Category: Home / building automation and security

Frigidaire offers a window-mount room air-conditioner that connects to your home network

Article

Google Home welcomes 12 new partners in big smart home update | CNET

Frigidaire Cool Connect uses app-linked smarts to chill hot homes | CNet

Dreading summer already? Frigidaire’s smart window air conditioner lets you cool on demand | Digital Trends

From the horse’s mouth

Frigidaire USA

Frigidaire Smart Room Air Conditioner with Wifi Control

Product Page (8000 BTU model / 10000 BTU model / 12000 BTU model )

My Comments

Typically, the traditional single-piece room air-conditioner that was installed through a window or a wall cut-out was never seen as anything special by their manufacturers. These noisy boxes that kept your room cool (or warm in the case of reverse-cycle units) didn’t come with anything special as far as their features were concerned.

Recently-issued models started to come with remote control abilities but could be controlled using your home network thanks to a Tado or similar “virtual-remote-control” kit. But Frigidaire raised the ante for this class of air-conditioner by offering a model that can directly work with your home network.

The Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner can be installed in a window like the rest of these beasts but this is where the similarity stops. Here, it looks very similar to one of the advanced network-capable multiroom speakers thanks to a mesh-like grille that covers the bottom half of the unit. The top edge of the unit has the output vents that blow the air upwards and may limit its installation to somewhere up to halfway up the wall.

As well, the essential controls such as to turn it off and on or adjust the comfort level are simply touch-buttons on the top edge towards the front while the temperature is shown through the front of the unit. There is also a card remote control that you use for managing the essential functions from afar.

But the difference with this room air-conditioner compared to the others out there is that can connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and be controlled using an iOS or Android app. Here, you can control the essential functions or set the 24-hour timer for pre-emptive scheduled cooling such as to have your place cool before you arrive. Here, these functions can be managed over the Internet, which can be good for starting the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner to get the home cool well before you arrive as a way of dodging that heat-wave.

A feature that impressed me about the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner is that you can have a cluster of these units controlled as a group. This can be of use with larger areas where a single unit isn’t enough to cool a room or premises down. Or you have individual units installed in particular rooms like a bedroom and the living room but want to manage them both at once for actions like dropping that heat-wave temperature down or turning them off when it’s cold enough.

Let’s not forget that you can use a device that supports the Google Home or Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistants to control the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner. Here, you could issue commands for the essential functions like turning the system on or off or increasing or decreasing the comfort level.

What has been shown here is that Frigidaire, now a part of the Electrolux appliance behemoth, is raising the bar for an appliance class often overlooked by many other appliance manufacturers. Here, they have offered a single-piece window-mount room air-conditioner that can be part of the connected home.

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Google demonstrates their Google Home concept during Super Bowl 2017

Part of the experience of watching American Football’s annual ultimate playoff that occurs every February is to see the ads that are run during the commercial breaks. This is because, a company has to stump up at least US$5 million per “spot” to get an ad in front of the USA’s many eyeballs who will be watching the Super Bowl. Here, it is also the time that advertisers pull out the stops to show the most impressive and memorable commercials that could end up being run when they want to extend the campaign further.

Google used this year’s Super Bowl to demonstrate the concept of their Google Home voice-activated home assistant platform competing with Amazon Alexa. But is shows what these voice-operated home assistants are all about. Most of the functionality you will see in this ad will require you to install smart-home devices that control your existing lighting or heating.

Have a look at this if you missed it during this year’s “ad parade”.

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Microsoft answers Amazon and Google without reinventing the wheel

Articles

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

These Windows 10 computers will be part of Microsoft’s smart-home vision

Microsoft takes aim at Amazon’s Echo with Windows 10 HomeHub feature | The Verge

Windows 10 “Home Hub” feature will take on Amazon Echo and more | ARS Technica

How and why Microsoft is stepping up its focus on ‘families’ with Windows 10 | ZDNet

Home Hub, la réponse de Microsoft à Amazon Echo et Google Home | Ere Numérique (French Language / Langue Française)

My Comments

Microsoft and Apple recently built their voice-driven personal assistants in to their regular-computer operating systems rather than confining this class of software to mobile devices. As well, Apple baked in the HomeKit smart-home framework in to the iOS mobile-device operating system to make it work with devices that represent the Internet Of Things or the smart home.

