7 On Your Side: Affordable home automation

Not long ago, home automation was more of a hobby. It was more of an ideal than a usable technology, at least for most of us, but not anymore -- smartphones and smart engineers are changing that.

Home automation is really beginning to catch on. The Nest thermostat is probably among the best known of these devices. It can be controlled by your smartphone, allowing you to move the temperatures up and down as you choose. It also learns to do its job without you. The cost is about $250. As cool as the Nest is, there is so much more you can do with this technology.

Apple is on the forefront. It stores are even offering workshops to get us all up to speed on what is available and how it works. One workshop we sat in on was packed.

Victor Sanchez is visiting San Francisco, but signed up for this session back home in Arizona. He said, "I have been interested in home automation for quite some time. I just received the WeMo switch right before I came to San Francisco, and I wanted to see the other products I could tie into it."

The Belkin WeMo devices allows you to control a variety of items around the house by using an iPhone app. If it plugs in or uses a switch, WeMo can probably automate it. WeMo devices start at $50 for a light switch, a Wi-Fi baby monitor goes for $90 and a motion detector for $80.

We also checked out some lights by Phillips, called Hue. Using an iPhone app, the lights intensity and even their color can be controlled by way of an app. Although it can be used as just random colors, it is so much more.

Gary Debling is the director Phillips Hue. He said, "We have scenes here, so if you press to relax, all your lights will go to relax mode. If you want to concentrate, you hit the concentrate button and your lights will change to concentrate."

The Hue starter pack goes for $200 and is made by the same guys who lit up the Bay Bridge, which tells you something about their ability to control light.

There was another unique home automation product we looked at -- the Netatmo. It's an urban weather station that keeps track of the weather inside and out of your home, including air quality. Again all controlled by an iPhone app. The price is $180.

Apple is offering more workshops on home automation. You should sign up in advance, if you plan to go.

No Jetsons folding car yet, but we're getting closer.


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