Picture this: you’re leaving work for the day and as you hop into your Tesla, it has already plotted the best route to avoid the bumper-to-bumper rush-hour stampede and cued up your favourite playlist for the journey home.
Arriving at your house, the garage is open and the car parks itself while you breeze through your keyless front door, where the air conditioning is at the perfect temperature, the washing machine is whirring away and your dinner is ready to eat.
Sound like a sci-fi scenario? It’s closer than you think – in fact, the smart home is already here. All you need to do is plug in and get connected. And while in 2017, we’re still waiting for those hoverboards promised in Back to the Future, as it turns out, the movie was right on the money when it predicted the rise of automated living. So, what is it? And how can you bring your home into the future?
It may seem like a 21st century invention, but it turns out the smart home concept has been around a lot longer than we think.
“Home automation actually started in the 90s in Las Vegas,” explains Anthony McMillan, CEO and group IT director of Spectrum Information Technology, an Abu Dhabi-based company that provides home automation services across the UAE.
“Hotels wanted their clients to be relaxed before hitting the casinos, so they offered a display screen that allowed guests to control things like the curtains, lights and air conditioning,” he adds.
“From then to now, the way that it’s developed is that we’re seeing it on smartphones and devices; it’s on the TV, your kettle and your refrigerator.”
It’s taking off over here, too, and this kind of functionality is exactly what UAE consumers are after, according to Anthony.
“We’re seeing a strong uptake in Abu Dhabi,” he notes. “The main thing here is that people want homes automated by their device or laptop. They want one control that can do their music, their television and their air conditioning.
“It’s not just about people who are really rich,” Anthony reflects.
“These are people who have had a busy day and they want to come home and relax. The house works for them and that’s how we’ve evolved.”
What’s more, this process towards engineering your new smart pad isn’t as hard or expensive as you think. Making a cup of coffee and setting the air conditioning temperature can be just as easy as plugging in a smart socket, with new products making the process affordable for consumers.
“In terms of home automation for people like us, there are out-of-the-box options we can use,” Anthony notes. “To implement this kind of technology into the home, you’ll use a socket set – so you can plug things like lamps into the socket, and when they’re connected to your Wi-Fi, you can turn them off and on again in your home remotely.”
With the fast pace of today’s technology, the concept of home automation is only set to grow. “We’ve come to the point where we rely on technology to help us – we used to follow maps and road signs; now we rely on Google, Waze and Garmin,” Anthony agrees.
“Technology is evolving; it’s not a one-way system. Your house can now integrate facial recognition, where it can recognise you from your driveway, unlock the doors and turn on the lights.”
But as fears over data privacy and online security have grown in recent years, are we putting ourselves at future risk of a hacked home by getting connected?
“It’s very important to understand that with any technology, there is a security factor,” nods Anthony.
“Everything is hackable and every minute of every hour, technology changes; it’s a learning curve.
“We can’t foresee what will happen after the technology is installed, but if you choose a company to help automate your home, you need to make sure that security is the foundation.
“The bottom line is, you’ve got to be savvy,” he adds. “It’s all on you – you’re the thing between the computer, the device and the seat. We’re always leaving our phones around, and if that controls your devices then that could be a problem.
“Use password protection and be smart; technology does have its risks, but it has a lot of positives, too.” While it can seem a bit like a leap into the unknown for some, Anthony is quick to allay any fears of I, Robot-style technological uprisings, emphasising that life in the future could be more relaxed and hassle-free – and that we should watch this space.
“The idea is the house will know you. When you walk out of the house, everything will switch off. When you come in, it’ll be configured to you and your family,” he says. “We’ve changed, things have changed. Home automation will continue to evolve as our lives do.”
Let’s talk tech
So you want your home to do more? Here’s our pick of the latest gadgets on offer…
With the latest options on the market including Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit, these smart home devices connect everything together to work seamlessly. From adjusting your air conditioning to managing lights, security and your music and television streaming, these devices are the nerve centre behind any smart home.
According to Philips, the future doesn’t involve light switches. These next-gen lightbulbs connect to a hub, so you can adjust the lighting from your device, including brightness and colour.
IHome ISP5 Plug
This inexpensive solution allows you to control the socket wherever you are with your smartphone, as well as creating a schedule to power the plug on or off.
GIZMOS AND GADGETS
Nest Learning Thermostat
This responsive gadget learns from your behaviours and adjusts the temperature accordingly, as well as controlling your home’s hot water tank.
IRobot Roomba 690
This robotic vacuum may have been around for a while, but with this model, you can tap on your smartphone app to have it clean while you’re out of the house.
Nest Cam Indoor Security Camera
Whether you’re keeping an eye on potential burglars or just want reassurance your cat is fine while you’re at work, this smart camera streams HD video 24/7 to your device and sends alerts if it detects activity.