Smart Home 2.0
1 September 2020
When I started my sports technology consulting practice, TechFoundry, I also started working from home for the first time. Little did I know it’d be preparing me for the pandemic work lifestyle. But what it did make me aware of was that now I could work from anywhere. And as we had moved north for my work with the Red Wings and Vikings, it was time to get back to more suitable climates and closer to family and friends in Texas. Debbie was ecstatic.
As working from home also included travel, Dallas was the ideal place to land as DFW, being a major hub, could get me almost anywhere in the country and back in the same day if I needed to. Plus it was close to family around Texas and friends right in the metroplex. Being centrally located was also the original motivation to build our home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area so we found an apartment that was convenient to the airport in Grapevine.
Not to be deterred from applying smart home tech to our apartment, I went to work re-applying the stuff I liked and worked well. But it also gave me the opportunity to try some new technology as well. One of those was mesh wifi. Having to put my router in the far side of our basement in Minnesota had limitations. One of the disappointments with our router wifi was that it didn’t quite stretch through the house to the far area upstairs. This was my garage which also had my sprinkler system controls and garage door openers. Not being able to apply smart home technology to these aspects of our home was frustrating as there were platforms I could integrate if I had sufficient coverage. Had we stuck around I would have put mesh wifi around the house as I could take advantage of some cabling that was available.
I looked into the different mesh wifi options and opted for the Eero Pro Wifi System. What attracted me to this, other than very positive reviews, was that it was designed for big homes (3 endpoints will cover 6,000 sq ft) with tons of devices and crazy-fast internet. Though our home build plans were downsize, I did plan to have a lot of devices so I didn’t want to risk under-provisioning my network as it would be the workhorse driving my smart home experience. Technically it also had professional-grade tri-band capabilities which my current and future network plans required. It was also very easy to set up as once I had the initial unit plugged into the modem the Eero app walks you through placing additional eero devices around your home. I also really liked that the Eero TrueMesh software begins learning from and optimizing for your space, devices and network usage. So every device gets a reliable connection all the time, everywhere in your home. This really brings the “smart” into smart home.
With the mesh solution and planning for our new home, this would give me the ability to cover all of the areas we’d need internet access — home, garage, patio, yard, etc. And with 2 ethernet ports on the Eero endpoints I could wire them all to ensure maximum bandwidth. The other ethernet port would be used to connectivity with other devices like voice assistants, smart TVs/Blu-Ray players, cable boxes, etc. Again, by cabling as much as possible not only would it optimize those devices but free up bandwidth on the wireless network for other hardware and services dependent on it, like mobile devices, guest wifi and security.
Another opportunity arose to test some new tech as Amazon introduced the Fire TV Cube. We had tinkered around with the Fire TV Stick USB connected to one of our smart TVs and liked the functionality. So when Amazon came out with the Cube it was a chance to get that and add native Alexa integration. We would actually reduce the number of devices (and complexity) as we could remove the Echo Dots where we had TVs.
Like the Fire TV Stick, the Cube has 4K resolution, HDR10, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. It has access to nearly every streaming service you could want and the Amazon App Store. All that’s missing is native support for YouTube and YouTube TV. The Fire TV Cube adds hands-free Amazon Alexa voice control and faster on-device voice command processing.
As I mentioned above, I cabled the Cubes to my Eero endpoints to avoid any buffering issues with video via wifi. At our new place though having the opportunity to pre-wire I will most likely have multiple ethernet ports terminated, especially areas where I’ll anticipate device density requiring connectivity and have the endpoints routing directly through the core switching.
After setting up the Arlo cameras outdoors at my folks house, I was really intrigued with how I could use cameras as part of my overall smart home footprint. Being in an apartment, outdoor was not much of an option. Indoor was a little scary after reading about security issues and breaches but I still wanted to work with cameras.
Enter Wyze. At the time they were pretty new, getting a lot of industry buzz and cheap. So I could learn how to use cameras better and not break the bank. The Arlo’s weren’t cheap but they did address specific needs.
Set up with the app was fairly straightforward and easy. During the process I had to name the camera and I usually use descriptive names by location to make them easy to remember for voice commands, scenes, etc. I asked Debbie what to call it and she says “Mike.” “Mike?” I replied, trying to think of who we knew named Mike and why. “Mike, like on Monsters Inc.” That was brilliant.
As I still had privacy concerns, I placed the camera to watch the inside of our front door but with the 110º wide angle lens I could see much of the room. This became interesting as we used it to check on our elderly dog when we were away in 1080p full HD live-stream and talk to him through the built-in speaker and microphone. You can also set up custom zone detection and receive notifications when motion or sound has been detected and see a video clip of the action. Full-motion and time lapse video clips are saved in the cloud for 14-days, for free or to a microSD card onboard the camera. They can also listen for CO2 and smoke alarms as they use advanced algorithms to recognize the unique sound patterns of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors. When either is detected, you can choose to receive a notification right to your phone so you can act quickly. The WyzeCam also has enhanced night vision with clarity up to 30 feet away even in total darkness. Use your voice to view Wyze Cam’s live stream on any Alexa or Google Assistant device with a screen.
With all these capabilities and a $20 price point I felt like I should have bought more but our apartment wasn’t that big. Everybody who bought them loved them, even deploying them outdoors though they weren’t designed for that. Lots of success stories in subzero weather. As a startup, Wyze jumped all over this and it wasn’t long before they released a purpose built outdoor camera to go along with the Wyze Cam and Wyze Cam Pan. They soon added sensors, bulbs, plugs and locks. I haven’t tested an of these yet but will soon to see if they might have a place in our new smart home. They’ve also recently released a fitness wearable and connected scale. I probably won’t try these (at least not soon) as I really like my Fitbit Versa 2 and Fitbit Aria Air scale.
So, now our smart home was evolving and we were having some fun with it and feeling confident about building our own smart home from scratch. Our next task is to finalize a floor plan so we can start layering in the technology. Stay tuned as we work through that process …