SmartSense Presence Sensor FAILURE

The SmartSense Presence Sensor does not work sometimes for some users and people should be wary of purchasing the device for some reasons. Below will be responses that will help those with the issue.

Hi Joe. Sorry to hear about your troubles. I have found, and I think others here will agree, that life with SmartThings is great, as long as you don’t rely on presence detection for anything. All of the available methods of presence detection seem to have these problems of false leaving/re-entering.

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Why in the world would people automate their locks and garage doors to a presence sensor?

If the dog got out of range or something interfered with the signal, it would trigger you left and came back…

Programming around this is simple, tons of options. Key fobs, button presses, door states all are automatable.

This is the problem with automation, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

This is not an ST problem completely. Sure the zigbee presence sensor failed and couldn’t communicate with the hub and then restored itself as it was designed to do. But the end user programming did not accommodate for this reality that sensors fail.

Sure, it would be nice for the Zigbee spec have something to differentiate between a sensor that drops of the mesh vs something that has left the mesh, But again, this isn’t something ST can just fix, its the spec.

Right now, automation and security are practically mutually exclusive. Wire up automation on the result of security, not in lieu of security.

For example, if the garage door opens, do something based on which presence sensors are home. Not the other way around.

If the garage door is open after 10pm, notify me and let me close it (or maybe close it automatically if local code allows it)

Presence sensors are great if you want to figure out who is home and who isn’t. But using presence as a trigger to open doors, unlock locks, etc is just plain wrong.


Presence sensors work by being “present” when the hub can see them, and “away” when it can’t. They are subject to the same false positive/false negative readings as any other radio device, and care should be taken when adding automation based on them.

Door locks, garage doors, etc aren’t ideal targets for automated UNLOCK/OPEN - in the case of garage doors it’s probably a good idea to avoid automated close for safety reasons as well. My doors will lock after 5 minutes with everyone away, but they don’t unlock on arrival.

Home Automation actions should be like the doctor’s creed: First, do no harm.

To your specific example of the presence sensor, I’ve got a couple of these sitting by a hub, and they do fairly regularly decide to read as away as well. The batteries in these are down to 25% now, which no doubt doesn’t help. The safest thing to do with automation and presence is to notify vs act if the action might be dangerous, and ideally only after several minutes of readings in the “opposite” state - for example you can see in your own logs the “away” state lasted a minute or less (because of whatever radio interference, most likely) so a delay of a couple minutes would have prevented the door from opening unexpectedly.

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I have the same problems. I have worked with support on it, and there are some things they can do to make it better, but it still randomly comes and goes several times a week. Probably because of interference from my neighbors Wi-Fi.

I’ve tried a number of different things. (My background is network engineering and I worked with zigbee devices well before I started automating at home.)

Short answer: the smart things presence fob works great for some people. It has a lot of problems for some other people. Most of that seems to depend on issues of local interference.

You can solve most of the problems of the teleporting Zigbee fob by adding an additional device as a verifier. But it’s not something I would rely on for garage doors in particular. Or arming alarm systems. But that’s just me.

Different people have different needs and preferences when it comes to peace of mind.

Here are a couple of discussions about how people are addressing presence issues. They might give you some ideas, or at least a sense of validation. Just to be aware that the device does work great for some people. “all Home Automation is local.”

I myself am in the process of switching over to IBeacon detection as a presence indicator. It can be hard on the phones batteries, but it’s much more consistent at my house. I’m solving the battery issue by using a plugged in tablet at home as the detector and taking the iBeacon with me just like the ST fob.

Anyway, I think the ultimate answer on the Zigbee presence fob is that it should be advertised with one of those little footnote: “individual results may vary.” It certainly can work for a lot of people. But if you’re one of the ones it doesn’t work for, you may want to try a different approach.

BTW, it’s the only ST zigbee device that doesn’t use amplification, so I haven’t seen any of the teleporting issues with my other zigbee devices. Just the presence fob.


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Thanks for your help and opinions.

Thanks for helping the community.

Thanks for helping the community.

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For automated UNLOCK. They’re great for automated LOCK, which is how I use mine. Because humans can always unlock a door that happened to lock due to a bad reading.

For your walk the dog scenario, you could provide a keyfob w/buttons to your walker. That fob would be able to open/unlock if Dog has left and then returned AND the fob is present AND the human presses one or more buttons on the fob.

That would be secure.

Everything else is not, because radios are subject to interference.

I think that’s @JDRoberts point. If you want security, you need to verify that the event you think you see is real. Having a real human press a button is 100% accurate. Everything else isn’t.

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Again, it comes down to the use case and each person’s individual priorities.

I personally would not have a garage door open or close for anything other then a human looking at it. It just bugs me. But that’s me.

On the other hand, I’m quadriparetic with limited hand function. Hands-free is really valuable to me on a daily basis. I have a self locking deadbolt on the front door. I do use automation to operate that bolt hands-free. But it doesn’t open the physical door. And I have a completely separate security system that is not controlled by SmartThings. And a second no networked lock on the same door which can be used if we want verified barrier control.

