The smart home industry is filled with a wealth of technological terms – some of which are simple, while others take a little explaining.
If you’re dipping your toe into the waters of smart home technology and home automation, here’s the A-Z of smart home terms that you need to know.
Automation is the big-ticket aim of smart home technology. It sees devices work in unison to deliver desired results. True automation means devices talk to each other, are controlled via a central hub, can be accessed remotely via smart phone and can cater to scenes, where actions occur automatically.
For example, true automation allows you to set scenes like morning routines where your house awakens you, opens blinds, turns on heating and starts the coffee machine while a smart speaker recounts the morning’s headlines.
Actuators (also known as modules) are the elements that make your products or fixtures and fittings do tasks in response to information from a sensor. Actuators can be programmed to respond automatically or work via command. Therefore an actuator would be the component that tells your blind to close at a certain time of day or when the temperature reaches a certain point.
An app is either the overarching software that manages your entire smart home or controls specific products within it. If you’re looking for true smart home automation, the overarching app is the best path to take as it unites all features and makes them easy to control from your smart phone, tablet or PC.
Bluetooth is one of the many protocols (or languages) that allow electronic products to communicate with each other. Bluetooth works independently of the internet and wi-fi. Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) is an even more energy efficient version of this protocol.
Whether it’s a remote control, your smart phone and app or your PC, the controller is the physical item you use to tell elements of your smart home to do something.
A digital assistant is the persona given to your voice activation system, enabling you to communicate in a human-style way with a voice activator. In Google’s case it’s Google Assistant, for Apple, it’s Siri, and for Amazon it’s Alexa.
A geofence is a virtual fence. Geofences normally use either GPS or RFID technology to recognise when a device crosses a pre-defined geographic boundary. This measurement can then be used as a trigger for an event or just a way of monitoring people’s locations.
Smart devices often rely on geofences to know when you’re close to home. For example, you can make your garage door open automatically when you pull into your street.
Like a router, the hub is the central hardware where all information about a smart home is relayed to. It is then accessed and controlled by the app on your smartphone, tablet or PC.
An acronym for If This Then That, IFTTT is free interface that allows you to create scenes and perform functions on your devices using Applets. You can use your own app or download Applets from other experimenters.
IP stands for Internet Protocol. It allows devices to communicate with each other over a network using their IP address.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is a broad term that relates to all the items, products and components that communicate with each other and the world over the internet.
Smart phones and apps have seen the Internet of Things becomes mainstream, as people are increasingly able to connect to smart devices, monitor their environment and make alterations to it.
In the Smart Home, the Internet of Things is used to control your home from afar, such as viewing security footage remotely or turning appliances and lighting on and off using your phone even when you are miles away from your property.
Modules and actuators are interchangeable terms. They are the elements that make your products or fixtures and fittings do tasks in response to information from a sensor.
A network is a group or system of interconnected things.
In simple terms a protocol is a language, it’s the method devices use to communicate with each other.
In smart homes the most common and popular protocols currently include Bluetooth LE, WiFi, Z-Wave and ZigBee.
When designing a smart home, it’s best that devices speak the same language. But if they don’t smart hubs and controllers can assist, effectively ‘translating’ the different languages into a unified format that can be understood and controlled from a single point of contact such as an app interface, remote or using your voice.
Scenes enable a whole host of products to activate and liaise with each other to improve the way we live. They can transform the mood of a house or simplify a series of tasks, but either way, they take the smart home from savvy to instinctive and truly intellectual.
Sensors are the key link between the physical environment of a home and smart capability. Positioned around the home, they monitor areas, gauging temperature, lighting and the motion occurring within that space.
Sensors play an integral role in any smart home ecosystem allowing you to gauge the home environment, detect any danger and take action if required.
A smart device is basically any device with connection capability. That may mean it can connect via any number of protocols including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE,
Smart speakers are devices that can be placed around the home and activated via voice command. The Google version is called Google Home, Apple has HomeKit and Amazon has the Echo range.
Voice activation is a simple principle where you can verbally command your home to fulfil tasks. This can occur by mobile phone, tablet, PC or smart speaker but requires all fixtures and appliances you wish to control to be integrated into your smart home ecosystem.
The major players in the voice activator arena are currently Google, Apple, and Amazon. Each tech giant offers smart speakers and each has digital assistants.
Many would be familiar with these digital assistants quietly conversing in the digital realm. In the case of Google and Apple, these pop up on the general operating systems of their standard range of products. So, if you have a Windows PC, Android smart phone or tablet, Google Assistant is your ever-ready voice activated companion. In Apple’s case the digital assistant is Siri, and she operates in much the same way.
Wi-Fi is one of a number of protocols (languages) that allows devices to talk to each other. In the case of Wi-Fi, it happens via a central router. So all items on a network communicate through this central point. Because this central channel can become congested as more devices are added to the network, it is not the preferred communication method.
Zigbee is a communication method (protocol) used between smart devices. It is a mesh system meaning information is transmitted from device to device rather than back to a central point. Zigbee is open technology, which means no-one owns it. Zigbee can be used by any smart home product manufacturer without a licensing issue.
That also means there is little control over how that communication technology can be employed and means not all Zigbee devices will communicate freely with each other.
Z-Wave is a wireless protocol that establishes connectivity in the home. It is one of a number of languages that can be used to communicate between smart devices. Basically, that means it’s a way for all those smart gadgets, sensors, activators and appliances to talk to each other.
Supporting up to 232 nodes, Z-Wave is a closed mesh system owned by Sigma Designs. Basically, that means the Z-Wave technology is owned and operated by a single entity yet utilised by hundreds of device manufactures who are licensed to use this communication method.
Lera Smart Home Solutions is a leading installer of smart home technology in the greater Sydney region. Our team boasts over 20 years’ experience in IT networking, programming and the electrical industry.
We have sourced the most reliable and cost efficient solutions from around the world to provide the very best in smart home solutions, and work with our clients to understand their needs.