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Jan 20, 2015

A Frozen Moment In Home Automation

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Baby it’s cold outside. No seriously, it’s 12 degrees and, unlike the song, I was just stuck outside, trying to get in. Unfortunately, my quasi-automated house did not want to cooperate. I say quasi-automated because I’m jumping into this home automation stuff slowly (indeed, less of a jump and more of an inch-by-excruciating-inch submersion). Step one was a smartphone-operated door lock, which seemed to make sense… at least until the temperature plummeted and I was stuck on the outside of the door wondering why it wouldn’t let me in.

There was nothing sinister going on: my wife hadn’t changed the locks on me; nor had the lock discovered Skynet or some other sentient network. It was far more of a mundane issue: the frigid weather was too much for the lock to handle. Maybe the cold sucked the life out of the batteries, or perhaps the motor in the lock was frozen. All I know for sure was that I had one glove off, with fingers rapidly turning blue, trying to tempt my smartphone to do something clever to open the door. Unfortunately, it’s not that smart and couldn’t help me out (although the smartphone at least gave off a little heat to stave off frostbite temporarily). Fortunately, because I had only gotten as far as a single toe in the metaphorical water, my other door still uses a good old-fashioned key (which I had on me) so I did manage to get into the house before turning into a rather large ice cube.

Thinking back on it all, now that I’ve warmed up a little, I should have guessed about the cold issue. Batteries and extreme cold typically don’t mix well, but I suppose I just assumed that an automated door lock, designed for an external door at that, would be built to withstand the average New York winter. You know what the say about assumptions, eh? So until it warms up, I’m back to carrying a full set of keys for the house, while my wife sniggers occasionally at the large lump of metal on the back door that provides no value right now.

The exercise does highlight just how immature this market is today. The good news is that new toys and gadgets are coming out seemingly every day with incremental improvements, as well as the occasional huge leap forward. I lost count of the number of new toys that I fell for at CES, ranging from connected skateboards to new and improved security systems and thermostats. And hopefully, as I begin to add more toys to my somewhat-automated house, and install a clever thermostat, things will work far smoother. You never know, maybe I can even find a way to defrost my door lock…



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