We write about humans, the smart electric grid, and the interaction between these two. Occasionally, we tell jokes. Remarkably, we stay on point.

Stepford wives, R2D2, and the new smart home

This is the first of a new feature for the ISEIF blog. A chat between Clare & Uzma, lightly edited and transcribed. Enjoy:

Clare:  Hey Uzma, I found the chat button! Feeling so empowered!

Uzma:  Hooray!

Can you hear me now?

Clare:  It makes me want to chat about a smart home!

Uzma:  I think that’s an excellent topic. Especially because our very first blog post on our popular blog was on the smart home.

Clare:  Our very popular blog. So let’s take up some of the ideas in an ad we both read from an excellent but nameless company, talking about how to make our homes smarter.

Uzma:  This ad brought up the fascinating use cases retailers are putting out there to sell smart home products. They range from safety to science fiction. I think retailers are still trying to figure out how to sell the smart home… this ad actually asks you to be patient to wait for more uses to be available

Clare:  Agreed. Because some of what’s out there is obviously useful (locks you can unlock for you kid from your smart phone for when you’re at work and they’ve lost their key again, for example), and therefore no fun to talk about. But what about robotic vacuums? Can we talk robotic vacuums? Not just as an internet meme, with cats, but seriously, how do they deal with cat bowls on the floor? Don’t they just tip them over and then vacuum them up? No wonder cats hate them.

Uzma:  I think the jury’s out about cats hating them. I’ve seen plenty of videos of cats getting friendly with them. So the robotic vacuums have these sensors and rubber bumpers so they don’t mess up your home. It’s one of those products, and I think I’m a fairly early adopter, I wouldn’t consider buying because I’m not sure how much easier my life would be if I could use my smartphone to start the vacuum while I’m away from home.

All of this would change of course if the robot vacuum looked like R2D2, or as my Mexican friend calls him, Arturito. Then maybe I’d consider getting one.

Clare:  I don’t think that would solve the cat issue. How are they on stairs?  I live in a townhome so I assume they’re useless for me, but if they looked like Arturito, I would actually feel terrible if they kept tumbling down the stairs.

Uzma:  Yes that would be sad. Especially if it made that Arturito series of sad and confused bleeps. I think they have to be manually transported up/down stairs! But once you do that, you can use your smartphone to start up the vacuum.

Clare:  There’s a timesaver! This article also mentioned smart audio receivers. Imagine, it said, being able to control your audio receiver without a remote. Which confused me because I already control my audio receiver without a remote. It has knobs on it. I walk over to it and turn them. It’s never felt like a hardship. I think maybe it came with a remote, but I have no idea what happened to that.

Uzma:  So, you don’t have to use a remote but you can use your smartphone instead. First I thought it’s just substituting one handheld controlling device for another, but it would be really nice to consolidate all my remotes on my phone. I have 5 remotes. How many do you have? Or do you just get up and walk over and change everything the old-fashioned way?

Clare:  We use remotes for the television & the device attached to it that lets us stream things, because they don’t have knobs on them. If you combined all those remotes onto your phone where would you put your cat videos?

Uzma:  This is an everyday struggle. With so many apps, it’s a battle for real estate on my phone. Videos of my cat obviously have priority.

Clare: How about the hot water dispenser in the fridge door that you notify ahead of time so your hot water is ready for you? Can we just agree, from an energy standpoint, that unless this is producing hot water from waste heat off the motor it’s a bad idea to heat up the door of your refrigerator? If it is using waste heat from the motor it is possibly brilliant. But again, not sure I see the advantage to controlling from a smart phone while standing in front of it vs. walking a couple of steps and tapping a button.

Uzma:  No one needs the smart fridge. Yet. And yes, from an energy standpoint, it’s not a good idea! I think the fridge is trying really hard with all these features and hasn’t yet come up with anything really useful.

Uzma:  The appliances section of the ad was also brought out the smart home creepiness factor. It mentioned something about aspiring to the smart kitchen in the Stepford Wives. Isn’t that the movie where men implanted microchips into their wives’ brains to become more subservient? All the people in this town are perfect and living ideal lives, a bit too much, and underneath it all is a spooky and disturbing plan for control. Kind of a weird way to sell the smart home.

Clare:  I kind of read the ad section as understanding that. But you’re right – why even conjure up the image? Good movie, though.

Clare: Can I admit to wanting voice – controlled lighting? I think I could do this with smart LED’s and the Echo I already have. But I want them to come on when I say Shazzam! It would just make me happy when I get home to be able to do that.

Uzma:  You can do that! You have to use IFTTT and you can make all your dreams come true! I have really been enjoying using the voice commands on the Echo. Especially when I discovered all the Easter eggs with Alexa. Try telling her to self-destruct. Or use a Star Wars reference. She responds and it’s hilarious.

Clare:  So this is what we’re reduced to. Long ago we lived in caves and worried about being eaten by sabre toothed tigers, or the fire going out, and now we can illuminate the night by the flip of a switch, and it’s still not enough for us. Plus, bluetooth enabled waterproof speakers? I’m never going to the beach again.

Uzma:  I think features are sometimes just being mashed up together in devices because they exist. They don’t yet have the equivalent utility of alerting you when the tiger is approaching. Or the fire needs some more wood.

Clare:  Final thoughts, besides the apparently endless appetite of human beings to do things just because we can? Voice controlled lights – possibly fun. Hot refrigerator doors – not an obviously good idea.

Uzma:  I’m on board. With the addition of vacuums that look and sound like R2D2 – I’m in for one of those. Not so into the web browser on the fridge door. Plus, I would have less room for my collection of magnets from National Parks. I think the smart home still has a ways to go to become mainstream and actually improve quality of life drastically. But I’m paying attention to it.

Clare:  Me too. I don’t think it’s quite arrived, but it’s arriving. Now I have to go ask Alexa a question….

2017-03-09T19:57:56+00:00 March 9th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments

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