Three Innovations in Smart Home Technology

Lights, thermostats, and building automation systems have come a long way over the past century.

A History of Lighting, HVAC Controls, and Building Automation

In 1879, Thomas Edison developed the first commercially-viable electric light bulb. Four years later, Warren Johnson earned a patent for his multi-room thermostat designed to control a school’s furnace. In effect, Johnson’s thermostat was also the first building automation system. It took more than a century for light bulbs, thermostats, and building controls to undergo significant changes, so I thought I’d start the year off with a look at three modern versions of these essential technologies.

LED There Be Light

Gone are the days when a light bulb’s two settings, on and off, could be controlled with a single-pole single-throw switch. Today’s high-end LED lights are core components of the Internet of Things (IoT), offering multiple hues and brightnesses, while operating much more efficiently than their monochromic, binary ancestors. In keeping with these advances in luminary technology, WiZconnected recently announced that its lighting products now include scheduled presets that adjust the room lighting according to the users’ lifestyle.

Image courtesy of WiZconnected

Image courtesy of WiZconnected

The WiZ’s factory presets bring the lights up gradually in the morning, with dim, soft lighting to help residents wake up, and then gradually brightens and shifts the hue to daylighting for increased productivity. As nighttime approaches, the lights go back to a relaxing warm white to encourage the evening wind-down.

The presets are programmed by the user through an app; the technologically-challenged consumer can manually adjust the lights with an app, dedicated remote, wall switch, or voice command (when integrated with Amazon Alexa or Google Home), while the bulb remembers the settings and uses that data to automatically reprogram the presets – kind of like the Nest thermostat, but for lighting. And the serious geek will enjoy (and most likely tweak) an array of IFTTT (If This Then That) programs for the WiZ.

Edison’s luminary was a simple carbon filament (later replaced by tungsten) surrounded by an inert gas in a sealed glass bulb. WiZ technology includes tricolor LEDs controlled by a 32-bit processor with 2MB of flash memory – more computing power than NASA used to send humans to the moon. That’s one giant leap for illumination.

Temperature Control

I remember when a thermostat consisted of a bimetallic strip, a dial indicator, and a mercury switch – the basic technology behind Warren Johnson’s temperature control system. Johnson Controls, founded by Warren Johnson himself, now makes a thermostat that features semiconductor sensors, a translucent OLED touchscreen, and a decision-making microcontroller running Windows 10 IoT Core. The GLAS thermostat takes the Nest concept a few steps further, giving more control to the user through a smart touchscreen interface or Cortana-based voice input. In addition to controlling temperature, the GLAS also monitors and displays indoor humidity and air quality, and accesses local weather stations to report outdoor pollen and pollution levels. And since the goal of a smart thermostat is to conserve energy while maintaining comfort, the GLAS shows users a graph of their energy usage compared to a consumer using a single-setting thermostat.

Me? I’m still waiting for a smart thermostat that will throw another log into my wood stove on days like today.

Image courtesy of Johnson Controls

Image courtesy of Johnson Controls

1-Ring to Rule Them All

Sergo Oganov wanted to automate his home but he found the available options unsatisfactory, so he assembled a team of engineers and founded 1-Ring, an upstart company that shot for the Moon, so to speak. The Moon is 1-Ring’s product, a home automation and security device. The Moon features a levitating camera that can silently rotate in any direction, responding to noises and voice commands. It supports the major wireless smart home communication protocols like WiFi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth, and is compatible with SmartThings, Alexa, and IFTTT. Its dedicated remote even has an IR output that lets it work as a universal remote for legacy home entertainment systems. You can learn more about the Moon at 1-Ring’s crowdfunding page.

Image courtesy of 1-Ring

Image courtesy of 1-Ring

My first home automation product was an X-10 system, which sent commands from the controller to outlet adapters by superimposing data onto the power lines. I found out later that seasoned users often referred to X-10 as “plug and pray.” With the wireless options available these days, perhaps their prayers have been answered.


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