The 50plus

Home automation


Home automation

Slowly our homes are becoming more connected. It's all part of what is known as the Internet of Things. The definition of the IoT is a 'network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.' Connected (or 'smart') homes will enable control of appliances, energy, entertainment, climate (predominately heating and hot water in the UK), lighting, security, vehicles and probably new applications we haven't yet thought of.
Home automation has been around since the use of electronics became widespread. Until the 1990s systems were standalone and often custom built. The advent of the Internet and subsequently wireless (Wi-Fi) standards for interconnecting devices enabled a multitude of home automation systems to come to market. They range from budget 'plug and play' to customer built systems requiring professional installation. They don't all 'talk' to one another.
Leading technology suppliers such as Apple, Amazon and Google are becoming established in the market and others such as British Gas have introduced local market systems. To get into the market Google's acquired a company called Nest in 2014 and to provide a view of what is happening we look at their systems in this article.
Nest's most well known device is the thermostat but they also offer cameras (indoor and outdoor), a video doorbell and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. All of them connect to the Internet and so to your mobile (smart) phone and can be voice controlled from Amazon's Alexa and Google Home.
The Nest thermostat isn't new, it was first introduced in 2011. It learns your family behaviour, preferences and surroundings to create a custom heating schedule and conserve energy when you are away. It users a number of sensors to this:

  • Multiple temperature sensors, designed to get a more precise measurement than the traditional single sensor
  • A humidity sensor to determine the moisture content of the air
  • Motion sensors (PIRs) that detect activity in the vicinity of the thermostat
  • A WiFi network connection that obtains weather data about your area from the Internet and communicate with your phone.

These sensors, coupled with inbuilt algorithms, machine learning and cloud computing allows the thermostat to learn user behaviour and preferences and adjusts the room temperature up or down accordingly and control your hot water. The Nest thermostat is relatively straightforward to install but you do need to know how your heating/hot water system is wired so a professional is recommended in most cases.

Nest Protect is an integrated smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Nest quotes, 'These products should keep us safe, not annoy us'. The alarm does more than sound a shrill when there's danger in the home. It speaks to you, telling you where the danger is and what the problem is, before it sounds a piercing alarm. It also gives you a friendly heads-up warning that you can silence with a wave of your hand - no more swinging towels or brooms to try and silence false alarms. Like the Nest thermostat the Protect also networks so can message you if the battery is running low, avoiding the low-battery chirp.

Cameras are the latest Nest devices to come to market. The Nest outdoor camera was introduced in 2016. It is designed to extend security outside the home. It enables you to keep an eye on your home 24/7 with full high definition video. Features including activity, alerts and 'talk and listen'. The Nest IQ indoor security camera was launched in 2017. It can be used for example to check that your child arrived home safely, monitor the elderly or even see if there's a stranger in your home. We haven't tested it but it is claimed that it can differentiate between a person and a cat.

The Nest video doorbell is due for launch in the first quarter of 2018. We understand features will include:

  • The ability to see people head to toe at close range, as well as parcels on the ground via an HD camera with a 160 degree field of view and a 4:3 aspect ratio
  • 24/7 live streaming, HDR imaging and Night Vision
  • The ability to light up and send you an alert when someone approaches, even if they don't ring the bell
  • Via a subscription to Nest Aware, tell you exactly who's there with familiar face alerts
  • Speaking of pre-recorded messages to visitors, controlled from your phone.

For more information on home automation and smart devices, or for help with installing the products in your home, please contact us on 0845 22 50 495 or email


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