Building smart homes

Chris Dare🔥
4 min readMay 10, 2019

Hey guys!!! Been a while, huh.

(Tl-dr: In this article, I talk about smart homes, AI assistants and a very teeny bit about how I’m starting my own smart home project.)

Background: For the past year and a half, I’ve been working in financial services. I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of crucial fintech projects like MTN Ghana’s IPO, an online retail investment offering and architecting software for an instant liquidity fund. It’s been great so far. But while I love the markets and continue to work on similar projects and research, I haven’t had — well, made — that opportunity to do a couple of other exciting things concerning Artificial intelligence and iOT. And these have a key role to play in the future of Africa. I’m changing that over the next few months by working on a project with Clearspace Labs. Clearspace is a global tech startup on a mission to make life easy using the latest advances in technology (AI, machine learning, iOT et. al). We’re improving the world one connected device at a time.

But enough of the introductions. Let’s dive into today’s story, shall we?

I remember discussing with friends, years ago, how one day we could talk to electronic devices in our homes and offices. It was already happening with our laptops and seemed obvious to me that it’ll take off sometime in the future with other devices as well. Little did I know that in that same year (2010), 2 ex-Apple executives had started a company to make smart homes a marketable product. They were acquired by Google 4 years later and today, they’re a force to be reckoned with. That company today is called Nest. With Nest products, you can control devices at home e.g. your doors, lights, shower, fridge and AC at the sound of your voice or with your phone.

Nest Video Doorbell
(Image from Nest website) Footage from a Nest video doorbell. You can see who’s at your front door even if you’re not home. Let’s say your parents decided to pay you a surprise visit whilst you were out of the house….well you could remotely unlock your door they enter and get comfy — whilst you head back home to meet them. Simple!!!

Nest isn’t the only company that does works in the smart home niche. Other companies like Amazon, Philips and Samsung are also racing each other to the top.

One interesting set of devices in smart homes are smart speakers. They’re actually computers that you can interact with via voice commands and feedback (although these devices may come with a few buttons or haptic points). Think of it this way: Imagine you have Siri or Cortana, but you’re interacting with it through a speaker.

The major smart speakers on the market include Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Homepod and Google Home.

Google Home (Smart speaker)

Imagine ordering takeout by saying “Hey Google, order streetwise 3 from KFC Osu when I’m 30 minutes away from home tonight. Have it delivered to my front door and use my Ecobank debit card to pay for the food.”

This is much better than unlocking your phone, opening the food ordering app, validating your purchase with your card — and making sure that you do it when you’re 30 minutes away from arriving home. That sucks! 👎

Now you need to realize that it’s not just about the cool tech. It’s also about value. The introduction of intelligent devices is creating a whole new value chain just as the smartphone did in 2007. Value births sales. Sales bring revenue and revenue brings the opportunity to profit. This is big business. RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney, for example, has estimated that Alexa will be responsible for $18bn Amazon’s total revenue by 2021. Get a load of that!

These devices are powered by artificial intelligence assistants. Google’s Home, for example, has the same Google assistant software that’s on your phone but configured for smart homes. Amazon’s Echo uses Alexa and Apple’s Homepod uses — you guessed it — Siri.

These assistants can interface with other smart devices in your home. That means you’ll be able to command Alexa for example, to turn off your bathroom lights or change the temperature of the living room AC (your personal wizard). Most assistants also come with web and mobile apps that help organize your views and controls so you can manage everything from your phone, tablet or laptop. Pretty cool huh?

You can add more functionality to your smart devices and assistants like Alexa with code. They don’t come enabled to process all the commands in the world — just like your smartphones don’t come with all the apps in the world. That’s why there are updates and 3rd party integrations for some of these devices and assistants.

Personally, I’m experimenting with these devices for smart homes as well. Today, I set up an assistant to control an AC. I used a raspberry PI as my server and installed the assistant on it. Then I put the server and AC remote on the same network so I could have the devices talk to each other. Next week, I’ll be doing more exciting stuff soon like customizing Alexa to process new voice commands.

There’s much more to smart homes and devices but I’ll leave that for another day. This story has to end. Try googling to learn more. It’ll do you some good. I’ll leave with a video from Nest to keep you excited about smart homes and smart devices.

S/O to Gandalf Aziz✌