January 25, 2023

Home Assistant - The Future Is Now

by Ognjen Koprivica, Director of Engineering
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Many tech enthusiasts can recall old footage of luxury from one of the most expensive properties in the world, the residence of the CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates. 15-20 years ago, his living space was recognizable by what seemed like a sci-fi setup, whereby one could trigger responses activated by movement or voice. The space would heat up exactly when supposed to and to the desired temperature and the lamps would light up the place through motion sensors. Gates could control the TV using his voice and communicate with a digital assistant through simple voice commands.

Yes, the technologies we know today, were already available 20 years ago, but only for an exorbitant price. The million-worth investment was not even available to everyone who could afford it. The implementation of such cutting-edge technology, especially in its early phase, was often met with geographical, legal and infrastructure challenges, even in countries far more developed than ours.

Today, what used to be Gate’s luxury is known as the concept of a smart home, and it is available to everyone. The devices that make it possible have been the cornerstone of consumer electronics for several years now.

Hundreds upon hundreds of companies manufacture such products which connect through some sort of a platform. And it is exactly those platforms that give purpose to the devices and unify them into a meaningful concept.

You need a butler?

Google, Amazon, Apple, and Samsung are just some of the tech giants who recognized the trend on time and offered their solutions. By using their platforms, the end user can connect different devices and sensors and automate or facilitate their use to make their ambiance more pleasant or a little bit more interesting.

However, there is a hidden gem, whose capabilities go beyond the solutions offered by companies like Google or Samsung. The platform we are talking about is much more powerful, more flexible, more resistant, safer, faster, and it’s free. Meet the Home Assistant.

Installing a voice-activated smart lightbulb and control it via Google, Siri or Alexa is not impressive anymore. However, the Home Assistant app, if installed properly, will not leave you unimpressed.

The Home Assistant enables central control and automation of smart home devices. You probably have heard of its counterparts, Samsung SmartThings, Apple HomeKit and Google Home, and while they are perfectly good solutions that can cover most of the needs an average user can have, the Home Assistant is a superior alternative for many reasons.
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Reliable, secure and fast

Controlling locally all smart home devices has its advantages, and the first one is reliability. What happens if the Internet shuts down?

In contrast to cloud-based platforms, a lost internet connection is not necessarily the only reason the service is unavailable. Many cloud services, sooner or later, become unavailable, more often temporarily, but at times, also permanently.

Security is another important aspect. User data are not sent anywhere, so they cannot be misused. This is becoming a more and more important aspect, as the smart home market evolves and becomes more susceptible to potential hacker attacks.

Speed is yet another exceptional advantage that the Home Assistant provides. Given that all devices are connected to a local network, processing the commands is much faster compared to solutions that require sending commands to a server. Even though this may seem trivial in many cases, it is essential at other times. For example, when we want to turn on the lights exactly when the motion sensor is activated, we need to use a local network. Having delays with the sensors in these instances would kind of defeat the whole concept of the smart home.

An Assistant for everyone anytime

The Home Assistant is probably supported by any smart home device available on the market. With an active community behind it, even currently unsupported devices get very fast on compatibility lists. The smart home ecosystem can get very complicated when the user starts to combine all kinds of different elements, but with the Home Assistant, all issues with compatibility, platforms, different communication protocols and standards are easily removed.

Besides the community (mentioned above) that serves as a source of technical information for easier fixes, the developers who contribute to the platform’s development are extremely devoted and fast, and they deliver a significant number of upgrades per month.

The Home Assistant is compatible with a large number of devices and there are plenty of choices. The most popular way to start is Raspeberry.Pi, but any Linux system will do the job. It is supported on Mac and Windows, Docker, virtual machines, QNAP, NAS, etc. Free versions of the Home Assistant app are supported on plenty of platforms and are practically available to any user. The apps are visually appealing and relatively easy to use.

Knowledge is power

It is hard to come up with everything the Home Assistant offers, but it is worth mentioning that, just as any other solution, it is not perfect.

Before you start using the Home Assistant, be prepared for a more complex process and a longer learning curve. Keep in mind though that this is a natural process: the more powerful the software, the more complex it is to use. In case of the Home Assistant, the basic settings, setup and adjustments require some effort to (successfully) play with the Home Assistant. It takes time, learning, practice and devotion to master all the things that are usually taken out of the equation for the sake of easier use.