Programming a "smarter" smart home

I’ve spent a year and a half building up my smart home system, now with close to 60 connected devices throughout the house. I had everything programmed beautifully with a very high acceptance factor from the wife, and guests were always amazed at how well everything worked in the house. I wanted a “zero-app” setup where the house worked without any need to touch your phone, and I had it setup perfectly

Then on October 1st, everything was ruined, with the birth of my daughter. Now all of the previous logic I had applied to rooms or my setup completely changed. Lights turn on when you don’t want them to, and I’m afraid to trigger routines because they’ll turn on lights I don’t want to turn on. In my living room I have my lights setup to a motion controller so they are controlled by motion, which works great… until your mother in law comes to stay for an extended time and is trying to rock a crying baby to sleep in the living room, and the lights turn on every time she moves. This isn’t a problem with smartthings, it’s a problem with the logic that I had applied to running the house. For instance the concept of “Goodnight” and “Good Morning” just don’t exist with a 3 week old infant. I’m trying to think how I can reprogam everything to be smarter, and not rely so much on routines to influence things, because our lives are anything but routine anymore. I’ve found switches to smart bulbs turned off manually by my wife which is just the worst case scenario for me after investing all this money in a smart home.

I’m wondering what other people have done when they encounter these situations, and how you’ve tackled the logic from top down to make it even smarter and more useable and functional for people who don’t want to pull out a phone everytime to turn on and off a light.


This is a really interesting problem, and one which I have been considering for a while.

I’m currently in ‘limbo’ with ST as I am in the UK and doesn’t quite work as expected - but I am no novice to H/A having had a more professional albeit far more proprietary and expensive system in place at for the past 10 years.

When approaching H/A, we tend to look at our lives and routines as fairly static, we like to have the lights come on based on various events, rooms in the house heated at various times to various temperatures etc etc.

The reality is, when looking at our routines over a short period of time, they are orderly, but when considered over a longer timeframe they are subject to evolution. Like nature, the evolution can be slow and barely perceptible and at other times sudden and dramatic - in your case a baby has appeared and overturned the applecart but even without a baby things change, such a working hours, habits and preferences.

In all the above, a static model works for a while, you might make the odd change here and there as a direct consequence of the slow evolution of order - but when a big change happens it almost feel like everything must go and be started again from scratch.

What this ecosystem is crying out for is more than the simple rules we have; it need an adaptive system based on the historical behaviours with the ability to learn what we like to do, when we like to do it and being ready to easily adapt to change.

For example, in your case, your mother in law has the need to be able to say to the house - uh uhh, when you turned that light on in here, at this time of night, when the rest of the house was asleep, that was a bad idea. In other circumstances, when the house sees you enter a room and manually turn on the light under a differing set of conditions it needs to think to itself, aha I could have done this automatically rather than have the user press the button.

Another example might be the dining room. In my house the dining room rarely gets used unless we are having guest round for dinner, but when it does there are some indicators in the activity data which could be used to help the house learn what it needs to do. It could have sensed that there was an unusual amount of activity in the kitchen, there was also activity in the dining room as it was prepared for a dinner party. Maybe there was more movement in general in the house as guests arrive, with the doorbell being rung several times and lots of activity in the hallway. What it could do is sense that all these things are happening and look at past behavioural models and thought to itself - hah, i see last time all this happened the dining room heating was turned on and the household went to bed later than normal. It could then use this to pre-empt my manual intervention in turning the heating on in the dining room and delay turning on the heating in the bedrooms until all the hubbub downstairs quietens down.

Whilst this all sounds quite complicated, it really isn’t, there are lots of uses for machine learning - I work in a field which uses it a lot to extract meaning from big data - with some work it could be applied to H/A. There are two things which could make this magical:

1 - provide a mechanism for any user to easily and simply provide feedback to the system to indicate when it did a good or bad thing - it may be possible to use existing household interfaces to do this (such as how a user interacts with a light switches, e.g. if someone uses a light-switch to turn a light on or off the system needs to sit up and take notice that it could have prevented that manual interaction)

2 - leverage the IoT and cloud/crowd activity to provide a base learning set - I work with behavioural data of a different nature, but given how different peoples lives are there are far more similarities than differences. If we could use everyones experiences as a basis for individual configurations, the time to get from a raw untrained system to one which closely resembles what the ideal is would be reduced drastically. Clearly a household with 4 kids is going to be very different to one of a young couple or of a single widower but it would be apparent very quickly in the data which of the many models most closely resembles the activities in this instance.

