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New sensor technologies promise to revolutionize the way we live our lives by offering increasing control over the conditions we live in. Smart technology aims to help you look after your home. New systems have been created that use artificial intelligence algorithms to adjust to the user’s preferences, for instance regulating conditions such as heat and humidity throughout the day in response to light levels, user action and the time.
Thermostats, such as those by Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell, learn your schedule, making sure energy is not used to heat up the house when nobody is in, saving money on energy bills and reducing the impact on the environment.
Honeywell’s technology lets the user assign a ‘geofence’ of up to seven miles around the thermostat, setting up ‘away mode’ when the user moves past these set boundaries. When you cross over the geofence on your return home, the heating will snap back on, making sure you do not return to a cold house.
Nest learns how long your home takes to warm up and can schedule the heating to come on at the optimum time for your needs. If you connect the device to your Wi-Fi you can have access to current and updated information about your house from a mobile device.
The Nest has three temperature sensors which are paired with sensors that monitor humidity, light and motion. Using this information, the Nest determines when you are not at home and can adjust its schedule accordingly.
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To monitor the temperature of the environment, the Nest uses a digital temperature sensor. Silicon-based temperature sensors are a new technology that eliminates the need for analogue-to-digital converters, a component that would be necessary for traditional temperature sensors such as thermistors, resistance temperature detectors and thermacouples.
There are two main ways that silicon-based temperature sensors work. One type uses the known properties of two transistors, such as their identical densities, to determine the way in which they differ. If there is a difference in the base-emitter voltage (VBE) between the transistors, this can be used to calculate the corresponding difference in temperature. Another technique also uses VBE, employing the principle that this voltage varies inversely with temperature (-2 mC/°C). If the difference between absolute VBE for different transistors is accounted for, a value for temperature can be measured and converted into a scale, such as degrees Celsius. This enables constant temperature analysis with measurements available at any time.
Nest similarly measures the humidity of a room to offer maximum comfort. Humidity can be measured using two separate sensing principles: capacitive and resistive measurements.
The former is the most common, and works by using two electrical conductors. Between these conductors, a non-conductive film layer helps create an electrical field. Moisture in the air changes the voltage of the electrical field between the conductors. These changes in voltage are then converted into a measurement of humidity.
Humidity sensors are commonly used in industrial settings where humidity may adversely affect the cost output and quality of products, and in domestic settings where our comfort relies on a quality HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system.
Creating An Atmosphere
Lighting systems are also becoming a more connected and intuitive part of user’s lives. Philips’ Hue lights emphasize a unique brand of personalization, connecting their users to their light bulbs through their phones.
The lights can switch color, allowing users to program an automatic switch to soft, cosier tones in the evenings. Additionally, timers and notifications can be set so that the lights strobe gently when the clock runs out.
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It is not only lights that have become intelligent; blinds have also been given the smart treatment. Ikea has rolled out a new set of automated blinds that are voice activated just like home assistant systems Alexa and Amazon Echo.
Applications such as the Nest thermometer, which adjusts itself to changing room conditions, are mostly provided with their information via an internet connection.
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This is the case with desktop application Flux, which assesses a user’s location to adjust light levels and blue light exposure from computer screens as the sun goes down. However, more sophisticated technologies such as Nest lso use light sensors to detect the particular light level in a room.
Ambient light sensors detect and adjust to light levels in a similar way to the human eye. They are used in a variety of applications, such as the automatic dimming of lights in a car so as not to distract the driver, control of the intensity of car headlights and in the commercial dimming of offices and premises at night.
They work by converting light into a current or voltage using a photodiode. When light enters the photodiode, most of the photons pass through, creating an electron-hole pair. An electric field separates electron-hole pairs; the electrons will move towards the cathode, and the holes towards the anode, resulting in a photocurrent. The magnitude of the photocurrent when converted into a digital signal informs the technology of the current light level.
Homes of the Future
Technology is beginning to make our home lives more comfortable, with simple and innovative solutions that take much of the work out of manually monitoring the atmosphere of your home. As the size of the Internet of Things grows we can expect our homes to become well-tuned machines, responding to human needs as and when they are required.
- Ordering coffee by Wi-Fi is now possible using the smarter coffee machine which gives you fresh coffee at the touch of a button. Smarter Coffee 2.0 also features Alexa and Google Assistant integration.
- The Petxi Treat Cam allows you to keep an eye on your pets and give them some treats whilst you are out of the house.
- No more thumbing around for your keys; the Kevo Smartlock lets you open your door with or without your phone and send one-use digital keys to friends and family.
- Roomba vacuums take on chores for you and is able to be programmed to vacuum specific rooms by name at certain times of day and can empty itself when done.
While controversial, artificial intelligence in the home is becoming increasingly mainstream with Amazon Echo, the smart speaker that can play music, control smart homes and provide information, news and weather from voice commands.
Whilst such a responsive home may seem wasteful and excessive, smart-homes are expected to be more efficient than houses running on conventional systems. Heating and lighting that responds to the environment is more efficient and allows more flexibility in your routine and everyday life. Rigid timers are a thing of the past and smart technology allows you to save money and waste less time. Crucially, a home’s environmental impact can be significantly reduced at prices that are becoming increasingly accessible as the technology advances.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on the 24th May, 2019.