The internet of buggy things

For the last 15 years or so, I’ve tried out pretty much every home automation thing under the sun. The good news is products are generally getting better and easier to use as companies jump onto the Internet of Things bandwagon, but the bad news is many things are still unreliable.

It’s a tough problem to design to, since virtually everything in a house is very nearly 100% reliable all the time. When was the last time a light switch just up and died on you? And having everything use WiFi as a backbone, itself kind of an ad-hoc standard that sorta mostly works most of the time combined with house electronics is a recipe for disaster.

I really have been locked out of my house twice due to spotty WiFi. I am hesitant to try out any of the WiFi-enabled door locks as a result.

One of the most user-friendly line of products out there is the WeMo line from Belkin. They’re easy to set up, offer flexible options, but after using two hard-wired light switches, three wall plug units, and two motion detectors for the past six months or so, I have to say they don’t hold up over time and it’s baffling how they have failed.

A couple weeks ago, one of my wall switches stopped working on the iPhone app remote, but also the physical switch no longer functioned. A day later, it worked again.

I have a rule for another light switch set to turn on at sunset, and off automatically at 10:30pm. The time of “sunset” doesn’t seem to shift, but amazingly the shut-off time does. Right now, the light goes off every night at 10:08pm. Keep in mind, this is a light switch hard-wired to electricity and has an always-on WiFi connection. Not a single engineer working on the project thought to write some code to maybe check a time server once a day or at the very least once a week? I’m amazed that a time drift of 22min is even possible.

Lastly, one of my WeMo plugs is connected to a set of backyard lights that are fairly far from the WiFi base, but I’ve set up two WiFi extenders closer to the backyard and still the device can connect to the network only sporadically.

Anyway, I know these aren’t easy problems to solve, but given that I prefer my house to be close to 100% reliability, bringing things in from the world of computing that often come up short of that number isn’t really a recipe for success. To anyone considering Internet of Things objects in their home: tread carefully and prepare to be disappointed.