Anyway, this is the dream. I don’t think ST as it stands can fulfil the needs as it doesn’t have the machine learning framework natively but it does offer the device abstraction which could form the basis of it, and the plumbing to make it truly smart isn’t that tricky…

Congratulations on the new baby! And, yes, adding any new person to the home, whatever age, requires rethinking the automations you already have.

We have a lot of people who come through our house. Three of us live here as housemates, everybody has friends and family who come to visit, and I have healthcare workers who come.

We found that the simplest universally accepted solution is the Amazon echo for voice control. Works great, everybody likes it, very flexible. And you don’t have to individually authorize visitors and they don’t need smartphones. it is now the primary means of light control in our house. One of the best things about it is you can put one light into many different groups. So if I say “office” and my housemate says “study” we can have both VoiceCommands that work for the same light.

We also have very different schedules, so one thing we did was add a few additional $15 smart bulbs in table lamps to give us more lighting options in each room. So instead of always having the ceiling light come on, maybe just the new desk light comes on.

Also at our house “night” mode means the hallway motion sensor turns on the overhead light, and “asleep” mode means the overhead light stays off but the same sensor triggers a night light on the side wall.

But that’s just what works for us, different things work for different households.


I completely understand what you are saying. I haven’t been working on my system for as long as you, but I do have around 45 devices connected.

I to had things running the way I wanted, with little to no glitches… And then on Sept. 15th… My daughter was born.

The logic I used was to build my system around the Amazon echo. I never wanted to touch my phone. I wanted everything either voice controlled or automatic.

I did stay away from motion control. Sometimes I walk through the kitchen and I do not want the overhead lights to come on… The flow of the accent lighting is enough. The only place I use motion is for security lights and to turn lights off after motion stops.

I wanted control over each bulb. I wanted dimming control. I wanted to talk to my house and have it respond. I have two echo’s in my home just for this purpose.

Well, now there are several issues at hand. I have a baby that when she is sleeping you do not start talking over the fan to tell Alexa to dim the lights. I have my parents here… And her parents… Ugh… So now I find light switches off and things out of sync. A total nightmare. Echo doesn’t know what is on or off and just keeps repeating ok, ok, ok, ok…

So, I have figured out how to fix this…

Smart switches and dimmers. Now, the lights can be turned on at a low level without talking to echo. The lights can be turned off without talking to echo and waking the baby in my arms. I can just hit a switch.

And when the baby is asleep in her room I can still talk to the house to set the lights at 75%…because with the switches… Nothing is out of sync.

While it is not the star trek utopia I wished for… It is still wonderful…

I was in the Navy, I was not a Marine… But when faced with challenging situations I did adapt, improvised, and overcome.

The spouse approval factor is back on the rise to the point that she requested the garage door controller. The family is now in awe well as the friends.

And the best part… Not only is my house back on track for full automation, but I have redundancy in place that ensures I do not have to reset things to make them work.

The old school folks can use their switches, I can talk to my house, my baby can sleep, and I still do not have to touch my phone to make it work.

Life is good.


Yes, I definitely think the key to great interactions with anyone in the house is to have physical options for them. I elected to not use any smart bulbs. I went the switch route. That has made a big difference since not everyone who needs to use a switch actually lives in the house!


These are all some great points, and I begrudgingly admit maybe the solution isn’t revised automation, but more of the physical commands as you all stated. We do have an Echo, and I agree it is great. In fact when my mother in law was in the living room with the lights that kept flipping on, she’d just tell the Echo to turn them off again. problem is she was doing it 30 times a night…

My problem with using light switches for control is my wife despises over head lighting (it’s a weird thing, I don’t get it but her Mom’s the same way so it’s a learned thing) so almost all of our main floor lighting is in floor or table lamps. Rewiring all of my outlets to switches is out of the question. I could use outlet style dimmers to control them, but people would still just reach in and turn off the lamp and I’d be screwed. I think if I rework the automations to not use so much motion control I could train people to use the Echo instead of turning the bulb off. Barring that I’ll just rip out the switch from the lamps…

I still feel like we need cheap stylish single action buttons that could be placed around the house to trigger actions. I know someones got the Dash buttons working for this kind of interactivity, but they are definitely not attractive looking. I use a couple Aeon 4 button remotes and they’re great, but the mother in law acceptance factor is pretty low!

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