Between classic appliance made smart and multiple new types of helpful household robots, smart gadgets are popping up left and right that will make your work around the house a little easier. Whether you prefer to use them individually or as part of a smart home ecosystem, here are some of the best smart household devices on the market — and how they can help you.
Smart Home Appliance picture via Shutterstock
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Your Regular Appliances, Made Smart
One of the first connected appliances the world ever saw was the internet-connected fridge, all the way back in 2000. While the idea was that it could keep an inventory of what you had and what you were running out of, the concept never quite caught on. These days, almost every home appliance has been connected and 'smartened' in some way, most of which make far more sense than the smart fridge concept ever did.
Each company that produces smart appliances will have a different definition of smart, of course. Some use it to refer to appliances that are loaded with sensors and special features — such as dishwashers that automatically adjust the heat and cycle depending on its contents, for example. However in this case we're looking for connected devices — WiFi enabled appliances that can be accessed or monitored remotely from a mobile app.
While many manufacturers' smart appliance ranges haven't managed to make their way down under, it's not impossible to find appliances with all levels and manner of smarts. The most high-tech appliances available here would be Samsung's range of connected ovens, washing machines, air conditioners and yes, fridges. Samsung even offers the Samsung Smart Home app, a hub that can automate certain combinations of smart Samsung devices in your home. So what are the potential uses of this type of smart appliance?
One of the best timesaving features of WiFi connected devices is the ability to control your appliances remotely — set your washing machine to finish its cycle just before you get home, for example, or preheat your oven from the supermarket while you're buying your ingredients. While you will have to have a certain level of preparedness to make this work (the washing machine can't pack your clothes inside it by itself, for example) it'll save you precious time if you're often out and about.
Many smart appliances will also send notifications or allow you to check on the status of your washing/cooking/cleaning — for example, one of Samsung's high range connected ovens includes a probe that will monitor the interior temperature of meat being cooked and let you know when it's ready, without you having to open the door and let all the heat out in the process.
Each of these appliances will be able to save you anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours on their own, but in a connected smart home environment they can do even better — but more on that later.
Robots For Your Home
iRobot's puck-shaped little Roomba vacuum was one of the first devices that let the idea of household robots finally move into the mainstream. These automated vacuum cleaners were equipped with sensors so they could make their way around your house, sweeping and vacuuming up all your dirt and grime without you having to lift a finger (except to tap a button on the Roomba app to deploy your little cleaning bot).
Samsung has recently released its new POWERbot with WiFi-connectivity, and a design that sits halfway between Similar robot vacuums are now one of the most common types of household robots around, though after the success of the Roomba, manufacturers are seeing plenty of room for development.
iRobot is continuing to come up with new ideas around a similar concept, with its most recent being a mopping robot called Braava — built around the same concept as a Roomba, but instead set to mop hardwood or tiled floors. Another robot, the Rydis H67 Pro by Moneual is designed for a dual function — both mopping and vacuuming, though reviews of the hybrid robot suggest they've still got a while to go to get the concept as polished as the standard robot vacuum.
The robotic vacuum concept has even been taken outside, with the Robomow fleet of automatic mowers claiming to take care of that overgrown lawn while your vac-bot inside fixes up the carpet. Unfortunately it looks like Robomow is still seeking a distributor in Australia, however.
Moving this concept to a vertical design are concepts like Ecovacs' Winbot — a window-cleaning robot. While it's apparently not without its flaws either, it's still a decent solution for people whose windows rarely get a clean if left to manual manpower — and it's another step towards more complete automation of boring household chores.
Reduce Your Effort With A Smart Hub
While all of these devices are useful timesavers on their own, putting them all together into a series of automation programs will make things even easier for you. One of the best, and most accessible automation programs is IFTTT, which is currently compatible with a huge number of smart home devices.
With IFTTT, you create 'recipes' to automate your life — for example, you can create a 'Home Time' recipe that could, for example, turn on your air-conditioning, start the washing machine cycle and preheat the oven so that everything's ready to go once you get home. You can also combine input from smart gadgets around your house, such as motion sensors or smart door locks to create recipes that, for example, automatically switch on your robot vacuum when you leave the house in the morning.
The combinations are endless, and companies like WeMo and DLink both have a range of sensors and gadgets that can be easily paired with IFTTT for home automation. WeMo's WiFi connected switches, for example, can be turned on an off remotely with a press of a button, or as part of a recipe. This means that 'dumb' devices equipped with a hard on/off switch (like standing fans or heaters, for one) can be automated just like more expensive smart devices.
Given, this kind of exhaustive automation may take a weekend or two to set up, but once you have that done then your home will basically take care of itself.
One of the most exciting technologies to arrive on the smart home scene recently is the Amazon Echo, home to the voice activated smart assistant, Alexa. Alexa is a small device that sits in your home and is always listening out for voice commands or questions. It's automatically compatible with a number of different home automation technologies, but can also be linked to your entire home automation system via IFTTT.
Unfortunately Alexa isn't technically available in Australia yet, though if you buy your Echo from overseas then you shouldn't have any problems setting it up in your household.
While we're still a far cry from the robot butlers of sci-fi that will do all your washing, cleaning and cooking for you automatically, there are still a number of automated technologies that will make your daily and weekly chores far less of a pain to complete. So what are you waiting for? Even if you can't afford the whole package, every smart home has to start somewhere.