/ Home & Energy, Technology

Is the smart home finally wising up?

Smart fridge

We’ve so far been reluctant to turn our homes into Star-Trek styled palaces of technology, but the next generation of ‘smart home’ products holds more promise.

I’ve been at the world’s largest consumer technology show, CES, for the past week catching a glimpse of the products you can expect to find on the shelves of Currys and Argos in the next year.

The show was dominated by one word, ‘smart’. We’ve seen smart thrown into everything from belts and dresses to American footballs – so you can track the speed and distance of your throw.

Most of this stuff is rubbish. Yes, you could buy a smart peephole that wakes up, takes a picture, connects to your wi-fi and sends that picture to your smartphone. Or, while you’re waiting for all of that to happen, you could just go to the door and find out who is knocking.

Sony is still trying to flog us a light bulb with a speaker built in that you control from your phone – a completely pointless product surpassed only by the surround sound rug from Panasonic.

Smart is not forgetting the milk

But buried beneath the gimmicks there are signs that manufacturers are starting to make progress on the sort of smart innovations that people might actually use.

Take the fridge camera from British firm, Smarter. This sits inside your fridge door and takes a snap of what’s inside each time you open and close. So when you’re dashing home from work and can’t for the life of you remember whether you need more milk or if there is bacon for a fry-up in the morning, you can check the latest photo on your phone. It saves you buying bacon you don’t need, or having to climb out of bed at 7am for a milk run because you thought you already had a bottle.

This is a simple rather than stunning innovation, but it solves a genuine problem and that’s what is often missing from many smart devices – an actual purpose. Putting wi-fi enabled screens on the front of fridges is all very well and good – but does anyone really want to check Google Maps while grabbing a few eggs at breakfast time?

Did I leave the oven on?

Like the fridge camera, the best devices are the ones that help you save money or offer a little handy convenience – like the Samsung Flex Duo cooker, which can be controlled by an app on your phone.

The advantage here is for those of us with ‘just left the house’ anxiety. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve had to go back to the house because I can’t remember if I turned the oven off. I always have – but that doesn’t matter. Being able to check on my phone if the oven is turned off would save me a lot of stress – if they could just come up with the wi-fi iron next.

From nice to have to must have

None of these products are essential, but most of the technology we own is non-essential – it’s a convenience. You don’t need a remote control, but it saves a lot of hassle having one. How about a washing machine? It’s not a necessity, but you wouldn’t fancy spending most of your Sunday stooped over the sink instead.

I’ve been covering smart technology for a couple of years now and while I think it’s inevitable that our homes are set to become smart, the products I have seen so far have largely underwhelmed. That’s changing.

Rather than making products smart for the sake of it, manufacturers are working out ways that connected technology can save us time or money. And it’s this convenience that will likely lead to us popping down to Argos to pick up a fridge camera.


Are these new smart home products clever enough to convince you?

Useful links:

Best smart home devices at CES 2016
See all the news from CES 2016 on Which? Tech Daily

Comments
Member

IT wont convince me ,but I am sure millions will install the necessary equipment connected to the web and or via your mains electricity supply which has been a means of data /voice transmission for may decades . What you lose here is privacy all your usage of household goods eg-food/ cooker use / vacuum cleaner /heating etc will be targeted by third parties who will use you data to email you /post you /chase you round the web via your browser with ads they gathered from this info . This has already started in the US via smart meters . On the other hand many will think its a boon to help them plan their day in what they buy but dont extend this camera idea into the bedroom for obvious reasons nor allow any tech instrument that could pick up via induction coils / miniature mikes or you will be open to blackmail as hackers can easily access this stuff if connected to the Internet. its a brave new world but dont make it a profitable world for BB. Yes you could use your mobile to order/control your house but just remember what you can do others can as well to your own property.

