December 9, 2023

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Google might have a great idea for smart home automation — if you stick with it — Ars Technica

Google might have a great idea for smart home automation — if you stick with it — Ars Technica

Zoom in / Klaus Schulz is served tea and moral encouragement by his robots, MM7 and MM8, also known as “Psychotrons”, in 1950 Vienna. It could be us, but many home automation platforms are only there to help.

Gamma Keystone via Getty Images

Google today released a new Android operating system with some modest improvements, a smartwatch with an older but still newer chip, and the Pixel 8 whose biggest new features are seven years of updates. But within all of this week’s Google news is something that could be really useful for humans getting into this type of equipment — helping people set up automation in their homes.

It’s easy to buy smart home equipment, and sometimes even easier to set up, but figuring out all the ways devices can work with each other can be daunting. Even smart home systems with powerful scripting capabilities often allow users to develop brilliant ideas for connecting two or more devices. This is where artificial intelligence can help, according to Google.

Google says it will use AI (the company’s broad definition of artificial intelligence, at least) on two different levels. At the app level, Google Home can start condensing all the notifications from cameras, sensors, and other devices into a simplified summary, patched together by generative AI, which you can respond to in natural language.

Google’s Rick Osterloh describes an AI-flavored feature to help build home automation routines.

A screenshot from a Google Home demo, showing Google Home proposing package delivery automations.
Zoom in / A screenshot from a Google Home demo, showing Google Home proposing package delivery automations.


What caught my attention wasn’t the fact that your doorbell camera can recognize a package or that you can ask about it in English text, that’s a pretty standard Nest/Google/AI feat so far. The good thing is that the Home app will now suggest automations that could follow from recognizing that package. In Google’s example, it could flash certain lights in your home three times and make your speakers ring — but only if someone is home. (Presumably, you can set up a workaround for notifications when you’re away.)

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Earlier this week, Google announced another way AI can help savvy smart home enthusiasts gain more control. “Help me with the script” is a code automation tool that turns natural language — such as, “When I get home and the garage door closes, I turn on the lights in the basement” — into Google Home scripts. You may not have known that Google Home has a script editor or Web interfacebut it does happen, at least in Public Preview.

My Help Script is set to arrive “later this year in public preview,” while the app-based AI routine starter is a “beta feature” that will be “rolled out” to subscribers (presumably Nest) in the year Next. Google’s presentation, as is typical at Google generally, has vague timing and availability details, so it’s hard to say whether the app-based automation AI feature will remain a subscriber-only feature.

It would be great to see Google — or any major hub maker in the smart home space — push automation and routine discovery forward, whether it’s through generative AI or just smart code. Purchasing a light bulb that can be controlled via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or even Thread is something you can do at Home Depot. The same goes for motion sensors, sprinkler controllers, and many other tools. Connecting it to Google Home, Alexa, Apple’s Home, or Home Assistant varies by device and system but should be achievable. The material, which promised to make the latter easier, didn’t do that, but it might have given her more time.

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Once you have a set of things you can toggle and control from your phone or speaker, what then? What should these things do when you’re not looking? What is the most useful routine that you may not have thought of – perhaps created by owners of similar devices?

I thought about this recently when some friends visited my house. I set up a motion sensor in my entryway, had a smart lock in the door, and replaced the bulbs in two recessed fixtures with Wi-Fi smart bulbs. Using Home Assistant, I set up the zone with a few rules:

  • When the door opens, the lights turn on for three minutes.
  • When motion is detected, turn on the lights so that its presence is not detected
  • Do not turn on lights for traffic after 11 p.m.; Door locks only (roaming cat rule)
  • If the lights turn on three times within five minutes, keep them on for 10 minutes

A friend played on my obsessive arrogance and expressed his admiration for the work. The friend then asked how they could get a similar setup in their home, perhaps even in their backyard. I’ve listed the brands of equipment I purchased and the exact timing. “Okay, but how do I set this all up without taking you to my house?” My friend asked. I was flattered again, but at the same time, I realized how easy the acquisition process was compared to setup these days.

Most home apps — including ones from Google, Amazon, and Apple — are annoying when used for automation. Apple’s Home requires that you have a HomePod or Apple TV on your network before you can even start messing around with automation. Google and Alexa actions tend to rely on saying things to their assistants and speakers, and they don’t get into the deeper aspects of most devices in terms of triggers and actions.

Home Assistant, of course, gives you a blank slate for automation and routines, but that’s probably a bit much also Blank for anyone who doesn’t want to do a lot of reading and experimenting. Even with years of experience using it, I regularly bump into some of my ambitions or discover new ways to achieve things that are both impressive and mystifying at the same time. Setting the “Turn on porch light at sunset” trigger detected the following: In reality“Sunset” is a concept that includes sun angle, elevation, terrain, and other variables, so you should Set up this light based on the offset angle of the sun.

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there Schema Submissions Community, but this is a loose stack and is provided as YAML code to fix it. I’ve read a lot of documentation, played around with entity variables, and played around with it Node-RED, and generally got my gear into some useful configurations. But there must be many ways to make it easier to connect your smart home equipment.

You can make home automation easier on yourself in the short term by purchasing a dedicated whole-home system, the kind that is installed by contractors and controlled using wall-mounted tablets. Or you can only purchase devices from within one company’s ecosystem. Or you can stick entirely to the stuff with your favorite home app provider. But betting on one company always being there for you is not something we generally recommend.

That’s why the idea of ​​Google — or any company — offering help with the deeper, more difficult parts of smart home setup is interesting to me. There are a lot of variables involved with Google introducing this type of technology, making it widely available, and committing to it. But providing any kind of help with the ideas of automation, discovery, and deeper connections is better than what most people get today.

Listing image by Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images