Homeowner in search of an IoT installation expert

Homeowner in search of an IoT installation expert

Do you remember the movie The Graduate? At one point during a party, a middle-aged man comes up to young Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ben Braddock, and says “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. “Plastics … there’s a great future in plastics.”

If I had only one word to say to someone like Ben, just starting out in the world of work, it might be “IoT.”

The so-called “Internet of Things” is in its infancy, and even though we’re not quite sure where it’s going, it’s very clear to me, especially after last week’s CES technology show in Las Vegas, that it’s big and it’s here to stay. It will usher in new jobs, ranging from research and design, manufacturing, sales and installation and configuration.

I’ve thought a lot about the issue of IoT installation and configuration based on my own experience trying to automate my home. Some aspects of installing are easy – like plugging in a module for a floor lamp. But sometimes it gets complicated.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal to replace my old front-door deadbolt with an electronic one that could be remotely controlled via an app, but it turned out that I needed an extender between where the lock was and the door jamb where the deadbolt goes into the strike plate.

That would have been true even if it were a standard lock but – because the lock is electronic, I discovered yet another problem. When you lock a door the old fashioned way you can manually position it in the right place so that the bolt goes into the strike plate.  But when all of that is happening automatically, it has to be in just the right position so that the bolt slips easily into the striker with enough extra clearance to work even if the house shifts a little.

I figured that out about a month after the lock was installed when it failed to lock remotely after I had remotely unlocked it to let a repair person into the house. A few minutes with a file fixed the problem, but until I got home later that day, I was unable to lock my door.

One of my as-yet unaccomplished goals is to put remote controlled light switches in two of our bedrooms. It seems like a simple task but – as it turns out – it’s been challenging.

On one occasion, I hired a handyman to install the switch in a downstairs bedroom but the 60-year old wiring in that room didn’t include a neutral wire, required for an electronic “smart” switch. Our upstairs addition is new enough to have modern wiring but, when the $100 an hour electrician came to install the two “3-way” switches, they didn’t work because I had bought the wrong ones. I knew I needed Z-Wave compatible switches but I wound up getting ones that could only trigger remote lights, not lights wired to those switches. I recently ordered what I think are the right switches but I’m still not 100 percent sure they’re what I need.

In the meantime. I’m out more than $400 between the electrician, handyman and those useless switches, and I still don’t have remote controlled switches in either bedroom. I have no quarrel with either the electrician or the handyman. They’re both very good at what they do, but neither claims to understand the confusing world of the Internet of Things. Had these been old-fashioned switches, it would have been an easy job for them or even me if I wanted to install them myself. Now what I need is a 21st century electrician or handyman who knows about all the various IoT protocols and devices.

It gets even more complicated because of the fragmented nature of the various IoT platforms. For the most part, these connected devices need a hub, somewhere in the home, that acts as a central controller and both the hubs and the devices they control have to speak the same language or protocol. And, when it comes IoT protocols, we’re living in a tower of babble. There’s Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and WiFi, to name just a few. And there are additional platforms such as Samsung SmartThings, Belkin’s WeMo, People Power, Google Nest and many more.

And there are plenty of other devices such as the Ring doorbell and all those security cameras that may or may not work with the platform and hub you already have. And don’t forget integration into even more platforms such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home voice control or Apple’s Homekit or Android Things.

Consumers can try to figure these things out on their own, try to find a professional that understands the various protocols and knows how to install them or go with a company like Vivint, ADT, Comcast or AT&T that will install, maintain and, in some cases, monitor these devices, usually for both an upfront and recurring monthly fee.

So, if you’re a modern-day Ben Braddock and handy with a screwdriver, a drill and a few other tools and lots of manuals, this may be a good time to figure out how to help homeowners figure out the wacky world of IoT. But, as with any profession these days, things change so don’t expect this to be a lifelong career. Eventually we will get to the point where IoT is simple enough for homeowners to install ourselves. And we’ll have plenty of time to configure them as we commute home from work in the backseat of our autonomous cars.

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Published at Thu, 12 Jan 2017 21:50:02 +0000