The Home Automation Revolution: Are You In?

Hi, Jarvis!

In the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark has a digital butler named Jarvis. Jarvis has full control over Tony’s home. He can switch the lights on and off, open and close doors and generally do things around the house that Tony might need.

Jarvis may be science fiction at the moment, but even today some people already enjoy sophisticated home automation systems that can predictively or on command do all sorts of things for them, generally making life easier for everyone in the household.

Richie Rich

Although the cost of home automation is coming down thanks to the march of computer technology, automating a home still comes with an exorbitant price tag. A high-end bespoke system will set you back thousands of dollars, but it turns out that automatic garage door openers may in fact (ahem) open the door to home automation for the masses.

Thanks to products like MyQ, Garageio and GoGogate it’s now possible to upgrade garage door openers with all sorts of smart functionality. Many newer mid- to high-end garage door openers have this sort of functionality included. At the same time mainstream access to broadband Internet is now a reality.

Opening the Floodgate

For many people their garage door opener may very well be the first home automation appliance they buy. Manufacturers of other home automation devices are catching onto this and adding support for these systems. For example, the well-known Nest learning thermostat is compatible with the Liftmaster/Chamberlain ecosystem. You can therefore not only control your garage door through the app, but also the temperature of your home.

As more devices come out that have wi-fi or other connectivity technologies built in, they’ll start talking to you and to each other. To do this they’ll need a common standard or gateway to communicate with each other. Since the customer base has already invested in one standard (e.g. MyQ) that’s a logical place to start.

Picking a Team

Remember BetaMax and VHS? What about Blu Ray and HD-DVD? These standards battled it out for consumer support until one or the other had to throw in the towel. Usually we then get a superior standard to replace an old technology, but there are also plenty of people who bought into Betamax and HD-DVD who essentially wasted their money and bought expensive paperweights.

Since the different home automation languages garage door openers use are usually mutually exclusive, this leaves you with a hard choice. On the one hand, you should choose an opener with the smart features that you most want; but on the other hand, you might want to get one that will support smart home automation devices you’ll probably be buying over the next few years.

New or Upgrade?

That decision may be made easier if you aren’t looking to buy a new opener, but to simply upgrade an existing one with smart capability. If your opener isn’t too old, you can usually get an upgrade kit from the manufacturer. In that case, your choice has already been made.

There are also upgrade kits that will work with many different doors, such as those from Garageio and GoGogate. The MyQ kit from Chamberlain/Liftmaster, on the other hand, will only work with their products.

Inevitably choosing one or the other means being able to integrate some but not all smart devices.

Gladiatorial Combat

In terms of the actual smart features that only relate to the opener itself, you’ll find quite a lot of variation among systems. GoGogate for example, let’s you perform pretty sophisticated access control administration and let’s people use their smartphone to open the gate or garage. So you can’t basically chuck the old remotes. It’s smart functions also don’t require residential users to pay a subscription fee.

MyQ doesn’t offer the nuanced access control or subscription-free service, but probably has more mainstream support, thanks to Liftmaster/Chamberlain being such a dominant manufacturer of garage door openers.

The product from Garageio, on the other hand, is integrated with the If This Then That home automation ecosystem: yet another standard to contend with.

Making the Hard Choices

Home automation is coming; there’s no getting away from it. For now, we can hope that manufacturers will choose to open their proprietary systems up so that we don’t have to worry about whether things will work together, but as it stands now, you have to pick a team if you want smart features.

My advice is that unless you have a specific device like the Nest or Amazon Echo in mind, don’t bother with which other toys the opener will play with. Pick the one that does the things you need and worry about interoperability later when everyone has sorted themselves out.