But Amazon and Google went ahead with voice-activated smart-home assistants being part of their network-connected wireless-speaker products. These would work with some of the smart-home devices and offer calendar and similar functionality for the home at your request.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

These “adaptive all-in-one” computers like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 can be part of the “smart home”

Microsoft has decided to go another path for integrating the smart home and the voice-driven personal assistant concept by working on another function that will appear in an upcoming major functionality-driven Windows 10 update. This is to be called “Home Hub” which is destined for the “Redstone 3” Windows 10 functionality update, intended to appear after the “Creators Update”.

The software is intended to be able to work on a regular desktop or laptop computer that can run the Windows 10 operating system. Here, it could easily put new life in to the “all-in-one” computer design including those “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, pushing them as a computer that can exist on the kitchen bench. It can also put the midget computers known as the “NUC” (Next Unit Of Computing) devices to use by having them connected to that small flatscreen TV typically used to watch daytime TV content. Let’s not forget that they will earn their keep with all of the detachable and convertible “2-in-1” computers working as a tablet but can make more use out of existing desktop and laptop computers.

ASUS VivoStick press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS VivoStick – their answer to Intel’s Compute Stick – can repurpose that small flatscreen TV as a monitor for the central computer

Here, this functionality is centred around a common household account which appointments and other resources can be shared to. It effectively serves the same purpose as the fridge door which ends up as the household’s noticeboard. These events will appear on a lock-screen which shows a calendar, tasklist and other common information. There will be the ability for third-party application developers to develop apps that can share information to this “common display”, thanks to application-programming interfaces that Microsoft will offer as part of the equation.

Users can still log in to their own account using Windows Hello or their traditional login methods that the system supports to see a combined view of their personal information and the shared common information.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft wants to use the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant as part of this solution but the problem with these voice-driven assistants is that they are dows usually trained to one operator and may not handle multiple users.  In the home context, there is the issue of people’s voice changing as they get older, such as a young boy using the system initially, but facing problems with Cortana when his voice breaks as part of him being a teenager.

Like with Amazon’s and Google’s implementations, it could be feasible for you to direct the Cortana implementation to stream music from your favourite third-party music services. This, again would be facilitated with the music services’ apps having API hooks to Cortana and the other software that is part of Windows 10 Home Hub.

But there will be the ability to have the Windows 10 Home Hub also work as part of the smart home by being a control or display surface for compatible smart lights, thermostats and door locks. This will be facilitated through the use of open-frame industry standards for communication between devices and the Windows 10 Home Hub, I would suspect that one of the most common applications for this would be to see status notifications for various systems on the lock-screen or to have the ability to ask Cortana or operate a control on that lock-screen to do things like turn down the heating or close the garage door.

It has been one of Microsoft’s many efforts to provide family-focused home computing like offering some software as household-wide licenses or providing integral parental controls on the Windows platform.

But there are some questions to raise concerning Windows 10 and the Home Hub.

One of these is whether the professional, educational and enterprise variants of Windows 10 will be able toe be equipped with the Home Hub. This is more so for the “work-home” laptop scenario where people use the same computing device between their workplace or place of study and their home.

Similarly, this extends to existing Windows 10 deployments where there is the desire to use existing computers that run the operating system. It is because there will be at least a lot of households that will maintain a few Windows 10 computers in some form. One of the questions is how simple is it to integrate extant computers and user accounts including domain-linked workplace accounts in to a Home Hub setup, achieving the goal to benefit from the common calendar and lockscreen.

Apple could take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book and link Siri, HomeKit and the MacOS regular-computing platform to provide a similar “home-central” service for their platforms while avoiding the need to “reinvent the wheel”.

How Microsoft have approached the smart-home trend and answer Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home wireless speakers is to exploit their knowhow in Windows 10 and allow people to use existing computers and home networks to achieve this same goal.

