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Smart Homes Via Smart Phones: Toggl.it, Nest, and Iris by Lowes

Bringing smart home technology into your house could require an overhaul of your appliances or simply the addition of an app or moving-parts mechanism. Here are three examples of smart home technology with varying approaches on how to make homes smarter.

"Smart home" is a term that's gained a lot of popularity over the last few years. It implies the ability to control home functions via "smart" technology, often meaning that it's connected to the internet (usually via Bluetooth or wi-fi) and also that it can be controlled remotely via smartphone.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some different approaches to smart home control: Toggl.it, Nest, and Iris represent three different ways to implement smart home technology.

Toggl.it

Toggl.it is a set of home automation kits introduced by Integreight which allow you to control light switches, door locks, and power outlets at home using an app on your smartphone— without changing your old outlet.
If you are interested in home automation tech, and you are willing to adopt it in your own home (even if you only have a minimal technical background), then Toggl.it might catch your eye.
So far, three types of Arduino-based kits have been prototyped:
  1. Light switch kit: Controls the toggle light switch
  2. Door lock kit: Controls deadbolts
  3. Power strip kit: Controls any power-plugged device
Using a kit is fairly simple: Just assemble it as instructed using a screwdriver, install it in place, and finally pair with it Wi-Fi or Bluetooth using the app.
An interesting feature of this product is that no additional soldering, cutting wires, or coding is required to operate it and you don’t have to replace your switches or work with dangerous high voltage wires while installing the kit.

How it Works
Image courtesy of Toggl.it.

What really differentiates Toggl.it from other products in the market is that it is fully customizable. We asked the CEO of Toggl.it, Mr. Amr Saleh, to provide us with further details on that subject and he replied:
“The kits consist of a mechanical mechanism and a place to put an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other sensors. For the ones we did, we put an Arduino coupled with a 1Sheeld for the control, but you have space to put a mic sensor or a voice recognition shield, for example. The kit will come with instructions and example sketches on how to make it work with various kits”.
As Toggl.it is an open source product, Mr. Saleh recommended viewing all the published details in this instructable if you want to take full control over your kit.


Part of the light switch kit. Image courtesy of Toggl.it.

The light switch kit currently works with American toggle switches, the door lock kit with American deadbolts, and the power strip kit with both American and European standard outlets.


Also offered is an application called Toggl.it Hunt, which allows users from countries with different standards to help expand the compatibility of the product by taking photos of their outlets, switches, and door locks and submitting them.
Mr. Saleh states that “the Toggl.it Hunt app allows you to get 30% off the kits if you take a pic of your outlet, light switch, etc. We take feedback on various standards and adapt our design to fit with it”.
When we asked Mr. Saleh about the future plans for the product, he said that the first goal is to add more modules to allow control over all devices at home, starting by introducing the light switch and then proceeding with the outlet, door lock, IR, and so on.

Demo of the power cord, light switch, and door lock kits. Image courtesy of Toggl.it.

Integreight is a startup company from Egypt/the MENA Region. Their other well-known project is the Arduino shield “1Sheeld”. They released 1Sheeld after a successful crowd-funding campaign on KickStarter.

Nest

Nest is probably the most well-known of home automation systems on the market.


The Nest app across multiple mobile platforms. Image courtesy of Nest.

Instead of utilizing existing objects in the home using mechanical systems via smartphone like Toggl.it, Nest fully replaces them. Where Toggl.it builds add-on hardware with a robotics slant, Nest simply sends a new version of the appliance in question and regulates it via BLE and wi-fi technology.


One of the Nest-compatible partner light switches. Image courtesy of Nest.

Nest is presently offered in three forms:
  • Nest Thermostat: Home temperature control
  • Nest Protect: Smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector
  • Nest Cam: Security camera system
Nest is also capable of syncing up to an extensive list of other products via the Works with Nest system. Compared to Toggl.it's grassroots Hunt application, this is a corporatized version of the crowdsourcing idea. New products hitting the market can be designed to integrate with the Nest platform, effectively expanding its reach.


The Nest Thermostat's display. Image courtesy of Nest.


The largest differentiator between Nest and many other smart home systems is that it boasts the ability to learn. The software in Nest Thermostat is programmed to "watch" its environment for about a week in which it can discern patterns in usage. Based on this usage, it will base its run program off of its users' preferences and habits.
It's capable of this (and other features, such as lighting its display when it senses a person has entered the room) via the usage of five sensor types: temperature, humidity, ambient light, near-field, and far-field. This means that Nest offers the most technologically-advanced hardware of our examples outside of third-party partner appliances.

Iris

Iris by Lowe's takes an app-first approach to designing a smart home. Unlike Toggl.it's "work with what you have" mindset and Nest's "build from one of our products" standpoint, Iris is completely built from the app-down.
Iris works without any obligation to even own smart home technology in the first place. Once you own compatible smart tech, though, the Iris app allows you to interact with your devices via your smartphone.


The Iris app in action. Image courtesy of Iris by Lowes.

The Iris app is free to download. However, it shares a similarity with Nest in that you need to subscribe to a monthly service in order to use Nest Cam to its fullest potential. Likewise, Iris Premium charges a monthly fee to be able to create presets for your smart home and access other functionalities.
To use those presets, Lowes offers a guide to provide "solutions". Where Nest determines its own presets based on its users' habits, Lowes teaches users how to mix and match their appliances to meet their smart home automation needs.


One of the pre-designed "solutions" Iris offers. Image courtesy of Iris by Lowes.

Each piece of the preset's hardware can be purchased on its own and controlled via the app, but they can be networked together with the other pieces.


One of the Iris-compatible light switches offered through a third party. Image courtesy of Iris by Lowes.

Depending on which appliances you've chosen, you may already have Iris-compatible tech in your home.




Smart home technology is becoming more common, but there are several ways that it can be implemented. From Toggl.it's growing ability to accommodate almost any pre-existing locks, lights, and outlets to Nest's learning technology to Iris's app-first philosophy, there are many ways to bring smart technology home. 

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