Au­toma­tion 2.0

Off-the-shelf so­lu­tions to im­prov­ing your home’s IQ

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Tested -

Home au­toma­tion has steadily trick­led down from the high-end to the mass mar­ket. The kind of func­tion­al­ity pre­vi­ously lim­ited to spe­cial­ist in­stal­la­tions us­ing ex­pen­sive cus­tom-de­signed sys­tems based on ei­ther a sin­gle ecosys­tem, or cob­bled to­gether from a range of prod­ucts, is now avail­able off the shelf. Adding to the speed of up­take, man­u­fac­tur­ers are mak­ing prod­ucts com­pat­i­ble with a par­tic­u­lar pro­to­col or stan­dard, such as Z-wave. You don’t need to be an elec­tron­ics tech to set-up, ei­ther: most of th­ese re­quire only lim­ited Diy­ing be­fore you’re up and run­ning.

There are ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages to both ap­proaches. The ease of use of a one-make so­lu­tion could turn into a dead end as com­po­nents or soft­ware be­come ob­so­lete. Mix­ing and match­ing prom­ises more ver­sa­til­ity, traded off against the pos­si­bil­ity of in­com­pat­i­bil­ity fur­ther down the line. Here are some of the op­tions we’ve come across.


Fully pro­gram­mable, GSM Com­man­der is ca­pa­ble of man­ag­ing ev­ery­thing from open­ing and clos­ing gates re­motely to mon­i­tor­ing en­ergy con­sump­tion. It per­forms its au­toma­tion magic ei­ther by SMS or the cloud. And, ac­cord­ing to its cre­ators Poly­gon Tech­nolo­gies, it is eas­ily pro­grammed us­ing its own Smart Setup Soft­ware, which is based on a point and click in­ter­face.

What you can use it to con­trol:

• Ac­cess. Ac­ti­vate au­to­mated gates or doors via a sim­ple dropped call from a cell­phone. If there’s a gate po­si­tion sen­sor, the home owner can be alerted if the gate has been forced or left open.

• Timed switch­ing. Turn things on and off via SMS or au­to­mat­i­cally on a set date or time. For in­stance, switch off your geyser to save elec­tric­ity, or your lights to make it look like some­one’s at home.

• Heat­ing and cool­ing. Floor heat­ing can be au­to­mat­i­cally turned on or off based on out­side tem­per­a­ture; con­ven­tional air-con­di­tion­ers can be made “smart” in the same way.

• Ir­ri­ga­tion. In ad­di­tion to turn­ing on ir­ri­ga­tion au­to­mat­i­cally as part of a daily pro­gramme, ac­ti­vat­ing Rain mode via SMS will stop the sys­tem from ir­ri­gat­ing dur­ing show­ers.

• Pool man­age­ment. If you’ve got a so­lar-heated pool, you can pro­gram the GSM Com­man­der to pump hot wa­ter into your pool only if the roof tem­per­a­ture is above your cho­sen thresh­old.

• En­ergy mon­i­tor­ing. If you are us­ing too much elec­tric­ity ac­cord­ing to pre­set cri­te­ria, the GSM Com­man­der will alert you via SMS or au­to­mat­i­cally turn off high-power loads (or both). You can also track wa­ter con­sump­tion.

An ad­di­tional func­tion of the GSM Com­man­der sys­tem can be used in con­junc­tion with your ex­ist­ing alarm sys­tem at home, or can re­place it en­tirely. It al­lows you to arm or dis­arm your home alarm via SMS, au­to­mat­i­cally if needed. Pro­gram­ming the unit to pro­vide au­toma­tion func­tion­al­ity com­bined with the alarm could, say, open and close ac­cess points, al­low­ing a set time be­tween ac­tions, turn on spe­cific lights, air-con and TV.

If you do ac­tu­ally have a bur­glar, de­tailed SMS alerts can be sent in real time via SMS (“Bur­glar has just en­tered your house via the main bed­room win­dow on DATE at TIME”). As in­trud­ers move through the build­ing, up­dated SMSS will be sent should you choose to have this

func­tion­al­ity en­abled. Load­ing neigh­bours onto the sys­tem means that they get the alerts as well and there’s an op­tional pep­per gas dis­pens­ing add-on.

In ad­di­tion to its SMS com­mu­ni­ca­tions, there’s a Web-based plat­form called Air drive ( air­ where you can view the live sta­tus of ev­ery­thing you are con­trol­ling, from lights to en­ergy con­sump­tion, in­ci­dent logs and con­trol sys­tems and ap­pli­ances, and re­pro­gram the de­vice it­self.

• To find out more: johnf@gsm­com­man­


Here’s a DIY, por­ta­ble stand-alone alarm sys­tem that not only alerts you to a breakin, but also fights back by spray­ing pep­per gas; by re­mote con­trol, if you want.

Sim­ply plug it into a wall socket and your’re good to go. When the alarm goes off, four cell­phone users are no­ti­fied via SMS. Thanks to a lis­ten-in mi­cro­phone, the user is able to ver­ify ad­ja­cent noise. The sys­tem can be checked, armed and dis­armed via SMS. There’s also power loss and re­store SMS no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Boxed with the de­vice are pep­per gas, one PIR mo­tion de­tec­tor, sound bomb siren, 1,2 A bat­tery and 2-but­ton re­mote (for arm/dis­arm and panic). An ad­di­tional re­lay out­put can be used to op­er­ate a gate mo­tor or switch a light on and off. Other func­tions in­clude a walk-through test func­tion and auto bat­tery dis­con­nect when bat­tery is low.

A so­lar panel con­nec­tor with a built-in reg­u­la­tor al­lows the unit to be used where power sup­ply is not as­sured, such as a car­a­van, gun safe or freight con­tain­ers.

A pep­per gas slave unit is avail­able that al­lows ex­pan­sion into other rooms. The gas will ei­ther spray to­gether with the master unit, or each slave unit can spray on its own.

From the same com­pany comes SMS TEM­PER­A­TURE ALERT, which pro­vides no­ti­fi­ca­tions for tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled ar­eas (think fridges, freez­ers, server rooms). It re­ports to four cell­phone users when tem­per­a­ture de­vi­ates from the range you are mon­i­tor­ing and has an LCD screen on which to check the tem­per­a­ture. It mon­i­tors power loss and is­sues SMS alerts ac­cord­ingly; an in­ter­nal 1-amp bat­tery pro­vides back-up power for two hours.

A wa­ter sen­sor can be added to no­tify uses to wa­ter lev­els fluc­tu­at­ing more than de­sired, or in case of flood­ing. Ad­di­tional sen­sor and LCD screen op­tions are avail­able, with the pos­si­bil­ity of mon­i­tor­ing up to four fridges.


If you’re tired of lug­ging around what seems like the col­lected keys to Fort Knox, Yale’s new Key­less Con­nected Smart lock could be a god­send. There’s a wide va­ri­ety of RFID ac­cess ac­ces­sory op­tions, too, rang­ing from an ac­cess card car­ried in your wal­let to an en­try tag on a lan­yard or keyring, or an ad­mis­sion sticker on your phone. You can pro­gram a com­bi­na­tion of th­ese ac­ces­sories to suit your lifestyle.

Techno-savy users will be happy to know that the Smart Liv­ing lock Z-wave mo­d­ule, which in­te­grates with most home au­toma­tion sys­tems, is fully avail­able to link the Dig­i­tal Door Lock to cur­rent sys­tems for full con­trol from any­where in the world.

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