This week I'm attending CES 2017 (you aren't allowed to call it International CES or the Consumer Electronics Show anymore, so says the CTA). This will be my 24th CES in a row, so I've seen a few trends come and go over the years. One of the biggest trends that built up steam over a good 10 years of promotion was called, at the time, "convergence." Microsoft, Intel, and others (note: no Apple) paid tens of millions of dollars per year for at least a decade to exhibit at CES and show the ways that computers were merging with electronics. At first it seemed far-fetched, but today convergence or "The Internet of Things" (IoT for short) is so mainstream that Microsoft doesn't even have to push the concept with a giant CES booth anymore. Dozens of other companies have embraced and now promote the idea that computers and CE components of all sorts can live a happy life together.
A few months back, I sat down to write a story about The Internet of Things. When I was done with the article, all it really said was how stupid I thought the phrase "Internet of Things" was. I hadn't yet embraced IoT because the concept is so far-reaching that it often delves into applications that are pretty much absurd. Does anyone really need a refrigerator that has a camera in it to see how low on milk you are? Does your dishwasher need to have access to your Amazon account so that it can automatically order more cleaning pods? Do you really need this stuff?
At the time, my problem was that I hadn't found a game-changing IoT application yet ... but I was about to. Here in Southern California, we have been suffering from a terrible, prolonged drought. It rarely rains, and lots of people are starting to take the topic of planting drought-tolerant native California plants seriously. There were some very popular government programs that would give California residents money if they'd rip out their water-guzzling, green lawn and embrace the drought-tolerant style of landscaping. Part of the redesign of my house last year was to install such a native landscape, and respectfully the installation was a nightmare on a number of fronts. Plants were failing all over the place. Trees died. Upon consulting with irrigation and landscape experts, the culprit was over-watering. Who knew? The irrigation expert redid a lot of the systems, and he instructed me go to Amazon.com and buy a Rachio controller for about $250, including a waterproof box to house the iPhone-looking device.
This Rachio device replaced a traditional (and much more expensive) analog Rain Bird irrigation controller. To set it up, you: a) download the app to your smartphone or tablet so that you can define your zones and the types of plants there; b) take a photo of the zones and name them; c) install water sensors in the zones; d) connect the Rachio device to your Wi-Fi network, with the physical unit plugged in and located in its waterproof box; e) tell the app where you live; and f) define how long and on what schedule you want to run the sprinklers and at what time(s) of the day. It's really easy. But the Rachio goes much deeper in its control. Because it knows where you live (stalker-ish, right?) it can make adjustments in your watering schedule based on seasons. The Rachio can tell how wet your plant beds are and can call off a proposed watering session if you don't need it. It just emails and/or texts your phone to let you know what it did for you. You can easily bypass its decisions if you want. The Rachio device also knows if it's going to rain because it tracks the weather in your area and will hold off on watering if you are about to get some precipitation. Once again, it will let you know by text or email of any decisions that it has made. Then the device tracks your water usage so that you can compare it to your water bill, which has standards for good and bad use on your property. It also tracks how many gallons of water the unit has saved you, which is pretty neat to see.
Before my experience with the Rachio, I had never really found an IoT application that made a huge impact on my life, so it was easier to make fun of the concept from a snobby, high-end home automation mountaintop. The truth is, for $250 this device not only helped me turn my landscape issues around, but it taught me that you can find a game-changing IoT technology that can improve a system's performance, save resources, and make you happier. I almost want to forgive the stupidity of the IoT name. Almost.
The Rachio certainly isn't the only product that people can use to get these types of solutions and/or benefits. Adrienne Maxwell wrote a great article about all of the IoT items that you buy and install on a DIY basis to automate your home, ranging from fancy doorbells to energy-saving thermostats to Wi-Fi controlled dimmable LED lights and so much more.
It's a brave new world out there in terms of what technology can do for you. I urge you to have an open mind when it comes to IoT products--ignore some of the surface silliness and look for the real value, because it's there waiting for you ... in many cases, at an affordable price.
• The Golden Rule of Home Automation at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Sorting the Sizzle From the Bacon When Choosing an AV Installer at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• How Big Is Your (Internet) Pipe? at HomeTheaterReview.com.