The Smartest Home is in Louisville, KY
We talk with the brains behind the CNET Smart Home to find out what’s next in smart home tech.
Whether you want a smart home or not is no longer a valid question for today’s home buyer, seller or owner. It’s a given that we want our homes to be more efficient and even thoughtful to our needs. Many home owners have one or two smart home devices already, like a smart thermostat or TV. But just how smart can our homes be?
Tech review site, CNET, wants to find out as they have created what is arguably the smartest home in the United States in Louisville, KY. I recently got to visit this home, which is still a work in progress, but will act as a test kitchen for smart home products and how they work in a real life environment. That’s what makes this place so unique. It’s not testing products in a vacuum, but seeing how smart home devices can connect to scenarios and situations that the average home owner would want to on a normal day.
I sat down with CNET Executive Editor, Rich Brown, who oversees the Louisville Smart Home to find out just how smart the smart home tech he’s testing truly is and what is in store for the smartest home in America.
Why would a tech review site want to create the smartest home in the US?
That’s a popular question because it may be the first time a technology company has bought an actual home. When the idea was first shared there was this question of “you want to do what?” But then it was immediately followed by “that makes sense.” Testing smart home products in an actual home gives us an opportunity to test in a residential context. We have created a livable testing environment which is really a first of its kind development in the tech review world. Typically products are tested in offices or warehouses or conditions that aren’t very real. What we are able to do here is test not just how good something can work, but how it can work within the context of the home.
How many smart home products do you expect to test in this home in the coming year?
Over the course of the next 12 months, I would say 200 or more devices would be a safe guess. That’s about 4 new devices every single week so we’ll really get a good sense of which products are easier to setup than others and how they work in conjunction with existing devices. For example, what smart home router easily connects with your existing Nest unit or what light bulbs are better to work with Siri or Amazon Echo.
What aspect of smart home tech has been the biggest surprise as far as its usefulness?
It has to be how much easier voice commands are to work with, especially in a multi-user environment. Voice for the longest time has been one of the most difficult technology features to perfect. Think about calling an 800 number and going through voice prompts. For years that was seen as torturous, but all of a sudden the smart home world has figured this out. What’s great about voice commands with smart home devices is that you don’t have to hand off an account or even a device – anyone can control things. Amazon Echo is especially good at this. It doesn’t matter who is at home, anyone can give a command to Alexa (the name of the voice that runs the Amazon Echo) and she’ll perform it. On the other hand Siri right now can only have one user in order to perform voice commands and you have to be holding the device in order to perform that action.
What has been the biggest disappointment?
Ugh. Hurts me to say this but Apple HomeKit. There were such high expectations for it when it was first released. When you come into an Apple experience you have come to expect that it will be smooth and seamless and that hasn’t been the case yet. We are optimistic it will get better and the recent releases give me some hope that improvements are coming sooner rather than later.
Smart home is in its infancy so if you had a crystal ball what aspect of it do you think is still untapped?
Has to be the health/wellness/fitness area. Being able to really integrate personal habits and behavior with various devices and wearable tech is going to be the next big wave in smart home. What I would love to see is a dashboard for your health that doesn’t just give recommendations but good advice based on data collected. What good is it to know that you slept for 6 hours? What would be better is for your home to be able to say “hey, you sleep better when you go to bed at 10 pm and wake up at 6 am and walk 1 mile on the treadmill in the morning.” That’s when you can go beyond data and get into more thoughtful insights.
What is your favorite smart home product?
Right now, Amazon Echo but in a month it could be different, and I say that because it speaks to the market right now. Smart home tech is so fluid and changes weekly. Apple with the new iOS 10 has smoothed out a lot of the HomeKit issues which opens up a door for a much better experience from new devices. You never know what is coming next because the developments in this vertical are so rapid. It’s a fun time to be involved in it. But back to Amazon Echo. I say that it’s my favorite right now because of its simplicity. You plug it in, connect it to WiFi and it just works well. Amazon has been very aggressive in adding products that work with Echo and they are the products and features I care about. Right now, Amazon Echo is the focal point of the smart home here in Louisville.
What upcoming enhancements to the home here in Louisville excite you the most?
I really like the idea of getting smart home control built into the TV in an intuitive way. The TV is a more centralized experience, especially for families. It’s the one device everyone knows how to control. It gets info to you quickly, but no one has cracked how to make it the central element of the smart home.
Now for my most important question: why isn’t there a smart basketball court in the driveway?
I was hoping you wouldn’t bring that up. We actually have to do some driveway work, but you’re absolutely right. That should be coming.
Let’s finish with a takeaway for our readers, what is the best advice you can give to someone looking to make their home a smart home?
Start with a specific problem you want to solve. If you go in not knowing what you want to solve, you’ll get lost in the choices available. Figure out what is the one thing you want your home to do and then you can discover what you really want. Trying to do the whole house is overwhelming. Lights are simple. Power plugs are easy. These functions are basic enough that they aren’t going to be outdated in a week because of new tech. So start simple and then build from there.
You can explore more of what smart homes have to offer or find a smart home of your own at coldwellbanker.com/smarthome.