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We share our personal experiences with our favorite tech products in depth.

Smart bulbs in smart homes

Leaving for family trips used to be more stressful. With UBER, baby equipment and baggage delivery services, Airbnb, Amazon Fresh, you can get to your destination easily and its setup - ready to enjoy. However, we want our homes to be left behind secure and welcoming upon our return.

I would always use timers to switch lights off and on while the house was empty. The process was at least 1 hour long to program and install them all around the house. Then upon return, you have to remove them, because someone would unplug it to charge a phone or computer or vacuum cleaner and mess up the mechanical programming.

Subsequently, I used smart bulbs that were programmed with software instead of switches using the ADT Pulse router as the hub and the corresponding phone app or website to control the accessories. Many hubs are available now using various types of technology. In my Product Blog, I describe the Apple TV hub and HomeKit accessories, along with the Ooma Home Telephone hub with its line of smart sensors. The ADT Pulse portal uses Z-wave technology to communicate with wireless sensors, cameras and light bulbs so that you can program automations and activate sensors using your cell phone. Apple HomeKit and Ooma use Wi-fi and Bluetooth to communicate with their accessories. We’ll explore the pros and cons of these and other network and platform technologies in future smart home articles.

Since I own all three of the hubs mentioned above, I thought about which one would be the most functional for me in the near future for adding upgraded light bulbs and cameras. I chose the Apple HomeKit because I can use Siri for voice control via the Apple TV remote control at home or my iPad wherever I am. Who doesn’t want to say, “Bedroom lights off, security cameras on”? Also, I can add accessories from different brands to the HomeKit platform, similar to ADT Pulse, but unlike Ooma. On the horizon is a future review of a mobile app that connects, integrates and automates all your other apps and brands using your integrated phone’s voice command capabilities.

After selecting smart light bulbs based on five star customer reviews, I searched for indoor security cameras compatible with HomeKit. I found some candidates that were priced around $200 - the average for security cameras. But suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head! I thought at first, “Shouldn’t I be able to use cell phone or tablet cameras as security cameras when I’m asleep? There must be an app for that!” (Yes, I like to know what time the kids get home after I’ve gone to sleep!) I realized that I could re-use old mobile devices as security cameras and so much more! Sure enough, a quick key word search in the app store yielded a highly rated and free app called Alfred Home Security Camera: DIY CCTV, IP Camera, Webcam.

Features of the Alfred Home Security app include:

-- Remote access: stream live video wherever you are.
-- Motion sensor & instant alerts: always know when something happens. (currently Android only)
-- Free cloud storage: save and keep videos.
-- Walkie-talkie: interact with family, pets, delivery man, or deter intruder.
-- 360 camera: cover a larger area with both lenses.
-- Zoom: catch the tiniest details

I am now on the hunt for attractive, inconspicuous and unobtrusive device stands, holders and mounts; these small computers must look good in my decor after all!

So far, I am pleased with the functionality of the Alfred app and connecting smart light bulbs to the HomeKit app or other platforms is generally easy. Be aware that some smart bulb brands are less or more reliable and will disconnect from the network after power loss or spikes, so read customer reviews before purchasing. As an engineer, I always advise plugging complex electronics into surge protected power strips, which are also available in smart versions and can be controlled with apps for energy conservation and home appliance automations. Also, each smart accessory brand may have its own app in order to build brand loyalty and for smart home beginners. While shopping for smart home devices, It’s recommended to know in advance if you will eventually connect with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Alexa or use an app like IFTTT for an advanced smart home. Many devices connect with all three, some do not. Planning ahead is good idea, but not required to get started.

The ability to use energy when needed and modify or improve behavior based on data that is stored and accessible is such a good feeling of accomplishment. Self-improvement and sustainability goals can both be achieved more easily with a smart home.

For techies and non-techies alike, smart bulbs and smart homes are part of the huge and growing Internet of Things (IoT) market where every device talks to someone or each other. This market includes cars, transportation, wearables, industrial, medicine, agriculture, banking, retail and even insurance. The challenges and opportunities are many and the supporting technologies will be reviewed by us to keep women consumers informed. Stay tuned.

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