One of the most amazing things about the smart home field is that every week, there’s a new household item that’s been automated and computerized. Gradually, we see more and more mundane items being turned into something much more exciting, and much more dynamic.
Take your window blinds for example. It’s now possible to turn them into “smart blinds”, by installing an affordable electronic pulley system, which can be controlled via a smartphone. Here’s how you can get your hands on one, and what it can do for you.
The Growing Smart Blind Market
Smart home tech is undeniably niche. You might consider “smart blinds” to be a niche within a niche. There are few manufacturers, and none boast the prominence or presence that the likes of Samsung, Nest, and Phillips do.
There are two companies I’m most excited about: Loxone, and MySmartBlinds. These are the two largest competitors in the “smart blind” market, but they couldn’t be any more different in their approach.
Loxone: For Those Not Afraid to Dirty Their Hands
While Loxone doesn’t sell a smart blind product per se, it does sell a “Tubular Motor Solidline Air” for £156 (just shy of $200). This is admittedly a bit of a mouthful. It connects to an existing blind system, and allows you to remotely control it from a switch located on the premises, or from a mobile application. See them at work in the (annoyingly vertical) video below.
It’s worth emphasizing that it’s not a pre-built product. To build a smart blind system, you’re going to need basic electronics and programming skills, and time to commit to actually put it together. To get a taste of what this entails, check the video below.
You’ll also have to buy additional products, like a ‘miniserver’ to control the system (which costs a ludicrous £297, plus shipping), and switches to control it.
If this seems like a herculean effort, it’s because it is. This seems to be a theme with Loxone. The UK-based company sells a number of smart home products – including a music server – but all require a significant amount of assembly and configuration.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I imagine a lot of people would relish the opportunity for a weekend DIY project. Thankfully, for everyone else, there are turnkey solutions on the market.
MySmartBlinds: For Those Who Just Want to Get Going
The second most prominent player in the smart blind market is MySmartBlinds. Unlike Loxone, it’s a fully out-of-the-box product, which is great for those without the confidence or desire to build something from scratch.
Unlike the offering from Loxone, MySmartBlinds is also cheaper, at just $100. This consists of a Bluetooth LE-enabled motor box, a rechargeable battery pack, a manual switch, and the components you’ll need to fit any 2-2.5 inch horizontal blinds.
Another big difference from the Loxone offering is that you don’t need to interact with it through an intermediary device, like a hub or a miniserver. You can connect directly through an iDevice running iOS 7 or later, or an Android phone or tablet, running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean or later.
There’s also a number of MySmartBlinds accessories that can be purchased separately. If you don’t fancy the effort of periodically recharging your unit, you can purchase a compatible solar panel. This costs $45. The downside is that you’ll have to put it front-and-center in your window, and really, what will the neighbors say?
You can also purchase an additional MySmartBlinds-compatible smart switch. At $60, this costs way more than the solar panel, but it does allow you to control up to 32 blinds (eight blinds in a group, and four groups per switch).
MySmartBlinds also sells a replacement charging cable. This costs $14.00, and is basically a standard micro USB charger. You can buy them cheaper on Amazon.
Why Would You Bother Getting Smart Blinds
For some smart home products, the value proposition is immediately apparent. The Nest thermostat, for instance, will save you money on your heating bill. Although I’m pretty skeptical about robot vacuums, I admit that for some people, they will save time and effort.
What’s so great about smart blinds that you’d spend $100 and above per window? I can think of three possible situations.
They’ll Stop You Getting Robbed When You’re Away
If you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time, you probably know that your biggest anxiety is whether your home is safe. The moment it becomes apparent your house is unoccupied, it becomes an enticing target for burglars.
With Smart Blinds, you can create the appearance of someone living in your house. Both the Loxone and the MySmartBlinds offerings allow you to schedule when your blinds open and close. So, you can open them in the morning, and close them in the evening.
You can combine this with other smart home tech to turn your house into a virtual Fort Knox. With the Philips Hue lights, you can time your lighting to coincide with the sunset. With a motion detector, you can tell when someone’s skulking around your house, and with a Nest Cam, you can record the footage required to catch the criminal.
They Can Help Protect Your Privacy
In many major cities, privacy is at a premium, as people live cheek by jowl in crowded apartments and suburbs. If you’re conscious of your neighbors being able to peer into your apartment while you’re not at home, you might want to consider installing smart blinds.
With smart blinds, you could time your blinds so that they close when your neighbors arrive home, or when their kids come back from school.
They Can Save You Money On Heating Costs
In summer, you’ll notice that your electricity costs will soar, as your AC unit struggles to keep your home cool.
Thankfully, the strategic use of smart blinds can help. By setting them to close during the day, you can slow down the heating of your house, and thus reduce the strain on your air conditioner.
If you wanted to be really clever, you could couple your mains-powered AC unit with a smart plug, allowing you to turn it on an hour before you arrive home. This will save you cooling an empty home.
Have You Got Smart Blinds?
Over to you. Do you have smart blinds? Have you found any unique uses for them? Are they worth the money? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.