I must admit that I like a bit of tech. This is the Bjarke Ingels designed Friday lock, a collaboration between Friday Labs and BIG Ideas. Basically it’s a battery operated automated lock that can be retrofitted to the inside of most doors. The external face remains as is with a key however the inside snib is swapped out for this unit. When you get close to the door with your mobile phone the door lock opens up providing access. When you leave; the door locks behind you and it can also provide temporary access to guests, cleaners, workmen etc remotely. If either your phone or lock battery die then you revert to using a key, simple. Many will say why bother but I say why not. Any of these things that modernise a home are a good thing. Its fine for our cars to be modernised so why not our homes.
As an architect I need to ask all my clients how far they wish to go with home tech. A simple and easy example is blinds, I will always recommend that my clients install electrically operated curtains or blinds as it helps them manage the house better whether they realise this or not.
In our home we sleep with our blinds down, this will help reduce heating or cooling bills depending on the season, it generally feels better not seeing the reflection of the room with the darkness beyond and it gives you privacy. First thing in the morning I’ll lift most of the blinds to let in the light which reduces artificial lighting and also to connect with the outside. Then, depending on the window orientation, before heading out for the day I’ll usually drop the blinds again for a number of reasons; our fish, books & artwork do not like direct sun and also for some security and privacy. If we have low level heating or cooling running while out then this blinds down will assist. In the afternoon when we get back home then I’ll lift them up again and finally when night falls so will the blinds. Our current house has 10 large format roller blinds, if I operate them all about 4 times a day then you get 40 roller blind movements per day, sure you could just leave them down but that does not make for a well used house and this approach can lead to all sorts of health issues for both the users and the house. You can also operate them manually but why should you if it’s not that hard to avoid it.
My recommendation is to add electric motors to all your blinds with a remote controller along with an added automation module so they can be operated via a Somfy iPhone app or the Apple HomeKit app, the result is that you get all your blinds operating with a single scene button or with a little programming you can set them all on a timer. Another option is to control them with IFTT as reactions to something like leaving the house, it all sounds a little futuristic but it is a reality and the costs are very reasonable.
I have completed a number of projects with varying levels of automation such as door locks, security, CCTV, windows, swing and sliding doors, A/V, drop down movie screens and projectors, lighting, heating and cooling and recently we even automated a fridge and pre heated a sauna along with warmed stone bench seats. You need a very willing client and most are a little reserved with automation whereas some will shun it completely preferring traditional methods. Rem Koolhaas recently complained we are relinquishing too much control and privacy to our buildings but I say the more the better. Houses need to be controlled and most people either lack the knowledge or the effort to operate a house to get its best efficiencies. The privacy issue is a different issue that I am sure can be overcome. I read an article recently were people had purchased WIFI vibrators and the company was harvesting the data, they were taken to court and are now liable for huge costs for breach of privacy. You have to wonder if something like that really needs to be connected to the internet and why would anyone consent to that.
Automation has traditionally meant rolls and rolls of blue Cat 6/7/8 cables laid throughout the wall cavities and a central house server on office style data racks but we are moving away from this at a rapid rate. The larger more established providers will argue that wired technology is more reliable but does it really matter? If a light doesn’t work for a moment then you can simply get up off your ass and use the switch. I’ve used plenty of C-Bus type systems and experienced many delayed reactions and plenty of glitches which require full on re-programming. You either get a technician in or try it yourself but it’s well above my expertise as with most end users. The newer simpler tech is a lot more user friendly and a lot cheaper.
The biggest step forward has been the “internet of things” or where each item has it’s own small scale automation module in either WIFI or Bluetooth that will speak to an iPhone app. Some good examples are this Friday and also the August locks, most smart TV’s & Foxtel can be operated using an app, Sonos sound, Somfy blinds, Belkin WeMo light switches and power points, Nest or proprietary AC & heating controllers, the Ulo CCTV bird (refer previous article here), Ring door bell and Environexus switching systems amongst others. Apple released a new app called HomeKit that will aggregate all your automation apps into the single page. We are still waiting on apple to release their full version of the Apple TV but I suggest you don’t hold out waiting, get onboard with whatever is available and affordable.
I believe the trick is to make the technology as discrete as possible and look to avoid our intervention at all. A well managed house will save on energy usage and feel better, a good example is the NEST automated thermostat, this will pick up on the users patterns and make adjustments accordingly and it also goes a step further by thinking for itself and spots some potential savings with further intervention making us think about it without having to think about it.
UPDATE: I’ve read a few more articles recently about cyber security including one on Roomba mapping homes, Google’s Home device and Apple’s soon to be released HomePod recording audio and they are a worry. In speaking to my very knowledgable tech, the internet of things may be opening up a whole raft of security vulnerabilities, they all want to connect to our WiFi but we overlook the security of these devices as they create an easy gateway into our computers. This doesn’t deter me but I think we do need to tread with caution.