One of the dreams of the smarthome is automated customization: walking from room to room and having the lights, the climate, the music and the art all change just because of your location in the home. Add time of day and maybe something from your fitness band and now your house responds to not only who you are, but who you are at that moment.
While at least one person is already living this dream, it has been out of the reach of us mere mortals until the rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ [Imperial March plays in the background]. While some of it is still very much in the hands of the custom integrator, a lot of it is ready now, without too much work. The biggest challenge? Who is where in the home.
Where Are You?
Smartphones with their GPS signals have created the first wave of location customized content. Pokemon Go, FourSquare, every other social media platform on the planet. All of them will allow you to tag a comment with a location, will serve up pictures and reviews (and pocket monsters) in the areas around you. For the smarthome, however, the GPS system available to the manufacturers of smartphones is only so good. An average accuracy of 3.5m (outside without buildings or trees or walls or ceilings around) will let a smarthome system know who is home, but not where they are in the home. Not accurately enough for the system to pick one room over another. 3.5m is a medium bedroom, but if you are moving from one room to another, then the system will have trouble deciding which room you are in even if it is able to get that level of accuracy through the exterior of your home.
What most current smart systems like Vera and SmartThings do is decide if you are home are not. The setup for these systems allows you to designate a radius away from your home. When you (or rather your smartphone) cross this line, then the system will toggle its state between ‘Home’ and ‘Away’. However, the smallest that these systems will allow that radius to be is roughly 50 meters. Any closer and it might trigger into ‘Away’ just because you finally got up and mowed the lawn. Even the key chain/pet collar fobs for these systems are either good for Home/Away or for opening a door a meter away (the door has a tag specific sensor), but not for moving around within the home.
I want to separate what I’m talking about from ‘Item Tracking’. That’s the little thing that attaches to your key chain, your wallet, your pets, your children or whatever else you need to track (your thoughts?). Usually, these are use case specific, allowing you to home in on a thing with your phone and the associated app. They do not let you walk through your home and have the home track you.
What’s the solution? In his Xanadu 2.0 home, Mr. Gates did it through RFID lapel pins. Coupled with sensors around the home, they let the system locate each person in the home. However, if you have more time than money, then this might not be the best solution for you. In fact, there aren’t a lot of solutions available to the smarthome DIY person and those that are have their own challenges with price and/or usability.
With that in mind, there are a few solutions depending on how much work or waiting you want to do. One that will require some effort is the The Framework for Internal Navigation and Discovery (FIND) system. It’s an easy to install app for both Android and Apple. It uses the wifi signals bouncing around your home, both from your router and those of your neighbors, to locate you more accurately than GPS. The downside is that’s all it does. There is integration with Home-Assistant.io, which then integrates with most of the popular systems out there.
Everything else is still in the works. One of the promises of the mesh network systems is that they will be able to track movement from room to room using a key fob and the signal timing between nodes in the mesh. However, no one is selling anything on that front yet. It’s the same story with Bluetooth 5.0 systems: it has the future capability. The other point of note is that the various hubs and other systems will need to know what to do with this room location information. And most of them don’t. Yet.
So, what are you to do?
Unfortunately, there is no good solution today. I hate saying that as I want to offer you a solution. However, for the casual or DIY smarthome enthusiast, there just isn’t a good one. Yet. It will come and when it does, check this space. This is one of the big holes in the modern smarthome vision. I am looking for a solution. I want this. I want to share that solution with you.
This is schmoid, off to go find myself.