Member

Yes Duncan, smart meters are not for our advantage but as usual we are gobbling up the blurb about saving t he customer money. It is to save others not us
It does away with another little man called the meter man for a start
The generation of smart washing machine and various other domestic can receive stop start instructions on the “0 volts” of the electricity. It may seem like a bright idea to lesson the load on an overstretched grid but why not tell the public. No because if they can do that then they can do more
We have endless reports of phones being on when they look like they are off
We have endless evidence of camera’s being on when they look like they are off
We have endless evidence of “smart” items including TVs having their microphones on without being switched on
Us who say these things we are all nuts but we not conspiracy theorists but pay attention this had all been on mainstream BBC ITV channels if you would get your faces out of the soaps for a month

Member

Dee -Snowdon +co blew “conspiracy theories” are rubbish out of the water thats why all the US/UK security services are after them to shut them up (probably permanently ) . I can supply data on this sort of thing but at 2 o,clock in the morning—- bang ! bang ! — dragged out of bed and then —-.

Member

I have a Heatmiser WiFi thermostat which turns on my heating and hot water remotely from anywhere in the world. When I returned from a visit to Seattle one Christmas, I could check the temperature of the house (I had set it at 7 Celsius while away) before I left the States. By the time I returned to home here in the UK, the house was nice and warm without my heating being on all the time. Likewise, I have LightwaveRF lighting which enables me to come home to a lighted house late at night. As a pensioner, I find both of these valuable to me – who wants to come back to a cold, dark house? Very dispiriting.
I also suffer from arthritis. Having to get up to answer a knock on the door is literally painful. I can see a market for cameras on the front door linked through WiFi to my iPhone – especially if there were a microphone and loudspeaker enabling me to talk to a caller. In a few more years as the arthritis gets worse, a remote unlocking device on the front door would be a good idea, too.
Don’t knock the idea of some of these gadgets they can be a godsend for some…

Member

Yes Colin –and in your case (and many others it is ) but I would rather people went into this with their eyes open and realise convenience comes with its hidden drawbacks which in this case are third parties. I personally cant live with supplying my whole life on a plate so that I can be hit with ads following me round the web ,through my letterbox,emailed to me and constant non-stop sales calls.

Member

I am definately for any type of technology like the ones mentioned in your magazine that help to save time, money and generally make life stressful.I think the wifi connections are secure and encrypted it will be a good thing so bring them on.

Member

Natasha – While I understand your point of view, and as I said , its boon to many people I would not like people to get the impression ,as you said , = I think wi-fi connections are secure — sorry to say they are not as 5 minutes on 1000,s of tech webpages will prove full of tech detail as to posters complaining of being hacked and their personal details used against them . This is reality in 2016 . AS soon as company says – we have a totally secure system -within a week or two it is hacked ,very embarrassed BB and government services have been hacked even the NSA has been hacked and “bedroom hackers” can hack wi-fi pretty easily including piggy backing your broadband . The very first thing you do when you get a router is change its password as the crooks know all the default ones in many companies routers. Thats only step one.

Member

Well I knew it was too good to be true as regards ordering more milk for your fridge when your fridge decides its running out of milk . Unfortunately the technology thats going to enable a lot of this a a disaster waiting to happen.Its going to be based around network facing embedded systems that,for the most part offer no means of being patched . It will rely on binary drivers ,as such when security flaws are found (as they surely will be ) there will be NO WAY to securely patch those devices -leading to INFECTION . The answer ???? —- you will have to dis-connect them therebye -de-smartening your home — OR PURCHASE a NEW model , not only have my above warnings been proved right the high tech business industry admit the same and arent the business industry jumping for joy . –warning advert !!! — is your “””smart meter “”” out of date ??? —let us renew it for the small sum of £100 . You can see where this is heading cant you –a 1000 websites with a new industry – the- replace my “”smart meter ” gadget for you , we will do it cheaper than -xyz. BB is smarter than YOU think !

Member

I am sure there are some who still dont believe me when I say – you are being watched ,listened to by our security services and think I am a “conspiracy theorist ” well what would take you to believe me me ?? . Well !! How about the Director of National Intelligence of the USA a Mr. James Clapper -quote- in the past few days — “has recently revealed that US Intelligence Agencies are using a variety of smart HOME devices in order to SPY on US citizens . They include -thermostats-cameras- and other appliances that are connected to the Internet ,providing authorities with the ability to spy on US citizens –and that includes fridges ! – New fridges are now entering homes with cameras installed in them that can be used to surveil you ,smart meters will relay information to smart grids to create a smart city (for some ) . The excuse ??? we are up against “organisations ” working against our interests so we will create “new opportunities ” for our OWN intelligence collectors – NOW will you believe me ??

