25 years ago, Macaulay Culkin put together an elaborate setup to persuade thieves that there was an entire family at home with him over the holidays when in fact they were vacationing abroad. The setup included music, mannequins, lights and a cutout of Michael Jordan on a train. With the upcoming launch of Apple’s centralized home automation system, HomeKit, and the automated home offerings of companies such as Nest, Philips, and Belkin, I wonder if these systems can do more to simulate our presence. After all, a house that appears to be vacant is an appealing target to burglars.
It’s true that home security systems are already doing a lot to help users manage a home when they’re away. Video cameras, motion detectors, and window and door sensors can all be remotely monitored and send notifications if triggers occur. In additional to those systems, I’m thinking of a system that homeowners can use to simulate their presence automatically that can also be remotely controlled. A few features on my wish list:
- Scheduling. Simulating a presence requires some sort of schedule, such as turning on the lights in the evening. One that changes every day would be best but it could repeat every few days.
- Device diversity. It’s not just lighting, there is a variety of different devices that we use daily that should be turned on when we are away such as a TV, video games, or speakers with talk radio to simulate conversation during certain hours or even dog barks.
- Central control. Give me one app to rule them all. Apple’s HomeKit should do it but it hasn’t been released yet. For the other companies, such as Belkin and Insteon, their apps will only control their products (I’m not 100% sure about this.) Aside from Apple, it seems that there are many different communication protocols used by different devices and different hubs.
Price. Right now when we leave for vacation, I still use these mechanical timers on lighting fixtures to simulate our presence. Belkin makes exactly the product I need to replace these switches, but they cost $50 each whereas these simple timers cost less than $10. All these devices need to be a bit cheaper to be practical as even for these switches, a household will need at least four to be convincing.
- Device interaction. Beyond just notification, triggered window, door or motion sensors can turn on a light or cause the sound system to play a dog bark or a “honey, is that you?” from another room.
- Self-learning. Not a must have but it would be great to see a system that can study our real usage pattern and simulate it when we are away and be able to simulate a different schedule every day.
A final touch: robots that can go outside and pick up the newspaper and bring in the mail.