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Z-Wave to be the first standards group to mandate secure IoT

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

Z-Wave now requires a secure-by-design approach for Internet Of Things devices using its technology like these room thermostats

IoT gear will need better security to win a Z-Wave badge | PC World

Previous coverage on this topic

A Clear Reality Surfaces With The Internet Of Things

EU wants to establish a security baseline for Internet Of Things

August responds to its smart lock’s security weaknesses by patching its software

My Comments

The recent Mirai botnet denial-of-service cyber-attacks including an attack against a data-security journalist have raised serious questions regarding designing the software for dedicated-purpose devices like network-infrastructure devices and the “Internet Of Things”. Here, it raised concern regarding default or hard-coded passwords along with poorly-maintained software as being a few of the issues that lead to lax security proactices for the dedicated-purpose devices.

This led to the European Union wanting to call a baseline standard for device-software security, with a customer-facing indicator similar to energy-efficiency labels on appliances or nutrition-rating labels on foodstuffs. Here, the standard wanted to look at “default-for-security” setup routines along with the issue of software maintenance.

But Z-Wave who establish a short-range wireless-connectivity standard for home-automation devices have had to answer this issue by requiring that devices using this technology implement their Security 2 (S2) secure-operations framework before the device can wear the Z-Wave logo. It is similar to various standards logos like Dolby noise reduction, DLNA or HDMI where equipment has to be compliant to these standards before they can show these logos and customers can see that logo as an indicator of compatibility.

Here, the requirement includes the use of a human-readable PIN number and/or a machine-readable QR code for authenticating devices to a Z-Wave network. As well, Z-Wave setups must implement a strong secure key exchange along with implementation of a Transport Layer Security 1.1 data tunnel for IP setups. It is mandatory for the endpoint devices like light bulbs, light switches and thermostats along with “hub” and similar devices that connect Z-Wave devices to the home network and Internet.

A question that may be raised with certain device classes like smart locks or security systems is whether a PIN number that you set using the device’s control surface, especially an “administrator” or “master” PIN number, does constitute a PIN number for the Security 2 (S2) framework.

At the moment, what Z-Wave have done is to address the issue of “secure setup” for this class of device. They haven’t dealt with the issue of software maintenance which is still a thorn in the side for dedicated-function devices and this may be something that others in the industry may need to deal with.

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Finnish building-management systems cop the brunt of cyberattacks

Article

There needs to be a level of cyber-security awareness regarding the design and maintenance of building-automation systems

There needs to be a level of cyber-security awareness regarding the design and maintenance of building-automation systems

Finns chilling as DDoS knocks out building control system | The Register

My Comments

Two apartment buildings in Finland became victims of distributed denial-of-service attacks which nobbled their building-management systems. This caused the buildings’ central heating and domestic hot water systems to enter a “safety shutdown” mode because the remote management systems were in an endless loop of rebooting and both these systems couldn’t communicate to each other. The residents ended up living in cold apartments and having cold showers because of this failure.

What is being realised is that, as part of the Internet Of Things, building-management equipment is being seen to be vulnerable, due to factors like the poor software maintenance and an attitude against hardening these systems against cyber-attacks. Then there is the issue of what level of degraded-but-safe functionality should exist for these systems if they don’t communicate to a remote management computer. This also includes the ability for the systems themselves to pass alarm information to whoever is in charge.

This situation has called out data-security issues with design and implementation of dedicated-purpose “backbone devices” connected to the Internet; along with the data-security and service-continuity risks associated with cloud-based computing. It is also an issue that is often raised with essential services like electricity, gas and water services or road-traffic management being managed by Internet-connected computers with these computers being vulnerable to cyberattack.

One of the issues raised included the use of firewalls that run up-to-date software and configurations to protect these systems from cyberattack.

I would also look at a level of fail-safe operation for building management systems that can be implemented if the Internet link to remote management computers dies; along with the ability to use cellular-telephony SMS or similar technology to send alarm messages to building management during a link-fail condition. The fail-safe mode could be set up for a goal of “safe, secure, comfortable” quasi-normal operation if the building-local system identifies itself as operating in a safe manner.

