Smart gadgets to boost safety, cut energy use and help clean

“I swear on my mother’s rechargeable batteries,” said Rosie the robotic housekeeper in the 1960s TV cartoon “The Jetsons,” when she was asked to keep a secret.

While we’re still a few years away from a humanoid robot that can wash dishes and make beds, today’s smart home devices are designed to make your living space safer, more energy efficient and easier to maintain.

For added convenience, many of today’s gadgets are automated, such as a Wi-Fi thermostat that can detect room occupancy and adjust temperature accordingly. Others are controlled with a companion app or by using your voice via an inexpensive smart speaker (such as a Google Nest, Amazon Echo, or Apple HomePod).

Here are ways to bump up your home’s IQ:

Similar to its Ring family of video doorbells, Amazon's Blink line of outdoor cameras are affordable ways to see and chat with visitors at your door.

Cameras for outside, inside: Amazon’s Blink Video Doorbell ($42) is an inexpensive solution to see who’s at your front door, and chat with them via your smartphone — even when you’re not home.

Available in a wireless or wired model, features include 1080p HD resolution, an infrared night mode, and the ability to save and share clips in the cloud with optional Blink Subscription Plan (free trial included).

If you own an Alexa-powered Amazon Echo smart speaker, you can also opt in to receive alerts and answers with two-way audio.

Speaking of cameras, do you ever miss your pet when you’re not at home, or want to see what they’re up to? Quite simply, Petcube cameras (from $55) let you see, talk, and keep tabs on your dog or cat somewhere else.

The entry-level Petcube Cam, for example, has a 110-degree, wide-angle camera (full HD 1080p resolution), 8x digital zoom, and clear two-way audio. The 30-second clips of your dog or cat are stored securely in the cloud.

Use the app on your phone to check in at any time, even when it’s dark — Petcube Cam lets you see up to 30 feet in night-vision mode. As well, there’s an option to be notified in real time with audio recognition of barking and meowing.

Smart door locks, with deadbolts, don't need a key?  just your phone, smartwatch, or a PIN code.  Plus, you can send a virtual key to a friend, family member, contractor or cleaner.

To serve and protect: “Latchkey kids” are a thing of the past.

So long as they have their phone, smartwatch, or can remember a numeric code, kids and other family members can walk into the home without a key with the Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi Deadbolt ($349).

What’s more, you can lock or unlock your front door by using your voice near a smart speaker, such as saying aloud “Google, lock the front door.”

While there is still an option for a mechanical key, the Schlage companion app also lets you send someone a temporary, custom code and shows you on the app when your lock has been accessed, and by whom.

Smart LED lights let you use your voice super (with a smart speaker) or an app to turn them on and off, change colors and set timers.

Let there be light (and A/C): Not only do LED light bulbs consume a lot less power than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, smart LED bulbs like the Philips WiZ A19 3-Pack ($45) let you manage your lights through an app or smart speaker, whether to change its colour, dim or brighten a room, set up timers and schedules, and more.

WiZ does not require a bridge (plugged into a router), which is required with some other smart lights, plus LED bulbs last longer than other bulb types (average lifespan is 25 years, says Philips, when used about 2.7 hours a day).

From lighting to cooling, the Toronto-based maker of the first smart thermostat (way back in 2007) is still going strong with an even more affordable model.

At $199, ecobee3 lite costs less than many competitors, yet still saves you up to 23 per cent on your annual heating and cooling bill, says the company.

Along with easily adjusting temperature and comfort settings from an app, a smart speaker, or by using the thermostat’s 3.5-inch touchscreen, ecobee3 lite can be programmed to fit your schedule or synced with optional room sensors for more precise control.

Users are notified the moment this D-Link water sensor detects moisture to minimize any damage.  It's also ideal for owned and rental properties, and snowbirds.

Smoke, water sensors: Why have a regular smoke and carbon monoxide detector when you can own a “smart” one?

Unlike conventional models, Google’s Nest Protect ($149) automatically tests its batteries and sensors over 400 times a day, plus the free Nest app allows you to silence an alarm right from your phone.

A friendly humanlike voice gives you an early warning before the loud beeping kicks in (“Heads up, there’s smoke in the kitchen”). If you’ve got more than one in your home, the voice will tell you which alarm was activated, such as the one monitoring for carbon monoxide in the basement.

To reduce false calls, Google says custom algorithms know the difference between smoke from a fire and steam from a shower.

Along with a “pathlight” feature (to illuminate a walk through your home at night), travelers can benefit from a notification to every family member’s phone connected to the Nest Protect if there’s a problem while you’re away.

You can also be notified of potential water damage — before it’s too late. The mydlink Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi Water Leak Sensor Starter Kit ($99) includes two sensors in the box (expandable up to 16) to place around a water heater, washing machine, sump pump, or any spot there could be a potential water leak. You’ll be immediately notified if and when leaks are detected, thanks to a loud, 100-decibel alarm and flashing lights. A Google smart speaker can announce an issue, too.

Not at home? No worries. If it detects moisture, you’ll get a notification via an app, so you can have a neighbor check it out to minimize damage.

See your furry friend at home, and talk to them, when you're not there with the Petcube Cam.

Vacuuming and mopping: Ideal for carpet, tile and wood floors, robotic vacuum cleaners are super handy for sucking up dirt, dust, crumbs, and pet hair.

iRobot’s Roomba family is the most popular, starting at about $449 for the Roomba i3, which uses dual multi-surface rubber brushes (that don’t get tangled with pet hair) and strong suction to remove what’s in its path. Sensors intelligently navigate the ‘bot under couches and around objects, like chair and table legs. The Roomba i3 runs for up to 90 minutes before automatically docking and recharging.

You can start the cleaning in one of four ways: pressing the button on top of the unit, tapping the app, setting a schedule, or using your voice with a smart speaker (“Ask Roomba to start cleaning”).

As for mopping, the Braava jet m6 ($599) helps clean your hard floors — whether you’re there or not. Simply attach either a wet mopping pad or a dry sweeping pad, and your helper will do the rest. Both one-time use and washable/reusable pads are available.

As with many of the Roomba robots, this autonomous mopper uses artificial intelligence to get to know your home’s floor plan. You can even control which rooms are cleaned by saying “Braava, clean around the kitchen table,” as an example.

If you own a Roomba (model i, s, or 900 Series), after the smart vacuum is finished it communicates with the Braava jet m6 to then mop after it. How cool is that?

Marc Saltzman is based in Toronto and covers consumer technology trends. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_saltzman

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