Setting everything up so it works exactly the way I want it was a little complicated, but I’m happy with the results. However, what makes me happy might make someone else unhappy. It just varies.

(Like most quads, I’m supersensitive to fire safety issues. So you’ll see a lot of forum posts where I bring up fire safety issues that other people would find silly to worry about. But an able-bodied adult has the option to just jump out of bed, and I don’t, so the risk/benefit calculation is different at my house.)

BTW, I agree that the button fob is a great idea for the kind of use case like the dog walker. There’s one tiny one that works with smartthings that only costs $15. Even smaller than the presence sensor. Hook that to the dog’s leash and you’ve solved the same problem with a more reliable and actually less expensive solution. It’s not quite as snazzy high-tech, but you can always make the porch light come on and the door open at the same time or something like that for a wow factor. :blush: The $15 one is the Securifi fob near the end of the following topic:

So again, different choices will work for different people.

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@joefilippello Being an engineer, you would know of the potential failures with a system so why would you hook up a presence sensor to open/close the garage?

It doesn’t make sense to me. My presence sensors work but definitely will flake in and out at times, so I use them to help with modes of the house not access.

ST, of course, will over sell there system. I looked at it at first, but did research before I purchased it and it was very clear that presence was not useful for opening/closing and unlocking doors etc.

I use it to lock things, but never to unlock.

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Thanks for helping the community.

Yeah, there are so many scenarios where it will come in and out of range. I’ve found w/ ST and my family, it is all about introducing things slowly, and really reviewing the use cases before making them critical.

It is why w/ my Hue bulbs all of them are on a Z-wave switch because no one wants to HAVE to pull out their phone to turn on or off a light.


Thanks for helping the community.

I don’t think the presence sensor is advertised properly. Had I researched more before my purchase I never would have opted for the bundle including one as it is all but worthless to me.

Still, I’m with the captain on this one and would not automate a security related device. The tech is just not at a level to reliably accommodate this particular wish. I was thinking it would be cool to walk into my living room on a cold winter evening and have my gas fireplace auto ignite, but I would not even for a second entertain actually implementing such an app.

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Thanks for helping the community

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I feel your pain in the frustration of presence issues…I have them too and presence is the center of my setup. I am not using the individual sensors but rather iPhones. Mine was working perfect at first then a IOS app update crippled presence. I have been in contact with support and they have been helping and recently I am having better results. It’s not perfect and I would say recently of the past 50 arrivals and departures by all of our phones I have only had 2 hiccups.
Right now I use presence for adjusting my HVAC, turning on a light when we come home at night and Smart Alarm, with the exception of Smart Alarm I can accept a FEW hiccups. I am in the process of having backups for arming and disarming Smart Alarm via tablets in the house running SmartTiles and keyfobs.
I would like everything to be automatic but certain things I just cannot depend on 100% of the time. Worst case scenario for me is having the alarm trigger when my wife comes home and her presence is not detected correctly…GAME OVER. Having a backup just in case is what I will need.

Like I said I feel your pain but I am willing to work thru it, not everyone will feel that way.

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Thanks for helping the community.

I agree with you, that would irritate me and my wife (which is worse) and I would find that unacceptable. Have you tried using a cell phone as opposed to the sensor? I know you wanted it for your dog but maybe a $15 keyfob would be a better bet for the dog.
Not trying to tell you what to do but personally I would contact support, but I understand why you don’t want to. You may have found a bug that could be fixed and help others.

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A lot of different things converging here…

First, ST has never, to my knowledge, advertised microlocation uses for their presence sensor (like knowing who’s in the bedroom). It’s for crossing a geofence boundary. So I’m not sure the lights in the bedroom example applies.

But as far as stabilizing it in general, this works quite well:

As far as tolerating random lights coming on…with the exception of things triggered by presence detection, I’ve never had a problem with things randomly coming on. I have had multiple issues with things randomly not working, as have many people. So I always have a plan B option for anything run by ST.

ST solved some important convenience use cases for me and I’m happy with that. In particular, I have decent voice control and an IFTTT channel, both high value features for me.

If you want a home automation system under $3,000 that has always made stability and reliability their top priority, look at Staples Connect. Their Target market is small businesses, so reliability was their big issue from the beginning. They got there by avoiding cloud services, not using Geopresence, not having an IFTTT channel, not allowing user-developed code, and offering a much more limited selection of generally more expensive individual devices. Basically they threw out anything that might cause instability. If you look at their forums, you’ll see that most of the complaints are about devices that they are not supporting yet. Not about instability in the system that people already have.

SmartThings chose to offer a much more open platform and chase a lot of the hottest, newest stuff, even if they didn’t offer full integration to begin with. That comes with a different set of issues.

It may well be that ST isn’t the right fit for you. My personal guess (just a guess) is that by summer 2016 we’ll see several reliable plug and play home automation systems. Apple Homekit/insteon will be one. I fully expect Samsung/SmartThings to be another. So I’m putting off my big HA projects until late 2016.

For now, ST fits my interim needs best. I like the vision, I like the community, but I’d jump ship in a heartbeat if a competitor had a solution that was a better fit for what I need right now. But for right now, ST is solving some things I want solved. Your value calculation may be different.