort of magic and who doesn’t like that? Well, men certainly do but not so women. This is one of those areas where there exists a pronounced gender divide. Whether this is down to how we educate our young, or how we socialise them, no one’s quite sure, yet.

Like Kenneth, our house has a degree of home automation, but having investigated the costs, security implications, standards and compatibility I’m not committing at this point. Apple is expected to integrate an entire tranche of standards into a spec. shortly, that will allow devices from several different companies to be controlled by and through the Apple TV, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of that. But for now, I’m happy with the degree of automation I have, controlled through an iPad (Home cinema, electric blankets, central heating) and I’ll be waiting to see if the promised ‘magic wand’ really materialises.

In a commercial building the problem lies in the number of people occupying a space. The benefit of automated systems is in relieving individuals of thinking about how best to control the environment. It is done for them.
At home I confess that I don’t find any difficulty in manually controlling my lights (although we do have a remote controller for some sockets with table lamps attached – saves getting out of your chair to switch them on and off). Nor do we have any problem drawing blinds, curtains, switching off the TV, controlling the washing machine……etc. I’ve looked at the HA publicity and am impressed, but not sufficiently impressed to invest substantial sums in the equipment needed, nor rely upon it totally; when a device fails, can it be over-ridden?) The general problem with such systems is establishing a common protocol for device control so you can use hardware from different manufacturers controlled by common software – you don’t get locked in to one supplier. This has happened in the commercial world as it is essential to maintain independence from reliance on a single supplier.

But lots of people like gadgets; they can be fun as well as useful. Why not? Perhaps when I am old and infirm being able to do everything from an armchair will have more appeal.