Columnist Jennifer Jolly shares tech to help you create the ideal smart home.
It turns out the 1999 Disney movie “Smart House” wasn’t too far ahead of its time.
Cox Communications displayed a “smart home” near downtown Phoenix on Thursday that used Cox’s “GigaBlast” high-speed internet to provide bandwidth for more than 50 smart devices.
The smart home was displayed in a second-floor, two-bedroom apartment that featured devices ranging from virtual-reality headsets to a full suite of home “tele-health” devices to a robotic dog welcoming visitors, all powered through smart-phone apps.
Upon entering, visitors walked through a front door with a remote-controlled lock system that allows users to open or lock the door while on their phone from anywhere. The system pairs with a sophisticated, “next-gen” security system that can be set to send alerts to homeowners’ phones any time the front door is opened, and can lock doors automatically when homeowners leave.
“All the devices are connected through the TouchScreen app,” said Leslie Banner, a Cox spokeswoman. “It can make any home a smart home, it doesn’t matter if the home is built 100 year ago. You just need the devices to enable them to work together … it’s however creative you can be with the rules.”
In the kitchen, food blogger and cookbook author Whitney Bond showed how a number of smart devices can be used to “make your life a lot easier” when you cook.
One is a “smart” sous-vide, a device that attaches to the side of any typical kitchen pot. Users can fill the pot with water, package food in vacuum-sealed bags and place them in the pot while the device’s main apparatus heats the water without needing to turn on a stove or oven. Users can leave food cooking in the pot, maintaining a precise temperature while controlling the process entirely through a smartphone. The sous-vide process, Bond says, cooks meat all the way through, at the exact desired temperature.
Other items, like a smart coffee maker and a slow cooker, can also be remotely controlled in a similar way. Users can have the coffee maker start brewing a pot of coffee from bed, or change the temperature of food cooking in the slow cooker while away from home
Along the way, Bond asked Amazon’s hands-free “Alexa” device for chicken recipes, to which Alexa responded with six different recipes, ingredients needed for each and instructions on how to cook each dish.
“If you’re out and you have something cooking and you get stuck somewhere, you get stuck in traffic, and you’re like ‘OK, I need to turn that off or it’s going to burn,’ you can just do that from your phone,” Bond said.
Remote health monitoring
In one of the bedrooms was the “tele-health center,” a grouping of smart devices that use Cox’s Trapollo service, partnered with Banner Health, to allow physicians to remotely monitor patients’ health.
Among the devices included was an arm band to check heart rate, a scale to check a patient’s weight and a blood-pressure monitor. The system, which is geared toward people diagnosed with a chronic illness, is all connected through a touch-screen tablet. Users enter their daily information the devices provide, and that information goes to their doctor.
If users miss their medication for a day, or eat a food high in sodium or other potentially harmful ingredients, a physician appears on the screen in what Todd Leto, CEO of Trapollo, says is one of thousands of pre-programmed videos that provide patients with health advice specific to their condition or illness.
“This technology allows (patients’) caretakers, their physician, to monitor how they’re doing every single day. And if they see them trending in the wrong direction, they can intervene,” Leto said. “This is teaching people how to live with their condition more effectively. There’s a lot of patient education involved in these devices.”
“Compliance is the most important thing,” Leto said.
The bedroom also had its own Amazon “Echo-dot device,” which can be used with verbal commands to turn off a light in a bedroom. An electronic toothbrush in one of the bathrooms can even be synced to a smartphone app and provide users with a map of their mouths while they brush their teeth.
In the second bedroom, Eric Miller from Phoenix Analysis and Design Technology showcased a high-end, consumer 3-D printer he was using to produce plastic items users can make by downloading models online, or by designing their own. 3-D printers have been dropping in price recently, and customers can find them for as cheap as $800 — which is a far cry from the $10,000 price tag they used to carry just 10 years ago.
Also in the second bedroom was Jason Yang, a renowned violinist and composer, who was busy giving a live-stream virtual violin lesson to his students using an electronic violin device, as well as a microphone and headset.
Virtual golf lessons
On the apartment’s balcony, Craig Hocknull, a PGA Tour pro who participated in the Phoenix Open, demonstrated how he gives golf lessons to students as far away as Australia through video-chatting on an iPad device.
“When it’s nighttime and maybe I’ve already done a full day of work here at Silverleaf (golf club), I’ve already taught lessons in the normal world .. other people, they’re just waking up, getting ready to start their day. I can coach them in Australia through Skype,” Hocknull said. “We’re actually connecting with the people so that there’s more coaching,”
Also on the balcony was a smart plant pot that has a store of water that users can remotely set to water the plant while away. The pot also gives information about temperature, sunlight and soil moisture wherever the pot is placed, and users can tell the pot what type of plant is in it and learn ideal conditions for that plant.
In the living room, representatives from the Arizona Office of Tourism showed off a virtual-reality headset that took users skydiving near the Grand Canyon, or mountain biking through the red rocks of Sedona.
In the corner of the room, a robotic dog named “Chip” highlighted the futuristic experience while playing fetch with a metallic ball just next to an automatic pet feeder. Through a camera on the device, users can watch their pets from their phone while away from home, use programmed noises to call their pet over, and also reveal one of six food trays within the device that users can put out when it’s time for a pet to eat.
For Bond, who says she uses her Alexa device daily, demonstrations like these offer a window’s glimpse into what could become mainstream devices in households within the next five to 10 years.
“I think there will be a time in the very near future where you literally wake up in bed and you can press one button to make your toast, one button to make your coffee, one button to see what you’ve got in the fridge,” Bond said. “The home of the future is now today.”