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Vjeran Pavic

Smart Home


I like a good cup of coffee, or three. I drink it almost every morning, and often during the day. I even splurge once in a while and get a frothy, soy, frappa-doodle thing at a coffee shop.

But usually I make it myself, spooning grounds into a paper sleeve, pouring in water and waiting while it brews. The agony! (#FirstWorldProblems.)

What if, instead of waiting for the coffee to brew, my coffeemaker knew exactly when I rolled out of bed? Or if it powered on right at sunrise every day? What if I could tap my smartphone when I was a few minutes from arriving home, and a fresh pot of coffee would be waiting for me?

That has been one of the promises of the “smart” home, the notion that our homes can be filled with Wi-Fi-enabled appliances that all talk to one another, and are controlled through smartphones. A couple of weeks ago, Re/code’s Walt Mossberg reviewed a product called SmartThings, using it to cue lights around his house, and to sense when doors opened and closed.

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Vjeran Pavic

But I was more curious about the coffee. For the past week, I’ve been rigging my apartment with hubs and switches in order to set my coffee machines on very specific timers, and control it all with a smartphone.

I used two different smart-home kits to do this: SmartThings ($99) and Revolv ($299). Both include small hubs that support a variety of wireless standards, so that they can work with multiple third-party home products.

The verdict: Smartphone-controlled coffee can be done. But it’s expensive to set up, and unless you get really specific with your commands around the house, it doesn’t offer much benefit over using a coffeepot timer.

Also, Revolv currently only works with iOS devices.

Smart Coffee Things

SmartThings sells kits for $199 and $299, but I cobbled together individual parts. By itself, the SmartThings Hub is $99, a GE Jasco outlet switch costs $52, the required Mr. Coffee machine costs $17 and the app, which is available on both iOS and Android, is free to download. Total price for “smart” coffee was around $168.

Why the new coffeepot? It turns out that neither my existing Mr. Coffee, which has a timer, nor my Keurig machine, works with SmartThings. Perhaps the greatest irony of these high-tech coffee set-ups is that they work with the simplest coffee machines, those with a one-switch on/off function. This is because you’re controlling the wall outlet switch rather than the pot itself.

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Vjeran Pavic

I downloaded the SmartThings app onto my iPhone, attached the white plastic SmartThings Hub to my Wi-Fi router, and plugged the Jasco switch into a wall outlet in the kitchen. Then I plugged the new Mr. Coffee into the Jasco switch.

It wasn’t difficult to get SmartThings up and running, but I do agree with Walt’s assessment that the app could be a little bit more instructive. I went to the Lights & Switches section of the app, waited for the Jasco switch to be recognized through my at-home Wi-Fi network, and from there changed the name of the device to “Auto Coffee.” It took me at least a few swipes through the app to figure out how to schedule things.

Once I figured that out, I customized the Auto Coffee controls, opting to turn it on exactly at sunrise each day, and to turn off at 8 am. I filled the coffeepot and went to bed.

For three consecutive mornings, Mr. Coffee starting gurgling at exactly 7:09 am, just as day was breaking. Excellent! But wait … couldn’t I have just set my timer for 7:09 am each day this week?

The greater benefit, I think, was being able to control the coffee pot from my app. If I woke up earlier than 7 am, which is usually the case, I could just open the SmartThings app and tap “On” while still in bed. Similarly, I could shut the coffeemaker off from the smartphone app.

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Vjeran Pavic

SmartThings says that if I set up a motion sensor in a doorway somewhere, I could also trigger the coffeemaker to turn on when I first starting moving around in the morning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test this motion-sensor trick. But I did ask SmartThings what would happen if I got up in the middle of the night; would this trigger the coffee maker?

Not if I set it up through “Hello, Home” using the “when things start happening” configuration. The coffee maker would only power on during the time window I specified, the company said.

Revolv-ing Coffeepot

After day three of smarter caffeinating I switched to the Revolv Hub. This is similar to the SmartThings Hub, except the Revolv Hub is more expensive, and it connects to your home network over Wi-Fi rather than through a hardwire connection.

Between the Revolv Hub ($299), the Belkin WeMo switch ($50) and the Faberware percolator that Revolv recommends ($50), the total cost of this coffeemaking kit was $399. You can buy a lot of Venti mocha lattes for that.

I unplugged the Mr. Coffee and the GE Jasco switch, swapped it out for the Belkin WeMo switch, and connected the percolator.

Vjeran Pavic

This set-up was slightly more complicated than SmartThings, mainly because it required downloading more than one app. I had to download the Belkin WeMo app first to wirelessly connect the WeMo switch. Then I saw control options in the WeMo app, so I scheduled my coffee for sunrise, filled the percolator and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up, shuffled over to the coffee pot … and it wasn’t on. Apparently I was supposed to have gone back into the Revolv app to set up scheduling there.

After I figured that out, the Revolv app was easier to navigate than the SmartThings app. The Hub page lists all of your home’s connected devices, which you control by simply tapping on the icons. A settings bar took me to the section where I could “Create Actions.”

Again, I scheduled the coffee for sunrise, and this time I got a little bit more creative. Since the Revolv app had automatically picked up on my Wi-Fi connected Sonos music player (as well as my Wi-Fi-connected Hue lightbulbs), I scheduled the Sonos to play music at the same time my percolator turned on. Now I’d have to get out of bed.

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Vjeran Pavic

Promptly at 7:09 the next morning, fresh coffee started brewing, and “It’s Time for the Percolator” by Cajmere started blaring, followed by Eminem. I’m sure my neighbors loved it, too.

Those are my adventures thus far in “smart” coffee brewing. I can see how this is useful or convenient if you plan to set up lots of triggers in your smart home — if you want the lights to turn on, the music to start playing, the house to start heating up and your coffee to start brewing when you roll out of bed. I also think being able to control your coffeemaker from a smartphone — even if it’s just the on/off function right now — is cool. Otherwise, a regular old Mr. Coffee with a timer still does the trick.



5 comments
madfoot
madfoot

none of these do me any good if I haven't cleaned out the grounds or refilled the coffee beans. For that much money I really feel that should somehow ... happen. 

sebgreen
sebgreen

You could have saved a lot of money without the smart hubs. I have a few Wemo switches setup at home. You can setup timers in the Wemo app itself, so I have all the switches with lights attached turn on at sunset. I never have to set a plug timer again.


I then setup actions via IFTTT (If This Then That), so for example when I sync my Jawbone UP before I go to bed all the lights downstairs turn off. There are loads of actions you can carry out in IFTTT and they are adding new triggers all the time. 


I find a lot of the hubs at the moment are really overpriced and take ages to add new services they can integrate with. 

elio_enidias
elio_enidias

I enjoy making drip coffee. It's those little moments that actually constitute life.

phil28
phil28

 A classic example example of technology looking for a solution and why so much of this stuff has little practicality or value. The most important element that actually relates to the quality of the coffee costs 5% of the setup. 

iBrent
iBrent

Brilliant. Goode article.

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