Your bed cover senses your REM cycle coming to an end and alerts your alarm clock. You get up, the coffee maker clicks on, lights begin to softly glow as you go from room to room. The temperature is an even 72 degrees and will remain so until you leave. With just a few taps on your phone, a car is sent to your location. As you step outside, the appliances inside slow to a stop and the deadbolt turns itself behind you. The walls and windows are now secured and every room viewable from wherever you go - all you have to do is look at your phone. This is not a scientist's prediction of the future. This is now.

Smart homes are no longer just an all-ages Disney movie about a utopia gone awry. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology have reached an affordable level so that average consumers can automate their homes. Even though it's still in the early days of consumer home automation, there is still a wide array of products from various electronics companies at a very attractive price point.

photo by Guillermo Fernandes / CC0

Before anything in your home can be automated, it needs to be connected to a network that mediates your custom commands and preferences. This is called a hub. Many tech companies have tossed their proverbial hat into the smart home ring, resulting in a buyer's market. The major contenders, as of this writing, are: Amazon's Echo, Samsung's SmartThings line, Logitech's Harmony, Icontrol Networks Piper, Lutron Smart Bridge, and Wink Connected Home Hub. Even Google's OnHub has the potential for adding Bluetooth devices for home automation.

With a hub, one can connect compatible units such as motion sensors, cameras, smart bulbs, locks, window sensors, a media server, and several smart home appliances. Many hubs use Wi-Fi to connect and communicate with devices but many also use Bluetooth signals as well as long wave radio signals (ZWAVE). Hubs all have a web interface for setting up and adjusting devices and just about all hubs have a mobile app that puts the power and control in your hands. The ones that do not have a supported mobile version often have third-party apps that work just as well.

Hubs like Echo and SmartThings are capable of voice command operation, mediating your audio streaming as well as basic info queries such as weather, local business searches, and PDA functions. Logitech's Harmony has a spectrum of services with their "Elite" model being the top item. It is all-in-one system that comes with a remote that controls any and all smart things in your home. Conversely, the Piper and Smart Bridge are more home security based, while Wink offers services with the bulk of smart devices on shelves today.

photo by Unknown / CC0

Home automation can be a big step towards changing your home life and security, but smaller steps are also an option. Individual units such as smart bulbs and smart outlets can be a good segue into a smart home. Several smart lighting systems are on the market that don't require a hub to operate. Top brands include: C by GE, Philips Hue, LIFX Color 1000, and the surprisingly cheap TikTeck Smart LED Light Bulb. Features include the ability to automate color, dimming, and timers, although these functions vary from unit to unit.

Smart outlets can be used to power electronics on a timer or remotely turn on/off anything plugged into it. The Quirky Pivot Power Genius is among the top listed outlets that has both smart and regular outlets. Smart outlets are a perfect introduction into home automation as they can be used with traditional lamps and lights and can serve as a basic smart lighting system.

One of the main reasons people make the move towards making their home smarter is security. Many of the smart systems on the market specialize in customizable networks of cameras, motion sensors, locks, and window monitors. There are many options out there but research in this area has revealed that consumers by and large prefer specialized home security systems companies and their products. These companies have been around for years, know their market, and are economically more stable, which allows them to offer much more competitive pricing. Many also offer additional features such as light system controls and scheduled power.

So if the allure of a smart home is the security features and basic light control, then an informed solution might be to explore home security options and the additional features they offer. Not only are their prices more agreeable but they, more often than not, have a liability clause in which compensation is available should their service fail. Smart home hubs rarely have this guarantee so you would be liable should anything happen.

photo by LG Electronics (South Korea) / CC BY

If you are more tech savvy and prefer a more hands-on or even DIY approach, then the open-source services of the delightful Raspberry Pi might be for you. The Raspberry Pi is capable of almost anything tech hobbyists can throw at it (save for anything that is CPU/GPU intensive) and a handful of motivated individuals and groups have been making open-source programs for home automation. This is probably the most cost-effective solution, but for a quality experience, a good deal of time and expertise is required for set up. Pseudo techies be warned.

There are a mind-boggling number of smart appliances and devices out there with more coming every day. As time goes on, many of these services and devices will become a standard in modern living, so there is no time like now to get informed.