Presence, regardless of the device you use, is one of those features that works great for some people, not at all for other people, and is randomly flaky for still others.
It’s very much affected by local conditions. So some people will find that phone presence works much better than the SmartThings-branded presence sensor. Other people will find the reverse. Still other people, myself included, find that they have to use a combination of two devices in order to get reliable presence indication.
So if this feature tends to work differently for different people, where do you start?
1. Using a Smart Phone as a Presence Indicator
Well, since most people who have SmartThings have a smart phone, it’s worth starting there. The following FAQ runs through the the usual troubleshooting steps for phone based presence:
We should also note that some people find that the life 360 service is more reliable than the native SmartThings phone presence, and that integration is officially supported.
In either case, your phone will have to have location services enabled, which generally means the phone must have a data plan and Internet access.
If you have an android phone and you are willing to spend a total of about $10 for three separate paid apps, there is another alternative for presence detection using Sharptools and Tasker that is worth looking at:
One more free phone-based option for people who find life 360 too intrusive (because it would allow you to track them throughout the day) is just to use the regular phone geolocation with IFTTT.
Webcore, which is essentially a scripting language for SmartThings, also has its own phone-based presence detection separate from the official ST method, and some people find it more reliable.
Also, some specific models of android phones appear to kick the SmartThings mobile app out of background processing from time to time, which can affect Geopresence. Sometimes you can adjust this by changing the battery saving features, and sometimes you can’t. If presence is working fine for one family member but not for another, it may be the phone model. There has been some discussion of this in the forums:
2. The SmartThings Arrival Sensor
If you’d rather use the fob device, or you think it might work better than the phone for you, see the following:
3. Other Key Fob Devices
Z wave isn’t typically suited for this use case because it doesn’t have the same kind of check in structure as zigbee. But if zigbee isn’t working for you, you can try either an NFC tag device or an I beacon. More about Ibeacons in the next section, but there is a Z wave pin pad which also works with an NFC key fob which is worth considering. It is available in both the US and the UK and some members are using it with SmartThings.
You will have to get the keytag quite close to the pin pad for it to work, but you can mount the key tag on a stroller or wheelchair, and it might be easier to use for a young child than the pin pad itself. You can also give the keyfob temporarily to guests or dog walkers.
4. More precise detection using two devices
And if you’re just curious about the two device method, here’s the thread on that. I should say first that I had a very specific use case I wanted to solve. I use a wheelchair, and I had problems where my presence would be detected while I was still on the bus waiting for the driver to unload me. So the timing was just really off. I didn’t want to be detected as arriving until I reach the bottom of the wheelchair ramp at my front door. So this is a very specific, quite small area. The two device method worked really well for me for this. Other people have used it just to improve reliability.
Ibeacons can be a really good choice for the two device method because you can set the detection range with some models:
There are even I beacons which can be worn as bracelets. They can’t connect directly to SmartThings, but you use the same methods at the link above to get integration.
5. Connected by August locks
When you use a “Connected by August” lock from Yale it has its own presence detection system which combines Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS intended to unlock the lock as your smart phone gets quite close to it, within about 15 feet, but also not to mark you as “away” until you are at least 600 feet from the lock. For most people, this works really well to keep the lock from unlocking a second time after you are home.
So some people will be able to use the Connected by August for presence detection by having IFTTT turn on a specific virtual device when a specific person is detected as Home or Away by August.
This probably won’t work for opening the garage door because the detection range is too short. But it would work for many people for approaching the door with the lock.
It only works for people who are carrying a smartphone with the August app, though.
6. Facial Recognition Cameras
In the past, reliable facial recognition systems were very expensive. Beginning in 2016, there were some cameras starting to come on the market that were under $400, but most of these are only available for indoor use, and there have been some reliability issues. Still, although these devices are expensive, normally you would only need to get one and then teach it to recognize multiple faces, so the cost per person would be closer to some of the other approaches.
One to consider would be the Netatmo Welcome. The price has come down significantly to around $200, and it typically goes on sale a couple of times a year for even less.
There’s no direct integration with smartthings, but it does have a good IFTTT channel for indirect integration.
Because this is an indoor – only Camera, it won’t be useful for use cases like unlocking the door or opening the garage. But it could be used for changing comfort settings depending on who’s home once A specific person has entered the house. So you could use smartthings to make an announcement, change the thermostat, turn the television on to a specific channel, etc. depending on the other devices that you have When the welcome camera recognizes a specific household member.
People who don’t want to use geopresence to unlock the doors might combine the welcome camera with a smart lock with the keypad to provide customized experiences for different family members, for example.
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Another option to consider for outdoors would be the Nest Hello Doorbell, And there are some community members using its facial recognition for presence. It’s a little complicated, and you will have more options if you use an android phone, although it’s not impossible with an iPhone.
The doorbell itself is good at recognizing individual faces that you have taught it to recognize. But the problem is the only thing it does is send you an email like “John has arrived.“ So then you have to have something capture that email and then react to it.
People with android phones can do this with Tasker and sharptools. A community member has posted a project report about that here:
You could also do it with Ifttt, which is what iPhone users would have to do. That’s discussed briefly in the same thread.
The problem with this is it would be pretty easy to hack the email step, so not everyone will want to do it. But it is an option.
7. Build Your Own WiFi Detection
Finally I should add that some highly technical members have added their own detection systems based on their phones connected to their specific Wi-Fi. Again, people who did this were people who found that the more general solutions just weren’t accurate enough at their house. You can find a number of threads on this approach in the forums. But that’s more work than most people find necessary. Typically either the phone or the fob will work for most people, although which one works best will vary from house to house. And the two device method will improve reliability for anyone who needs a more specific zone.
8. Use Homebridge to allow HomeKit Presence to trigger SmartThings events
While there is no direct SmartThings/HomeKit integration at the time of this writing, some community members with strong technical skills have set up a separate device as a server and run a hue bridge emulator called “homebridge.” This allows them to full HomeKit into thinking that non-HomeKit devices are actually Hue devices, which does allow some integration that way.
One community member has used this method to have HomeKit presence trigger smartthings activities.
All of the above has to do with “Geopresence,” that is entering or leaving a house size (or larger) zone.
Once you get into home automation, many people get interested in “micro location” which is knowing when a specific person is in a specific room.
This is a lot trickier than you would think, in part because a “room” is defined by walls, and most of the radiofrequency protocols used for Geopresence go right through walls.
So unless you use three or four devices per room (which gets expensive) it can be really hard for a micro location system to know whether you’re really in the kitchen or in the hallway next door to the kitchen. Or even one floor up in the bedroom. And even then, current technologies require that the person carry something with them if you want to recognize individuals.
Everybody would like to see micro location, and there’s a lot of money being invested into it ( and a lot of bad engineering and slick marketing going into Indiegogo campaigns), but there’s no inexpensive answer yet.
You can do a lot with people counters like trip beams in doorways, but while those will tell you whether there is someone in a room, they won’t tell you whether a particular person is in that room.
Anyway, big issue, many people interested, no easy answers yet that don’t involve at least $300 of equipment per room. And there’s a big difference between knowing “someone is in the room” and knowing “Lisa is in the room.”
More discussion in the following thread: