(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dear PropellerHeads: The last time I looked into home automation gadgets it seemed like you needed a degree in electrical engineering to install them. Have things gotten any better?
Answer: Ever since "The Jetsons," we've just assumed that one day smart machines would have the coffee and toast waiting for us when we got out of bed. That day might be here.
Automated control of lights, appliances and other household devices has been possible since at least 1978, when Radio Shack began selling the necessary hardware to hobbyists.
These usually were installed by electricians, contractors or homeowners comfortable with electrical wiring. Nothing like a botched installation to get the old propeller spinning.
Two recent advances have made home automation accessible to the consumer. First is the "Internet of Things," referring to things like light bulbs and power outlets with Wi-Fi capabilities. These come with software that allows you to control them remotely.
But the second technology, a web-based service called "IFTTT," makes them even more interesting.
IFTTT (ifttt.com) stands for "If This Then That" and is pronounced like "gift" without the "g." We covered this service in 2012, when it was mostly used for automating web services.
In response to various "triggers," IFTTT will fire actions you define.
For example, "If I update my Facebook status, publish that update to Twitter also."
Triggers and actions are decoupled, making the service flexible. Triggers can be based on the date and time, the value of stocks or the weather. I configured IFTTT to text me when the temperature hits 60 degrees outside so I could go exercise.
In the last couple of years, IFTTT has added support for consumer- friendly home automation devices with Internet connectivity.
For example, it now works with the WeMo Home Automation line from Belkin (bit.ly/1cvQZTs). The WeMo Switch plugs into any outlet, then you plug into the switch anything you want to control.
Since the switch is Wi-Fi enabled, you can turn on your TV (or whatever) from your office, to keep the dog company.
There's also a motion sensor, a light switch and the Insight Switch for monitoring energy usage. The real fun comes in adding IFTTT to the mix, with "recipes" like "If the sun sets, turn on my outdoor lights" or "If motion is detected while I'm away, turn on the TV."
SmartThings (smartthings.com) sells similar products, as well as presence sensors (to track comings and goings), moisture sensors (to catch a flooding basement early) and gadgets that lock or unlock doors and detect opening and closing windows.
Try IFTTT recipes like "If I approach the house, unlock the front door" or "If someone opens the liquor cabinet, call my phone." Use iPhone's location service to tell it "If I turn onto my street, raise the garage door." Locked out of the house? "If I check in via FourSquare, unlock my door."
The Philips "Hue" light bulb (meethue.com) is versatile, so "If it starts to rain, change the light color to blue" or "If I'm tagged in a Facebook photo, blink the lights." Waiting for an important email? "If I get an email from a specific address, turn the lights on bright to notify me."
But IFTTT isn't just for home automation. Withings (withings.com) produces Wi-Fi-enabled scales, blood pressure monitors, and a fitness tracker called "Pulse."
Use the service to automatically log your weigh-ins to a Google spreadsheet, or to automatically email your blood pressure readings to your doctor. Get an email every morning showing what activity the Pulse logged the previous day.
Jawbone's UP is a wearable fitness band (jawbone.com/up) that tracks movement and sleep. Combined with the Hue, IFTTT can turn the lights on when you wake up. Or, use it to update your Facebook status every time you walk 10,000 steps.
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