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August responds to its smart lock’s security weaknesses by patching its software

Article August Smart Lock press picture courtesy of August

IoT manufacturer caught fixing security holes | The Register

Here’s what happened when someone hacked the August Smart Lock | CNet

My Comments

The Internet Of Things, along with network hardware focused at consumers and small businesses, has been considered a thorn in the side of people who are involved with data security. This is because of a poor software-maintenance cycle associated with these devices along with customers not installing new software updates for these devices.

Recently, at the DEFCON “hack-a-thon” conference in Las Vegas, a few of the smart locks were found to have software weaknesses that made them vulnerable.

But August, who makes one of these smart locks which are retrofitted to existing “bore-through” single-cylinder tubular deadbolts, answered this issue in a manner that is considered out-of-place for the “Internet Of Things”. Here, they issued software patches to rectify these security issues and offered them as a user-downloadable firmware update.

What is a sad reality for a lot of these devices is that the manufacturer rarely maintains the firmware that runs these devices, if not at all. Some manufacturers think that this practice is about having to “add functionality” to these devices which they would rather do with subsequent models or product generations. But this kind of updating is about making sure that the software ecosystem associated with the product is secure and stable with all the “bugs” ironed out. Similarly, it is also about making sure that the product is complying with industry standards and specifications so as to work properly with other devices.

August uses the latest iterations of their smartphone apps to deploy the firmware updates to their products, typically requiring that you place your phone with the app running near the door that is equipped with these locks.

The computing security industry and computing press congratulated August on responding to the security weakness in its products through a firmware update with “The Register” describing it as being beyond the norm for the “Internet Of Everything”. But they wanted more in the form of them disclosing the nature of the threats in the lock’s firmware in a similar manner to how Microsoft, Google or Apple would disclose weaknesses in their operating-system software.

This issue also is something that is applying to home-network equipment like routers, along with toys and games that connect to the Internet. What is being called out for is a feedback loop where bugs and other software deficiencies in all these devices are called out and a simplified, if not automatic, in-field software-update process takes place whenever newer firmware that answers these problems is released. This also includes the manufacturers disclosing the security issues that have been found and explaining to customers how to mitigate the risks or update the affected software.

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Qarnot uses computers to provide free room heat for buildings

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

Qarnot Q.rad heater is actually a computer

One of the common ways of using electricity to provide room heat in a building is to use a panel or column heater that has a material like oil heated by an electric element.A variant that existed in the UK and, to some extent, Australia was a “storage heater” or “heat bank” that used a heavier material like bricks that stored more heat and was heated during overnight when the power was cheaper. Then this material diffuses this heat in to the room. These kind of heaters are able to provide this diffused heat to take the chill off a room but were expensive to run.

But Qarnot, a French cloud-computing firm, have looked at the issue of using the waste heat from a computer integrated in this heater to heat a room or building. Here, they have designed the Q.Rad which connects to your home network and electrical power and works as a data-server for their distributed-computing effort while using the waste heat to heat a room.

It also implements an integrated power meter so that you can be reimbursed for the power that it uses as part of the cloud-computing network, effectively providing “free heat”. But a question that can be raised for implementation in markets like Australia, New Zealand or, increasingly, the USA is the requirement to calculate transferred data and establish a mechanism to refund users’ bandwidth charges for this data. This is because of the practice where ISPs are either charging for data transferred or throttling users’ bandwidth if they transfer more than an allotted amount of data.

Qarnot Q.Rad exploded view press image courtesy of Qarnot

Processing power inside this heater – the waste heat from that goes to keeping you warm

The data that Qarnot processes using these heaters is typically for the likes of research labs, banks and animation studios where they “offload” calculations in to this cloud-computing array. They also have the ability to seek out distributed-computing research projects of the SETI or Folding@Home kind to keep the network alive and generating heat where needed. For data security, these heaters don’t implement any storage for the distributed-computing client’s data while implementing end-to-end encryption for this data,

Qarnot will implement an “upgrade and replace” program so that higher-speed processors are used in the Q.Rad computing heaters and there is the ability to deal with failed equipment quickly and easily to assure high availability.

Householders are still able to adjust the heater to their preferred comfort level and make it reflect their lifestyle by using a smartphone app or the controls on the heater. This kind of thermostatic control is achieved by deflecting some of the workload away from the heater that is not needed when there isn’t the need for heat output.

