A ‘smarter’ world for hardware

With increasing numbers of home automation products available, AHJ reporter, Kiera Taylor, recently explored the possibilities for both consumers and hardware retailers.

Image courtesy of Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

Remember the movie, ‘Back to the Future Part II’, which featured Marty and Jennifer’s futuristic house in the year 2015? It had a thumb print controlled front door lock, pre-programmable voice activated lights, and voice activated appliances.

For a movie made in 1989, director Steven Spielberg envisioned some spectacular forms of home technology that at the time, did not exist; and here we are in the year 2018 and his imaginings have come to fruition thanks to the waves of technology being constantly developed.

Utilising that technology, companies are creating digitally connected and automated product solutions for the home, and increasing numbers of consumers are seeking out those solutions – not only for comfort and convenience, but also to save energy and water, and even to assist the elderly or those living with a disability.

On the horizon
Increasingly, the household products these companies are developing, such as lighting, heating, cooling, locks and irrigation are able to connect to the Internet, and so it is likely we will witness a surge in completely connected smart homes.

Because of the ability to connect products via the internet, companies are not only producing individual DIY smart home products, but are coming up with entire smart systems to control different aspects of a house using smart devices and apps. Stemming from this is the introduction of the ‘hub’: products such as Google Home Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit, to name a few, can all connect multiple, compatible, individual smart products and systems within a home, providing a centralised point of control.

As the popularity of hubs grows, it will become increasingly important for hardware stores to stock smart home products and systems that are compatible with these hubs, in order to remain competitive.

Image courtesy of Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

Smart Home powered by b8ta
To help gain such a competitive advantage in the smart home space, Lowe’s introduced a ‘smart home concept’ to 70 of its stores across America in November 2017. The format showcases Lowe’s DIY home automation offering in a fully immersive, curated display, which allows customers to try before they buy and seek assistance from specially trained staff.

“Consumers aspire to live a connected life and crave solutions that make this possible,” Lowe’s Vice President of Customer Experience, Ruth Crowley said.

“Smart home products simplify life – but the technology can sometimes be confusing or intimidating. So, we developed Smart Home powered by b8ta to emulate a ‘lab-like’ atmosphere that empowers customers to make informed decisions,” she said.

The ‘store-within-a-store’ format showcases over 60 smart home products, spanning security systems, thermostats, cameras, lighting, speakers and more, from brands such as Google, Samsung and GE, to name a few.

To deliver the experiential smart home format, Lowes teamed up with b8ta, a software-powered retailer that brings together the latest in consumer technology for home, health, audio visual, lifestyle and more, whilst also providing a shop front set up for retail businesses.
Lowe’s has committed even further to its smart home offering with the release of Iris Smart Hub, the company’s own branded hub, capable of connecting multiple smart systems and individual smart products in their customers’ homes.

The future is now
Taking a leaf from Lowe’s book, Australian Hardware stores would perhaps do well to consider the myriad smart home products available, and evolving their offering and retail spaces to meet the growing availability of, and demand for, smart home solutions – because the future is no longer a distant concept that is coming. As the following products show, the future is already here.

Lighting
Gerard Lighting’s ‘Diginet Sitara’
Automated lighting has come a long way since the ‘clapper’ lamps of the 1980s. Companies such as Gerard Lighting have produced sophisticated lighting controls for the home, which users can control using a smart phone or tablet device. Gerard’s ‘Diginet Sitara’ allows users to completely customise their lighting experience by adjusting moods and ambience, by setting different brightness levels in different rooms; setting timers to simulate occupancy whilst on holidays, or ready for when occupants arrive home from work, and so much more. ‘Diginet Sitara’ utilises a home’s existing wiring and a Bluetooth connection, and can still be controlled using traditional light switches.

Phillips Hue
Phillips Hue is a wireless lighting system that uses a home’s existing light fittings and Wi-Fi connection. Starter kits are available, consisting of different types of smart light bulbs, depending on the consumer’s needs, and a ‘bridge’ that connects the lights to a router. The lights can be controlled through the Phillips Hue app to turn them on and off remotely, be programmed to come on at different times, to create different moods and colour displays, or even sync to the beat of music. Additional products such as light bulbs and lamps are available individually and may be added to the house and system at any time. Phillips Hue is compatible with Google Home Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa, giving the system the ability to be controlled by voice commands in addition to by a device.

Irrigation and reticulation
Skydrop irrigation controller
Gone are the days of asking your neighbour to water the plants while you are on holidays! The Skydrop irrigation controller connects to the home’s Wi-Fi and provides a complete irrigation solution by using data from local weather stations and from sensors installed throughout the yard. Integrating this information, it is able to predict a yard’s watering needs, and then adjusts the amount of water delivered accordingly. Skydrop can also customise different settings for up to eight different zones in a yard. The controller can be added to existing reticulation systems and, according to the company, can be set up in as little as 10 minutes.

Toro® EVOLUTION™ irrigation controller
The Toro Evolution controller was inspired by smart phone technology and uses control buttons that look like smart phone icons. The controller makes it easy for users to set up irrigation schedules, adjust timing and amounts of water. It also comes with software so that the system can be programmed using a PC or laptop, with the information transferred from the controller via a USB stick.

Home security
Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt
American company Schlage has released to Australia its Sense Smart Deadbolt. The deadbolt features a digital touchscreen keypad to enter access codes, but can also be locked and unlocked with iOS and Android smart phones using a Bluetooth connection and app. The app can also be used to check the lock’s usage history, change and delete access codes as well as check the lock’s current status when within Bluetooth range.

Yale Alarm Kit
The Yale Alarm Kit gives users the ability to check their home at any time using the Yale Alarm app on their phone, as well as receive alerts and notifications if the alarm is triggered.

The kit consists of a smart phone alarm controller, siren, remote keypad, PIR image camera, wireless PIR, door/window contact and a remote controller. There are 40 additional devices that can be added to the system to tailor a customer’s needs, including cameras, keypads, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, power switches, and it can even be integrated with the Yale Smart Lock on the front door, controlling them all from the one app.