Home automation for security, efficiency, convenience

AlertMe sensor and gateway devices

There are a lot of home automation systems available today. Some of the oldest go back five or 10 years, and these required a local controller and a special display or a link to the home TV. Also, they were difficult or impossible to control when away from the home.  More recent systems are more cloud oriented, employing simpler hardware with browsers and smart phones for control. This article will look at one system that exemplifies cloud feedback, called AlertMe.com.

AlertMe.com began by selling sensors that detect when a door or window has opened or closed, with a communications gateway device that links to AlertMe’s servers on the Internet. The customer can be informed when someone has entered or left the house by SMS message or e-mail or on a website. In addition, they provided special sensors: one is a door bell that can be mounted outside, and another that’s a key fob that you can press to indicate when you’re entering or leaving your house. So their first service was for remote security for a building. From the website you could keep track of comings and goings, set schedules to set or disable alarms, and choose different people or methods to get alarms.

Last year they extended the service by adding what they call a smart plug. A smart plug is a small square device that sits between a wall plug and any electrical appliance. It detects and reports to AlertMe’s servers how much electricity is used by that appliance. It can also obey commands from AlertMe’s servers to turn the appliance power on or off. There’s an additional device that can read the overall home meter.  The AlertMe website can show how much power is used at different times both in a browser and on a smartphone, can accumulate that data over months to show trends, and allows setting schedules for turning lights or heaters on or off.  Users get information and controls to regulate and reduce their energy use.  Some utilities in the United Kingdom, where AlertMe is based, have started to promote the AlertMe solution to their customers to encourage energy efficiency.  (AlertMe can also push data into Google PowerMeter — but that’s a topic for a future blog post.)

The AlertMe solution is very low cost compared with other home automation systems.  The introductory prices are under 100 pounds sterling.  Nearly all of the functions are enabled by software running on the Internet, so the hardware devices are quite cheap, and new features and upgrades are added continuously without the user touching equipment.  AlertMe seeks partners like utilities, retailers, Internet providers, and even employers to reach large groups of customers.  In a market as crowded as home automation, they retain the flexibility to adapt to opportunities, and tune their offering to partners, by exploiting the cloud feedback architecture.

February 23, 2010 · knovak · No Comments
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