Smart Thermostats, Locks, and Home Security

Let’s be honest, for as amazing as Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion is, most of us don’t have the resources to integrate technologies in ways that make our homes smart enough to understand or anticipate our needs in a sophisticated manner. Absent wealth, we rely on ingenuity: home automation components like the ones offered by X10 Wireless Technology  make for a smarter home. Hacking a system together can produce even more amazing results (ref. The Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm). Over the past two years, though, we have begun to see the emergence of offerings that combine modern technology with equally modern styling…though they are as likely to make us think rethink what constitutes home security. 

It would be impossible to talk about these rising mainstream smart technologies without acknowledging the Nest thermostat. Between learning from our daily routines and allowing us to change the routine remotely through our cell phones, you have a pretty amazing piece of technology. One of the more interesting aspects of the technology is how Nest uses weather data to factor local weather conditions into its understanding of your personal preferences. I think this combination of data from internal and external sources is going to make for some really interesting opportunities for creating technologies that more actively support our lives.

The second technology that I think echoes the Nest’s appeal is the Goji Smart Lock. While the Goji lock is not the only smart lock on the market, I appreciate the flexibility of using my phone as my “key” while simultaneously allowing for the use of programmable fobs. I love that my car recognizes my approach and have often wondered why my home can’t be at least as aware of my approach and departure. That the fob can be replaced by my phone makes the technology even more compelling; the fob is another thing to remember, the phone is something that I always have with me.

However, the Goji lock also highlights two challenges that Web-based (or Web-dependent) home automation systems have for consumers: security and privacy. Whereas the Nest appears to be solely a recipient of Web-based data, the Goji lock seems to rely on the Web for its functionality (as evidenced by the fact its staff can apparently unlock your home for you in the event of a problem).

This forces us to ask a couple questions: “how much of what types of data should enter or exit our homes?” and “how much control should we, as the homeowners and consumers, have over these data flows?” These questions are not new, but they become more significant each year as technology plays a more central role in our personal lives…despite the fact that we are still struggling with the meaning of privacy in the context of our use of and reliance on the Internet. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found in its recent survey “Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online” that over 80 percent of us take some steps to mask out presence on the Internet. Now consider these attitudes in light of Rachel Metz’s “More Connected Homes, More Problems,” a piece that speaks to some of the challenges that we are likely to face as our homes get smarter through and with Web-enabled devices. The challenges she described are not purely theoretical: consider the well-publicized incident this past summer when a baby monitor was hacked in a fairly disturbing manner.

As we have more devices connected to the Internet in our homes, it will be interesting to see if current conceptions of home security expand to encompass protecting homes against unauthorized electronic entry (as opposed to simply alerting us of unauthorized physical entry). What does an electronically secure automated home look like? Is such as thing even possible?

The security issues associated with a more connected home aside, if you would like a broader sense of where home automation is going, I recommend that you check out a nice piece that Julie Jacobsen wrote this past July over at CEPro (a trade publication for custom electronic professionals): “25 Home Automation Projects on Crowdfunding: A Roundup.” What I found most surprising was that there were not more people working in and with display technologies: Luxurite appears to do some pretty impressive stuff in terms of integrating LCD televisions into our lives, but I can’t help but wonder how the explosive growth of multi-touch and gesture-controlled interfaces might make for new and exciting smart home technologies.

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