Friday, April 28, 2006

Smarthome Allows Internet Home Monitoring

Sitting at the computer in my office, I fed Joe’s cats by punching a few buttons on a web site. I watched on the screen as the two cats, who heard the food fall into the bowl from the automatic feeding device, ambled into the room to have a bite.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “Simply amazing.”

Joe is Joe Dada, the CEO of Smarthome, a company that makes all kinds of devices for home automation. For the past 10 years or so, Smarthome has led the charge to provide homeowners with affordable ways to do mundane tasks remotely. Whether it’s turning on a light or lowering a thermostat, Smarthome creates devices that work with a home’s existing “X10” wiring, so no expensive retro-fitting is required.

Now, Smarthome has launched a new service, SmarthomeLive, a web-based home automation service which should appeal to anyone, families especially, looking for ways to keep a handle on the home front.

“It’s meant to be an affordable, do-it-yourself web-based way to see cameras in your home,” Dada says. “You can receive alerts if something happens in the home and control things in the home, all live, via computer.”

Despite the gee-whiz factor inherent in being able to do things like turn lights off and on and, yes, feed cats via computer, the Smarthome concept is pretty simple. Devices specially made to work with the X10 wiring in your home are routed through a central controller, which is then connected to your PC via a modem. From there, it’s a matter of configuring your home on the web site, and you’ll be able to do some pretty amazing things once it’s in place.

“You can monitor a nanny,” Dada says. “You can keep an eye on latchkey kids, or elders. Pet monitoring is popular, or if you have a second home. It will alert you if the temperature is too low or too high.”

With a few well-placed video cameras and X10 devices plugged in around the home, there’s little you can’t control in the electronic realm via SmarthomeLive. Feed the cats, turn on the pool pump, turn off the stereo, open the garage door, turn on the air conditioner, the dishwasher, the TV or even have your TiVo record something.

And it doesn’t end there. The Smarthome technology gives you the ability to monitor comings and goings in your house. If your teenager has an 11 p.m. curfew and comes in at midnight, that information can be logged through the system.

Some might find that kind of scrutiny a bit much, but it’s all scalable.

“It’s the killer app,” Dada says, “but it’s up to you where you want to go with it in terms of privacy levels.”