He strides into his dark apartment and nothing stirred. All of a sudden, a low timbre rings out across the room. "I'm home," he says, seemingly to no-one, but all of a sudden the room is basked in a soft white light, with gadgets powered up, screens ready to be used and music softly dancing in the background. This is the automated home from Minority Report, and thanks to awesome gadgets like the Belkin WeMo, it's closer than you think.
What Is It?
The Belkin WeMo is a home automation gadget that acts as a digital go-between. Basically in its simplest form, it acts as a Wi-Fi-enabled power-point adaptor for your lamps, televisions, irons, kettles — basically anything that has a plug.
That adapter then connects to your Wi-Fi network and allows you to control the device plugged into it via an app on your Apple or Android-powered smartphone.
The WeMo also comes with a motion sensor that you can use to trigger contextual events. For example, turn the lights on when the motion sensor is activated at night so you don't fall face first into your kitchen sink. That sort of thing.
What the WeMo plug system does isn't a new concept, but it's certainly the most innovative thing I have seen in a long time. There's nothing to stop you doing the same thing with an Arduino system, a Raspberry Pi or even a Lego Mindstorms kit, but the WeMo is safe, good-looking, easy to use, off-the-shelf hardware that you don't need to hack to get it to automate your home.
Anything that has a plug can now be controlled via your smartphone. I think I spent 20 minutes turning one of my Ikea lamps on and off when I set it up at home. Speaking of set-up: it's possibly the easiest gadget to get going I have ever seen.
When you plug the WeMo into your wall, it puts out its own bespoke Wi-Fi connection. Connect your smartphone to the WeMo of your choice and then open the WeMo companion app. Tell the app which Wi-Fi network you want the plugs to use and you're away. You can customise your WeMo switches by giving them names (like Iron, Lamp or TV, for example) which makes it simple to get your house in order with the tap of a screen.
The motion sensor is also great. It pairs the same way as the standard plug and you can use it to trigger events around your house. I set it up at the top of my stairs, and set a rule that said if it detected motion activated after 10pm it would trigger the light downstairs. I have never felt more safe getting a glass of water at 1am.
Because the plugs have to house a lot of gear, they're quite cumbersome. That means if you have a horizontal power-point rather than a vertical one, you're not going to be able to use both of the plugs. There's an easy fix for it though: if you're going to plug a WeMo into a horizontal power-point, use a powerboard instead. You'll gain plugs rather than losing them.
The software is also a little on the crash-prone side. Get used to waiting a few beats for a tab or two to respond.
Should You Buy It?
Of course you should. Why wouldn't you want something that lets you control your house with from your smartphone. Sure there are a few bugs to iron out, but the benefit of home automation far outweighs a few teething issues.