Boost Your Home’s IQ With These Seven Gadgets

These products are designed to make life simpler

14 December 2015
  • Kitchen Confidential

    Cooking can be enjoyable, but it’s also time-consuming. From remembering what you need to buy to figuring out how long to cook a roast, new smart appliances can save you valuable time.

    Ever gone to the grocery store and blanked on what you need or bought milk to find you still had half a container at home? Now there’s an app that lets you look inside your refrigerator from anywhere. The Bosch HomeConnect app works with the company’s Series 8 refrigerator. Two cameras inside the fridge take photos of the contents each time you close the door. Then, when you’re at the store, the app on your mobile device lets you see inside the fridge and even zoom in on certain items. The refrigerator and app are available only in Europe for now, at a price of US $3,000. They’re expected to debut in the United States next year.

    If you worry about cooking food to the right temperature or simply don’t want to burn dinner again, take a look at the June Intelligent Oven. Engineers at June, a smart-appliance startup, designed its countertop oven to take the guesswork out of cooking and baking. The oven weighs your food with sensors in its base, takes a video of the food with an internal camera, and figures out how to power its electric cooking elements for optimum cooking time and temperature.

    Once the food is in, the oven relies on computer vision, a graphics processor, and machine learning to determine what you’re cooking. The camera can also transmit a real-time video of the cooking food over Wi-Fi to your mobile device so you can check on the food without opening the door. The oven may be small—it measures 56 centimeters wide, 36 cm tall, and 45 cm deep—but it comes with a whopping price tag: $1,500. Expect it in stores next year.

  • Skip the Chores

    A number of gadgets can handle tasks you often don’t have time for or forget to do, such as watering your houseplants. And if you haven’t yet done so, why not have a robot clean your floors?

    Parrot, a wireless-technology company, debuted its Flower Power H20, a high-tech plant sensor, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

    The gadget is an improved version of Parrot’s Flower Power, which is meant to be stuck in the soil near a houseplant or in an outdoor garden. The unit then transmits data via Bluetooth about moisture and fertilizer levels, the amount of sunlight, and soil temperature to a smartphone app, which alerts you when to water and fertilize. With the H20, you can attach a screw-top water bottle (holding up to 2 liters) to the sensor. The gadget releases water into the soil depending on the factors that the sensor measures. H20 should be in stores this month, but at press time, Parrot had not announced its price.The original Flower Power, without the self-watering feature, sells for $60.If you’ve decided to sit back and let a robot clean your floors, you can choose from a number of autonomous vacuums that have grown in popularity during the last decade. They can suck up dirt while navigating their way around. The Wi-Fi-equipped Neato Botvac Connected vacuum can be started, paused, and steered remotely through a smartphone app—ideal if you must do a quick spot cleaning when you’re expecting guests and are still at the office. It can also run through your rooms on its own, vacuuming as it goes.The Botvac Connected is equipped with a laser to scan its surroundings and avoid hitting obstacles. Its lithium-ion battery can run for up to 2 hours between charges. The vacuum has two settings: Turbo mode for dirtier floors or Eco mode for lighter cleaning. The Eco setting saves battery life and is quieter.The Botvac Connected was unveiled in September at IFA Berlin, Europe’s largest consumer electronics event. Its manufacturer, Neato, won the 2015 Best of IFA Award in the smart-home category from Digital Trends, a consumer technology publisher that sponsors the competition. The company was cited particularly for its smartphone app. The vacuum is expected to debut next year with a price tag of around $700, which is toward the top end of the robo floor-cleaning price spectrum.

  • Keeping Your Cool

    The Nest smart thermostat, which learns your schedule and allows you to control your home’s temperature remotely, can now become a control panel for all your home’s smart devices. Nest Labs launched its flagship product in 2011, and it continues to dominate the market. CNET this year named it Best Smart Thermostat.

    At CES, the company announced it is partnering with several other developers of smart-home technologies to make their products compatible with the Nest. They include Control4, which develops automated lighting, security, and entertainment systems, and Crestron, a specialist in smart-home lighting and climate control.

    Nest Labs is also working with Jawbone, a wearables developer. When the Jawbone fitness band wakes you with its alarm, the Nest can adjust your thermostat automatically to make your home more comfortable when you’re hopping out of bed.

    The Nest is also compatible with Ecovent, a system of battery-powered air vents whose actuators allow them to be individually opened or closed when a thermostat sends a signal over a wireless network to adjust the temperature in a room. You can control the climate in just one area without having to heat or cool your entire home, which saves energy. Temperature settings for different rooms can be adjusted via a smartphone app, too. Prices vary depending on the size of the rooms and the number of vents, but the Ecovent system costs about $2,000 for a four-bedroom home.

  • Just For Fun

    Smart-home gadgets can help you simplify your home entertainment system and even entertain you and your pets.

    If you’re good at holding onto your mobile device but prone to losing the remotes for your home entertainment devices, Pronto can help. Pronto—both the name of the company and its product—is a hub about the size of a saltshaker that works with a smartphone to turn the phone’s Bluetooth signals into infrared signals recognizable by televisions and other devices. Working with the company’s Peel Smart Remote app, Pronto lets you control your cable box, DVD player, speakers, and more. It also provides a schedule of TV programs, and as it learns your viewing habits, Peel can recommend shows to watch. The Pronto hub costs $50; the Peel app is free.

    When you’re ready to get off the couch and go outside, you don’t have to leave your pets completely behind. Petcube is a video camera system that lets you remotely keep an eye on your furry friends. A wide-angle, 0.5-kilogram camera on a tripod streams high-definition video to your mobile device. And you can talk to your pet through a two-way audio system. You can even activate a moving laser pointer for your cat to chase while you’re away. Petcube is $199.

This article originally appeared in print as “Boosting Your Home’s IQ.”

This article is part of our December 2015 special report on smart homes.

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