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Life can be better when we connect with others, and as the Internet of things (IoT) is demonstrating, it can be better when devices connect with each other, too.
What does IoT mean? The IoT is the growing network of internet-connected physical objects that use sensors, software and additional technologies to communicate with other devices.
This connectivity allows you to use apps on a smartphone or a voice assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to control and monitor Internet-of-things devices. These products can also send alerts about their status and problems they’re experiencing.
So how do you know what an IoT device is? Here’s a hint: The consumer versions are often referred to as “smart.”
Smart devices geared toward the home include thermostats, speakers, refrigerators, security systems, window coverings, televisions, doorbells and garage doors. Many smart products relate to water use, including sprinkler systems, water heaters, water filtration systems and water softeners.
You can connect some IoT devices to a central hub to make them easier to manage. Homes that have a variety of connected appliances are often referred to as smart homes, and these are steadily increasing in number.
There were 51.2 million smart homes in North America at the end of 2020, an increase of 18.7 percent year-over-year, according to the IoT analyst firm Berg Insight. The researchers estimate that by 2024, there will be nearly 78 million smart homes in the region, which translates to 53 percent of all homes.
In addition, 85 percent of surveyed Americans bought a smart home device in 2020, according to a study by SafeWise, an online resource that reviews home security products. It also found that one in four Americans purchased a smart home technology device for the first time in 2020, and that 78 percent said they use smart home technology at least once a day. In Canada, smart home device ownership grew to 14% in 2019, according to market intelligence company Parks Associates.
One reason smart appliances are becoming so popular is because they deliver the convenience that busy homeowners value. You can start brewing coffee, preheating the oven and cooling down your house when you leave the office, for example. You can turn off your smart water sprinkler when you know rain is coming—or your sprinkler may be intelligent enough to already know about the rain and that it shouldn’t turn on.
Meanwhile, on drier days, you can remotely bypass your water softener to avoid wasting softened water when you irrigate the lawn. Some smart ovens and refrigerators even let you use an app to peek inside.
Internet-enabled devices can also provide peace of mind. If your children forget their house keys, you can unlock the door through an app. You can use the app of your smart doorbell to know when someone’s at the door and to speak with them. Connected devices can also tell you if you’ve left your refrigerator door or garage door open or the oven on. Resolving those issues becomes easy, even if you’re nowhere close to home.
Smart devices generate valuable insights, and some of this knowledge can help you achieve personal goals. For instance, if you’re trying to drink more water, a smart water filtration system can tell you how much you’ve accessed.
Aiming to use less water in your home? Smart water softeners and smart water heaters can help you monitor your water consumption, and a smart sprinkler can save water by determining the ideal amount to spray based on temperature and other conditions. Smart water heaters and smart thermostats, meanwhile, are among the products that can help you monitor your energy usage.
Connected appliances can also keep you informed about maintenance needs. Your smart water softener can tell you when it needs more salt, for example; your smart dishwater can alert you when it needs more rinse aid; and your water heater can notify you about a leak. With some smart systems, your appliance dealer can even perform remote diagnostics to save time when the system is experiencing a problem.
Remember that any device that connects to the internet and collects personal data comes with security considerations. To keep your information protected, be sure to secure your router and use strong passwords for each smart appliance you own.
Regardless of the type of system, smart devices are offering an already impressive number of features that will likely expand over time as technology improves and manufacturers find new ways to respond to market demands. We may one day wonder how we ever used our appliances or left the house without leveraging the problem-solving, convenience-driving technical assists of the IoT.