They rate the output of a single unit to around 500 watts which would cover a 150-300 foot area in an insulated building. Qarnot are also pitching these heaters as part of the smart-building concept by having them able to be equipped with sensors and being programmable for any IoT / building-automation application. Similarly, Qarnot have added functionality like USB or Qi wireless charging to these heaters so users can charge mobile devices on them.

At the moment, these heaters are being issued to large buildings in Europe and the USA where 20 units or more need to be deployed. But in 2017, Qarnot wants to release these heaters to individuals who want to take advantage of this heating concept. For householders, this may be seen as being advantageous for “always-needed low-output” heating applications such as kitchens, downstairs areas in split-level houses and similar areas.

In some cases, Qarnot could make it feasible to have the Q.Rad heaters provide services to a network, whether as a router, NAS, home-automation hub or something similar. This could be achieved through the use of extra hardware or software to fulfil these tasks.

What Qarnot has done is to harvest waste heat from computing processes and use this for heating rooms in buildings with little cost to the building owner.

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Telstra joins the smart-home bandwagon

Article

Telstra Is Launching A Smart Homes Monitoring System | Lifehacker Australia

Telstra Has A Smart Home Monitoring System Coming Later This Year | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Press Release

My Comments

What can a telco, pay-TV provider or ISP do when they face competition in the Internet-service, pay-TV, mobile communications or similar markets? Some of them have looked towards contributing to the smart-home market, whether offering their own service or rebranding a service offered by a specialist company under their own label.

Telstra is the latest to engage in this practice by offering a subscription smart-home service. Here, they will offer a “Watch and Monitor” security-focused service and an “Automation and Energy” home-automation service. This will be about ideas like knowing things like if a particular person has come home or whether that door that is meant to be locked is locked or whether that appliance like the iron is on or off. It can also be about having the heating turned down when no-one is up and around.

The hardware links to your home network and the Internet via Wi-Fi but most likely may use the Zigbee technology as the “low-power” wireless backbone. Each system will have a “Smart Home Hub” which links all the devices together and to the Internet and you will find that an iOS or Android mobile-platform app or a Web-based user interface will be the main control surface.

The Wi-Fi link also serves an indoor network camera and an outdoor network camera, both of which are HD-capable. There is a smart-thermostat kit which will link to your home’s heating and cooling system which may apply to those of us who use a central heating or cooling system of some sort. Telstra are also offering the Lockwood smart deadbolt which is like the Yale Real Living Connected Deadbolt that comes from ASSA Abloy. There are also the Sengled Element LED touch smart lights which are intended as replacements for most light-bulb setups along with a smart power plug that monitors current being used along with the ability to turn the appliance on or off.

Other sensors include a window sensor, a door sensor which is a magnet-reed contact sensor and a wide-beam PIR sensor that can be set up for “pet-alley” mode with all these devices talking to the Smart Hub wirelessly most likely via Zigbee technology.

Of course, like a lot of these home-automation systems, it will be a self-install package but Telstra may point you towards specialists who can help you with installation and setup requirements.

The system, which will be offered to customers irrespective of whether they maintain a Telstra communications service or not, is intended to be launched later this year.

Personally, I would like to see Telstra offer the subscription-based service as part of a cost-effective “multiple-play” telecommunications + entertainment service for those customers who value the idea of having “many eggs in one basket” by concentrating their business with one provider.

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The CSIRO considers the Internet Of Things a viable alternative to the alarm pendant

Article

Why the CSIRO is building smart homes for elderly Australians | IT News

My Comments

The typical situation to assure the welfare of an  elderly, disabled or chronically-ill person who is living alone at home is to have them wear a pendant or wristband panic-button that signals carers or loved ones if they need help.

But issues have been raised about these devices being, for example, left somewhere in the home because the person forgets to wear it after they have finished an activity which may not play well with these devices. As well, these wearable devices are only of value if they trigger the device in response to an emergency situation like a fall.

The CSIRO are looking towards the use of the “Internet Of Everything” as a way of monitoring the welfare of these people, a use case which I do frequently refer to in the context of this technology.

