In 1999, when the Disney Channel original movie Smart House imagined what a fully automated, high-tech home might look like, the idea of an intelligent nervous system that managed your daily routine, arranged your wardrobe and made smoothies perfectly balanced to your diet was far-off science fiction.
In 2015, connected devices are making the smart home a reality.
The Internet of Things (IoT) — a growing network of everyday objects engineered to communicate and interoperate with one another — is receiving plenty of attention and investment from consumers and businesses alike. There will be 34 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, according to an estimate from Business Insider. A large portion of these technologies are meant to make our homes smarter and safer, in turn making everyday life easier and more efficient.
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that, by 2025, IoT technologies in the home could have a potential impact of $200 billion to $300 billion on consumers. From smart refrigerators that can plan grocery shopping lists to security systems that know household members' faces, these additions have the potential to save huge amounts of time and energy.
Here are some of the latest devices that could transform your living space from a regular functioning home into a smart home.
Saving seconds and spoiled food.
The precious seconds wasted while waiting for something to heat up or agonizing over whether or not the chicken is spoiled are starting to be eliminated with smart tools. From coffee makers to ovens, smart appliances are adding features to save people time while prepping and cooking meals.
"People want technology that simplifies their lives, especially in environments like the kitchen, where the interaction with devices is difficult, because often we have no free hands when we are preparing a recipe, or during a lunch," Stefano Marangoni, founder of Thingk, told the Guardian.
SmarterCoffee improves on the basic automatic timer function on your old Mr. Coffee model by preparing your morning elixir to specifications that can be programmed and controlled through a smartphone app. You can program the machine so that it starts brewing coffee right when you wake up, so there's zero time between the sound of your alarm and the sweet smell of caffeine.
LG's Smart ThinQ appliance line, which the company rolled out in 2012, offers one of the first smart fridge, oven and laundry combos. The fridge itself lets you make full grocery lists from a small screen on the front door, and it will tell you if you're out of items or when your meat has gone bad. (Samsung and GE have also recently released smart fridge models on the market.) All of the appliances on the LG line can be controlled with HomeChat, an instant messaging system that can ping your smartphone when the oven is preheated or let you know how much longer the lasagna needs to bake.
Small kitchen tools with smart technology are also popping up. Marangoni's creation, GKILO, is a cutting board that doubles as a scale for weighing portions as you cut them. Pantelligent, a smart frying pan, connects with an app on your phone to tell you the exact temperature of the pan. Drop, a food scale, combines with a recipe app that can be used on a smartphone to guide any amateur chef through the process of making a meal. Tools like these can cut down on the seconds spent flipping between cookbooks or measuring and re-measuring portions for a recipe.
Wasted air, wasted energy.
Saving time in the kitchen with smarter tools will also save energy — energy you would've wasted while pre-heating the oven or digging through an open refrigerator for an ingredient you're not sure is even there. But homes are wasting huge amounts of energy in other ways that could be prevented. Smart thermostats that can automatically re-adjust temperature have the potential to be one of the biggest energy savers in a smarter house.
Thermostats are in charge of 10% of energy in the United States, but, right now, much of that energy is wasted, either by heating or cooling the house while no one is in it or changing temperatures frequently instead of programming it. Neglecting to program your thermostat could cost your household $180 per year on energy costs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star.
Google's Nest Thermostat, the industry leader in smart thermostats, just released the third generation of its product in September. In addition to the standard remote-control capability via smartphone app, Nest thermostats learn the behavior of the household after a week, automatically changing the temperature to the user's preferences when they are at home, at work and asleep.
The company estimates that its product can save 10-12% of energy on heating and 15% of energy on cooling, totaling about $131 to $145 savings in energy bills a year per household.
Nest competitors, Ecobee 3 and Honeywell Lyric, offer similar energy-saving guarantees with smart thermostat tech. The Ecobee 3 starts out with a pre-programmed schedule that then adjusts to the user's habits, but it goes one step farther than Nest by including a network of sensors. You can put sensors in every room of the house with Ecobee to more closely monitor temperature changes, and you can change the temperature by using its app on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Honeywell Lyric can tell whether or not you're home, and, anytime you're within 7 miles of your house, the thermostat adjusts to the chosen baseline temperature, which you can monitor from a smartphone app.
Safe home, secure Wi-Fi network.
As we connect more devices with our personal information over the Internet, protecting those devices is becoming a necessity. Hubs to organize and defend all of a person's connected devices are popping up to fill this need.
F-Secure Sense is a hub that protects your entire wireless network at home. The small box monitors the network to make sure no one is hacking into it. Dojo, a small, black device that looks like a rock, can also protect a home's network against intruders, glowing when it detects an attack.
Protecting your internet with all of your information is one thing, but protecting the people in your home is also improving with smarter technologies. New developments are making security systems much more advanced than the standard door monitoring lock systems.
Netatmo's Welcome is using face recognition to make homes even more secure. When a person walks in, the security camera recognizes and checks in the different members of a house (anyone it doesn't recognize is designated a "stranger"). The information automatically syncs to apps on Android-compatible smartphones and smartwatches, so anyone in the house can know who's home even if they aren't there.
A smarter way to relax.
Outside of saving time and energy, there are now tools to better enjoy what you like across all platforms with less effort. Devices like Chromecast and Sonos are making it easier for people to spend free time watching and listening to what they love between all of their devices — phone, tablet, watch and personal computer.
Google's Chromecast lets you stream anything you're watching from a phone or computer directly to a TV. If you want something even more convenient, you can also stream right from a smartwatch — it's compatible with Android wearables. As more and more people cut the cord and rely on subscription services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, being able to watch anything you would online straight on a regular TV can eliminate the cable bill permanently.
Wireless connected speaker systems, like Sonos and select Bose speaker systems, connect music, podcasts and anything else you want to listen to in your home. Sonos lets you control your sounds from one centralized app on a smartphone that multiple people can access. You can install speakers in rooms around the house, but then individually control which music you want to play in which location, all from a phone or computer.
One system to rule them all.
As connected appliances, devices and other objects continue to proliferate, the challenge will be to enable them to talk to each other in a common language. This is a big part of what distinguishes the smart home from the merely connected home.
SmartThings, which was acquired by Samsung last year for a reported $200 million, aims to be the open platform (as opposed to Apple's HomeKit) to unify the unruly connected home and get all of those devices to sing in harmony. In October, the company released a home monitoring kit complete with a hub and various sensors (motion detector, moisture sensor) to track your home's vital stats and report them to your smartphone.
For those who prefer more of a DIY approach, SmartLiving provides maker kits to help you automate your home with simple if/then rules and a mobile dashboard.
We're still a ways off from the totally immersive video game walls and holographic personifications of an overbearing, maternal operating system portrayed in Smart House. But the promise of a more efficiently functioning home that frees up more of your time is already here.