marthome house automation icon on motherboard, future technology home remote control concept
Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

Smarthomes are like any other home, just with extra control options for lights, plugs, thermostats, and more. But those additional controls introduce complexity, and understanding how they work will help you build a better smarthome.

We’ve covered in the past what a smarthome is, and even offered advice for hubs, voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assitant, and how to set up a smarthome on a budget. But if you’re setting up your first smarthome or upgrading an existing smarthome, it’s essential to understand how they work as you make decisions on what to add to it. And with smarthomes, it’s all about the radios and brains.

Your Smart Gadgets Are Radio-Powered

Zigbee vs zwave

When it comes to the devices that power your smarthome, they all have something in common: a radio. Whether it’s Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth, or proprietary, the big difference between your smart device and a non-smart version is a radio.

But that radio doesn’t give your bulbs, plugs, and doorbell any intelligence. It’s there for communication. You might think that your devices communicate directly with your phone or tablet and vice-versa, but that’s usually not true. And even in cases where it is, like Bluetooth, that’s always the end of the story. Almost all your smart devices communicate with an intermediary, the brains of your smarthome if you will.

RELATED: ZigBee vs. Z-Wave: Choosing Between Two Big Smarthome Standards

Your Smarthome Requires a Brain, Sometimes More Than One

A nest thermostat, wink, Google Home hub, Eero, Echo, and Schlage lock.
This picture contains five “brains” for smarthome communication.

By now, you should know when you talk to your Echo or Google Home devices; they transmit your voice to Amazon and Google servers for interpretation. Without that process, voice assistants don’t understand a word you say. The truth is, nearly all (if not all) your smart gadgets work similarly. Before your smart doorbell video reaches your phone, it travels through the doorbell manufacturer’s servers. When you press the off button in the Philips Hue app, that signal goes from your smartphone to your wireless router, to the Philips hub. That hub then communicates with your Hue bulbs to turn them off.

Think of the servers or hubs (and sometimes both) as the brains of your smarthome. That’s where the intelligence is. Not in the gadgets themselves, and not in the apps or physical remotes you use to interact with them. And those servers and hubs enable extra abilities beyond on and off. They provide routines, facial recognition, automations, voice control, and more.

But the thing to keep in mind is that your smarthome may have more than one set of brains. Your Google Home connects to Google servers; your Philips Hue bulbs connect to a Philips hub, Lutron to its hub, and so on.

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Sunday, June 16, 2019 - 6:40am