Here, they would use commonly-available sensor technology like the motion sensors that are part of every intruder-alarm system, or flow meters and power meters on appliances; or door-contact sensors on wardrobes or kitchen cupboards to observe for normal activity.

Along with this, the CSIRO effort also wants to use health sensors like blood-pressure monitors or scales to register a person’s health statistics and it has been valued because the patients will be wanting to know how they are doing along with the ability to provide more knowledgeable information to their doctor about their symptoms.

They want to use knowledge of past health incidents affecting elderly, disabled or chronically-ill people to train the machine-learning algorithm to identify the abnormalities at an earlier stage rather than when a serious incident occurs. Of course, any machine-learning setup needs to be able to adjust to newer legitimate changes so as to avoid any “false positives”.

A question that will always be raised is the cost to set up this kind of observation with it costing less than AUD$3000 because of the use of common technologies and components rather than specialised hardware.

The topic of privacy has also been raised because the CSIRO monitoring system is based on cloud technology and Internet-based data access, and is of importance to reduce the risk of elder abuse. Here, the goal is to allow the patients to control their data so that it is exposed to whoever they trust in a granular manner. This is more so with relatives because they may be trusting of certain people within their family.

As well, the features that have been raised as being of importance to the elderly community for this personal-health monitoring setup include the ability to know who is at the door, the ability to engage in videocalls with family and friends along with the ability to know if one has forgotten to turn off a tap or appliance. This can easily affect older people who may become increasing forgetful about these things such as a burner on the newer gas cooker being left on but turned really down or not being able to hear clearly that the washbasin tap is still running.

The effort that CSIRO is undertaking is to be able to allow an elderly or other vulnerable person to live independently yet be able to know that help is at hand while their loved ones are sure that they are well.

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Controlling your garage door or gate from your smartphone

Relevant article:

Detached garage

Very soon your smartphone could control your garage door

Smart Garage Door Systems | Postscapes

Introduction

A feature that is available for your remote-controlled garage door or gate is the ability for you to control it using your smartphone. But this feature is primarily available from a few American-based home-automation manufacturers with some companies who sell garage-door openers offering add-on kits for their products to enable them to have this functionality. This is while the rest of these vendors offer them as a kit that is retrofitted to an existing garage-door opener or gate controller.

What do they offer?

Your smartphone is your garage door remote control

Smartphone and garage door transmitter

This Android smartphone could supplant that garage door opener

This avoids the need for you to fossick for a garage-door opener transmitter or worry whether the transmitter’s battery has died when you leave or arrive and some of these systems may have the ability to let you know if that garage door is actually closed or not. This may avoid the need to glance nervously in the rear-vision mirror when you leave to see if that door is closing as I have seen someone that I have known do when they and I left their house in their car, or to turn around to check if that gate is properly closed.

There is also the opportunity for the software developer who write the smartphone apps for these garage door controllers to exploit your smartphone platform’s abilities like asking your platform’s voice-driven personal assistant (Siri, Google Now, Cortana) whether the garage door’s open or not or telling it to close the door. Similar you can set a notification to pop up using your smartphone platform’s notification interface if certain conditions are met like the garage door being open too long or at odd hours.

Wrought iron gates

Even wrought-iron gates like these can be controlled with your smartphone

The software developers can even provide support for the in-car or smartwatch interfaces that are an extension of these mobile operating systems so that your CarPlay or Android Auto infotainment setup in the car, or your Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch is your key to your garage door or gate.

Increased security and manageability

All these garage door controllers have similar functionality to a smart lock where you can issue extra keys to other people yet have the ability to take the keys away from them or provide limited usage periods for these keys.

For example, you could allow your houseguests to have access to the garage or give the keys to a friend who is storing their car in your garage. Similarly, you could allow your nanny to have access to your property through the front gates for the duration of her shift.

You gain this functionality through the mobile-platform app or a Web-based dashboard in the case of those systems that connect to your home network. In a lot of cases, the latter example allows you to manage your garage from another Internet-connected computer like your workplace’s computer.

