In the realm of the sensors: the Idealog guide to the latest in domestic smart-tech

From the humble origins of the first smoke detector (thanks Francis Robbins Upton, circa 1890!) we well and truly appear to be entering the age of the smart home. We’ve come a long way baby.

Sure, a lot of ink has been spilled about the great advances in the automatic, intelligent home of the future, but until now, a lot of that writing was purely speculative, existing only in the imagination of the author or aimed purely at the very wealthy.

Not so now. Operators in New Zealand ­– including current Kiwi frontrunner Spark ­– and around the world are rushing to exploit the opportunities opened up by the increasingly low-cost capabilities of tech manufacturing nations and the ‘appification’ of pretty much everything.

So with the cleverness of devices going up and the price point coming down, let’s take a look at what’s available. 

Thank you for not smoking

While Frankie Upton may have been first on the scene with his 1890 smoke detector device, it's taken until 2015 for domestic smoke detectors to truly get smart. 

One product, Birdi, expands on the functionality of the traditional smoke/fire detector to include carbon monoxide detection, as well as a sensitivity toward a whole host of other gaseous undesirables. In fact, the Birdi monitors your home for dust, soot, temperature & humidity, how stale the air is, pollution, pollen, particulates and a bunch more.

Not only that, but Birdi can be controlled via your smart phone, meaning no more frantic tea towel-waving when your unintelligent toaster does its thing.

That’s progress.

But why burn anything in the kitchen anyway?  

Burnt food is toast

While it’s not quite available yet, the Pantelligent pan is the sensor-equipped “smart fry pan of the future”, and is currently in the process of gaining its FCC certification.

The bottom plate of the pan is equipped with monitors that measure the temperature of the pan and sends that information, via Bluetooth, to the Pantelligent app. The app then guides you as to what adjustments to make to achieve the perfect steak, salmon fillet or whatever it is you’re cooking.

Yes, you still have to actually control the temperature of the stove manually, so it’s not quite Jetsons-level yet, but it’s a start.

One for you and none for me

Of course, nothing goes with a juicy steak like your heart medication, and you won’t be enjoying those perfectly cooked meals for long if you’re forgetting to take your meds.

Adhere tech is a device that does just that, monitoring the taking (or not taking) of prescription medicines via some clever sensor/smart tech integration. Long story short, Adhere Tech monitors when and how much medication is being taken, so if Aunty Alice forgets to take her pills, or if she’s double dipping on a Friday night, a notification is sent to both the patient and caregiver informing them of the anomaly.

It’s all very smart stuff, but the company PR does make a mention of increasing ‘brand loyalty’ as one of its benefits, so if your allergies include the unwanted influence of big pharma, you might want to look around a little and buy this particular product off-brand.

Making a meth of things

If your drug of choice falls on the harder side, say, towards crystal methamphetamine, you might like to take a closer look at that smoke detector-type thing stuck to your flat’s ceiling.

Savvy Kiwi landlords, wary of the negative impact that having a meth lab pop up in one of their properties can bring (literally tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up or even demolition), are now installing meth detectors, known as MethMinders.

The devices can detect the presence of the chemicals associated with meth production, then silently alert a monitoring team who, in turn, contact the landlord or the authorities.

And if that’s not a recipe for paranoia, I don’t know what is.

Get rid of the clap

But let’s lighten things up a bit.

Sure, those clap-controlled-lighting systems have been around forever, but what about the busy executive that doesn’t have time to clap?

She’ll be needing a Hue Personal Wireless Lighting systems from Philips ($279.95).

Using the Hue app, hypothetical executives can enjoy the god-like power of turning the house lights on and off when they’re not there with the simple swipe of a finger. There’s a whole bunch of clever additional options too: you can optimise up to 50 lights specifically for easy reading, switch to ‘energize’ mode for an energy boost, or switch the house to ‘relaxing’ soft-light mode.

It’s not just for high flyers of either. The unwashed masses can enjoy great savings, up to $200 a year, just making sure lights turn off when they’re not in the room. Installing the sensors is a pretty simple exercise, they’re cheap and they can save you a bunch. (The same holds true for that heated towel rail, by the way. Save yourself some money, and the environment, by installing a timer.)

Convinced, gimmie

So you’re ready to take the plunge. Among the first thing to consider is ease of use. If you’re going to automate the little things life, it’s all for naught if they don’t talk to each other nicely.

Kickstarter project, Jucebox, a “universal device connector”, is one such attempt to bring it all together. Described as “a relationship counsellor for devices”, Jucebox is designed to make all your devices talk to each other through a central laptop-sized hub.

Full credit to the Jucebox team, but the tech’s still in its early days, maybe days too early for the average crowdfunder investor to lay down their dollars to get behind Jucebox’s impressive visioneering. Just $3,664 of the company’s $250,000 crowdfunding goal has been achieved so far, and with only seven days to go it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  

A better option for the man on the street perhaps is the options offered by Belkin. You can turn any electrical device into a remotely operated device with the Belkin WeMo Switch ($79.99). Get the WeMo Motion Detector too ($134.98 for the set) and you’ve got an automated device. Get the app too, and you can dictate rules around what the device does as well.