Member

There’ll be non of that in our new cabin,
Go sit on it nosey little men.
I’ll do as i please in my own little house.

Member

Perhaps to provide balance to the media, and Which?, in admiring the the new frontier in gadgetry I link a few cautionary tales. Particularly the pain of investing in a system that is no longer supported.

zdnet.com/article/nest-killed-its-smart-home-hub-what-do-they-owe-customers

And of course when it goes rogue
zdnet.com/article/google-nests-battery-drain-chilly-users-turn-up-heat-over-thermostat-software-glitch/
and the lack of adequate security must be a concern to all.

I had not realised that Nest is owned by Google so I look forward to the time when all my activities personal and household will be safely recorded for me by a US corporation. Incidentally as a piece of odd information Google and the CIA have much in common including Google Earth .
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-Q-Tel

Member

And Google has 43 Trackers being blocked by me on one blocker alone and yes diesel Google has admitted ,even officially ,if asked all customers info with be passed to the NSA ( un-officially they do it anyway ) Google second biggest internet trackers after the NSA

Member

Which must stop claiming that “a shortcoming of traditional systems is that if you don’t pay an ongoing subscription for them to be monitored, you’ll have to rely on your neighbours” as you have again done in this report. It is not true.
Last time you said that, I told you that I added a speech dialler to my traditional alarm system years ago. This calls my mobile phone with a pre-recorded message, telling me that my intruder alarm system has been activated. (It sends a different message if a smoke detector has been activated.) It continues to phone a succession of pre-programmed numbers until one of us accepts its call.
No subscription is payable for this reliable system.

Member

Ian -I also have a traditional alarm system I wired up myself including the control box and external alarm all hard wired -non-battery sensors ( built in battery in main unit in case of mains failure ) and I agree with you .That is a good idea , while working for BT I repaired many fire alarm/burglar systems connected connected via a separate land-line to a central control who then contacted the Fire Dept /Police ,I have also been in those (hidden ) control buildings which had no advertising on them . The problem nowadays is that in a case of a false alarm call the fire service charge for their call out and it isnt a Fiver and the Police will only attend type A alarms which must comply with a whole set of conditions including British Standards PD6662 and identified by an unique code number otherwise under type B -your on your own unless your neighbour SEES a burglar in the house. This is due to 92 % false alarms (Metropolitan Police )

Member
Ruth Wilkinson says:
21 December 2016

In ‘How to make your home more secure’, you advise people to change from a letterplate in the door to a lockable letterbox on the wall to prevent burglars fishing through the door to reach keys. However in my area we have issues with post being stolen from these boxes. People push folded newspapers into the letterboxes before the delivery, so that post cannot fall down, then wait till post has been delivered and quickly fish out the post before the householder goes to collect it. They can thus get bank statements, credit cards and other useful documents for identity theft. Much safer to keep the letterbox in your front door and move your keys!

Member

Another item to add to your smart home? What does everyone think of Bixby 2.0? https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/samsung-announces-bixby-2-0-and-vision-for-the-connected-home/

Member

Yes Alex and yes its already been hacked along with Siri AND Google Assistant , Chinese Zheijiang University has already proved it using a well known hackers code called Dolphin Attack . Unlike human speech recognition microphones can pick up frequencies above 20Khz so commands using Virtual Voice Assistants where the commands were translated into the ultrasonic range and then inputted to control YOUR equipment using a normal audio amplifier and an ultrasonic transducer . Can you imaging the havoc they could cause in the home ? Alexa-Amazon Echo-Macbook and even Audi Q3 were hacked . Malicious neighbour to wife -watch this neighbour he doesn’t like – garage door opens and closes -constantly . This is no University trick and don’t let anybody fool you this hack is OUT there and being used NOW ! BY the way your voice imprint will also be hacked – think about it ??? . dont commit a crime as the police will have your voice imprint also the usual “suspects ” . But hey ho ! Enjoy and ignore me !