How do they work

Connecting to the garage door or gate opener

Most of these systems are designed to work on a universal-connection setup where the smartphone controller interface mimics the manual pushbutton that is used to open the garage door from inside. This is achieved through a relay (your car has these to control the headlights, horn or starter motor from the switches on the dashboard) or an optocoupler which has its switching contacts wired in parallel to the manual pushbutton and these are brought closed for a short moment when the controller wants the door opened or closed. This action causes the garage door or the gates to start opening or closing depending on their current position. The setup allows for the circuits in both the devices to be isolated thus reducing the risk of cross-voltage damage occurring while allowing for this control.

The systems that support Wi-Fi-based connectivity also provide the ability to work with a sensor that determines whether the garage door is open or closed. This allows them to report on this status either in an event-driven manner or under control of the controller’s app. This goal can be achieved using a wireless sensor that uses an integrated tilt switch and is attached to your single-panel or multi-panel lift-up garage door; or the better units may simply allow you to connect a door-contact switch to the garage door. This can work well with roller doors, sliding or swing doors including gates.

A few of these systems even have their own video-surveillance camera or can work with IP-based video-surveillance cameras so you can see if the garage door is opening or closing as well as knowing if anyone is in the garage. Some of them also offer a visual and/or audio alert so you and others know if the garage door or gate is being opened or closed, with this functionality being offered as a “get-out-of-the-way” safety warning.

The GoGoGate controller allows for increased flexibility by permitting different wiring scenarios like a separate “open” and “close” button which may be encountered with more advanced setups. On the other hand, some garage-door-opener manufacturers may offer kits that enable you to control their products from your smartphone.

An issue that may plague a lot of these controllers is that they aren’t weatherproof to outdoor conditions and installers may have to house them in weatherproof housings if they want to use them with gates.

Connecting to your smartphone

Some of these garage door controllers connect to your smartphone using a Bluetooth 4.0 interface while most of the others use a Wi-FI network interface that is linked to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment.

A few of the controllers also offer an “own-access-point” mode where they serve as their own Wi-Fi access point just for controlling your garage door or gates. In this latter case, you have to make sure your smartphone discovers and switches to that network before you can control your garage door.

Some of the controllers like the GoGoGate system may even provide for Ethernet connectivity, perhaps in the form of using an Ethernet-based USB network adaptor. This feature cannot be discounted because it can allow the use of HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 powerline adaptors to provide a reliable network link to the home network and the Internet. Use this with a HomePlug Wi-Fi access point and you could assure reliable remote access from your car outside the garage or front gates.

Software

All of the smartphone-capable garage door controllers, like other home-automation devices, rely on control apps that are peculiar to a vendor’s controller system.

They will allow you to control multiple garage doors as long as the controllers are from the same vendor. The software even allows for property-level grouping and caters toward garages which have two or three separately-opened doors. So this means that you don’t need to install a new app for each door.

The Wi-Fi-based systems that connect to your home network also work with a management Website so you can see access logs or manage your system from a regular computer. Some of them also link to a remote-access server which would be referred to as a “cloud” setup, typically established by the vendor. This would allow for functions like email alerts or the ability to open or close your garage door from work.

Another feature to expect for some of these connected garage-door-controller systems is the ability to integrate with smart-home subsystems. This feature may be delivered in the form of a software update for better-designed systems, but some smart-home platforms like Apple’s HomeKit or Google’s Nest may require the garage-door controller system to be accepted by the platform’s vendor.

Conclusion

Although there are 11 systems on the market that link your garage door or gate to your smartphone, the market is still immature and fragmented as is the rest of the “smart-home” product market.

What needs to happen is for companies involved with garage doors and front gates for the residential and small-business market to share knowledge in order to enable the garage door or front gate to be part of the smart home. Manufacturers could sell the technology on a basis that allows different vendors to integrate in to their systems thus allowing for a quicker time-to-market for newer products or a reduced need to “reinvent the wheel”. As far as retailers go, it could include reselling the various systems whether with a new installation or to retrofit to existing installations.

For most of us, it may simply be about inquiring with your garage-door contractor about the existence of Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based garage door controllers and seeking to have them installed.

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