In Rocky IV we got to see 1985’s vision of a future home: one staffed with a robot butler.

As fantastical as that seemed, and still does, 2018 has shown us that all the conveniences of that fantasy can be true thanks to dozens of startups, companies and entrepreneurs looking to make the home a smarter place that can do anything a mechanical butler could.

Let’s start simple, with the lights. Many companies, like Philips and their Hue range, create smart light bulbs that can be turned on and off with your phone or tablet.

While that’s a neat party trick and a legitimate help for those with limited mobility, a greater smart home investment to make could be in security. Companies like Nest create security cameras that are easily installed and continually stream their video content to your device of choice.

With built-in batteries these cameras can even capture footage once they’ve been stolen or forcibly removed, and they send alerts right to your phone when something happens.

To go back to the robot butler, the closest analogue we have in the current year is the AI assistants that live on our phones and now in our homes.

Amazon, Google and even Samsung create smart speakers that live alongside you, taking your commands to make lists, play music, set alarms and more.

While us South Africans may not have full access to Amazon, making Alexa a bit less useful when it comes to things like ordering groceries, these assistants are still invaluable. Once you start offloading some of your busy work to your AI, you won’t want to go back.

Your refrigerator, TV, audio system and more can all be modified or replaced to hop onto the internet and make your home a smarter, more connected place to live. You just need to look for a property for sale to turn into a smart space, and decide what gets the brains and what stays dumb.

With so many options there’s one thing to keep in mind when it comes to these additions to your home: security. While this would normally mean high walls and electric fences, for Internet of Things (IoT) it means something else entirely. Like every device that connects to the internet, your smart home components are at risk of being tampered with by outside forces. Dubious individuals can hack into ill-protected devices and cause trouble. It’s best to keep a tight grip on the network that the devices are connected to with a strong password. Updating your devices will also keep them ahead of the curve if the manufacturer is reputable when it comes to product support.

What about the DIY option?

For some, nothing beats the sense of pride and ownership that comes from remodelling their house, working to improve it and truly making it a home with their own hands.

While this is relatively simple for smaller projects like painting and gardening, it may seem that making your home smart is more difficult, but that isn’t the case.

Thanks to the rise of cheap, hobbyist computers like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, anyone with a spare afternoon and some solder can make exactly what they want when the store doesn’t sell it. This is especially important in South Africa where we sometimes don’t get all the impressive gadgets that those in the US and UK do.

The winner of the first ever Raspberry Jam in South Africa – a get-together for Raspberry Pi enthusiasts – was an everyday homeowner looking to automate his lights and gate.

Some enterprising individuals have created machines that automatically mix drinks, or had their house sing the Monster Mash at Halloween.

Those not looking to get directly involved can hire a professional or enthusiast, usually at one of South Africa’s makerspaces, to create and install these systems for them. Like an architect or landscaper these engineers and electricians will create a smart home system to your liking.

Going this route also ensures that you have the security angle covered, as enthusiasts are loathe to use anything but the safest components.

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