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Testing the Internet of Things: Can smart devices be united into an integrated whole?

Robert L. Mitchell | Sept. 18, 2014
I have had a smart thermostat and Wi-Fi security cameras in my home for about a year. While using these (and researching my article The Internet of Things at home: Why we should pay attention), I started to wonder if the task of managing smart devices could quickly get out of hand.

Controls are simple: Double-tap an icon from the dashboard or inventory screen to turn a device on or execute an action, or tap once to change the settings. On the dashboard screen, you can also rearrange device or action icons by pressing and holding your finger on any object. The Revolv interface also lets you control color with awkward up-and-down arrow keys that require you to cycle through 100 color levels. (I much preferred the Philips Hue's native lighting app, which offered a slider to control brightness and color.)

A status line on the dashboard shows whether the hub is operational, the number of devices it's discovered and the number of people currently running the app who are at home. However, during testing the headcount was inaccurate. A Revolv spokesperson said that was a known bug associated with the GPS-based Geosense geofencing feature. At press time they were still working on a fix.

Orchestrating your life

Getting all of your devices to work together is where the fun begins. Revolv supports four types of actions with any number of supported devices.

One oddity with Geosense is that the default radius units for distance are described as "4 minutes biking." That can be changed to walking or driving time, but not meters or other units of distance.

(If, like me, you have only marginal cellular service at your home, you may have trouble getting the Geosense feature to work reliably. I could not get Geosense actions to trigger consistently at one location, but it worked fine at another, where I have strong 4G service.)

Revolv walks you through the process of creating new actions from the Inventory screen's Actions tab. You begin by selecting the devices and go on to determine what actions should be taken for each object. It's simple: You press an "Add Action" button, choose one of the four action types and follow the prompts to control the supported attributes for each device.

I created many different actions, including manual actions to turn groups of lights on and off, Geosense actions that turned off groups of devices when I left home and turned them back on when I arrived, and device-to-device actions that performed similar functions when triggered by the unlocking or locking of a Yale smart deadbolt. Still another action turned off all the lights in the house when I turned off the bedroom light.

(Note that there are some security-related limitations. For example, you can create an action telling the Yale deadbolt to unlock when you approach your home, but you still must take action on your smart phone before it actually unlocks the door. This feature is designed to prevent you from accidentally unlocking the doors if you're driving or walking by, the company says.)


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