‘Mr. Robot’ Premiere: What’s a Smart Home and How Can You Get One?

You, too, can fill your home with light bulbs that connect to the Internet, but it’ll cost you

(Some minor spoilers for the Season 2 premiere of “Mr. Robot” are below.)

Mr. Robot” is notorious for being dour, but the Season 2 premiere gave us a pretty fun scene, in which fsociety hacks the home of Evil Corp lawyer Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt).

Yes, that’s right — they actually hacked a house. They turned lights on an off, made the projector screen turn on and show a political pundit giving a rousing screed, turned the thermostat way down and even turned up the heat of the shower while Jacobs was in it. All classic haunted house stuff, but grounded in reality.

At the end of this sequence of events, we see Jacobs bundled up in winter clothes yelling on the phone at tech support about how her “smart house package” is going haywire and there’s nothing she can do about it.

This whole smart home concept might seem a bit sci-fi to the lay person — you’ll recall that the Jetsons’ home had a lot of smart features, and there was a Disney Channel original movie from the late ’90s called “Smart House” that certainly treats it as futuretech — but it’s definitely a real thing in the present that we’ve had for a while now. Sure, it’s an indulgence, but not necessarily out of the financial reach of your average middle-class family.

Now, there are a couple ways you can go about smartening up your home: the DIY route, or by having a company like Crestron create a package for you and supply all the parts, after which a contractor will install everything.

On “Mr. Robot” we saw the latter. It’s a package that’s spidered into essentially everything electronic in her home, and all of it can be controlled through an app that we see Jacobs using on a tablet — though these sorts of apps can be used on any smart device, including phones. The specific smart home app she used, by the way, appears to be one created for the show, rather than one that’s commercially available in the real world. There are a lot of these types of apps, though the companies that put together smart home packages tend to have their own.

A smart home package like the one Jacobs had would be enormously expensive just because of how thorough it is. A single WiFi-connected light bulb, for example, would run you about $40 on the low end, from a provider like HomeSeer. If you don’t want to pay for connect light bulbs, you could instead have all the wiring in your home be a part of the smart home system — but that’s still probably going to run you more than the light bulbs.

She also had the environment controls, the water heater, all her entertainment systems and home security play into it. She indicates, too, that it is a wired system — with all those wires hidden behind brick walls, leaving her unable to turn anything off the old fashioned way by unplugging it. Given the size of the house — it’s big enough to have a swimming pool in it — this is a system that had to have cost tens of thousands of dollars. The bulk of the cost doesn’t come from the master system, but rather the controllers — everything you want to be part of the system has to have a smart controller, and that’s where the cost really goes up.

But that’s the upper end of a smart home conversion. Most people wouldn’t be so thorough about it, and a lot of people are able to smarten up their homes almost incidentally.

For example, I have a Vizio TV and 5.1 speaker set that I can control with my phone through Vizio’s SmartCast app, and the speakers additionally have bluetooth. So any iPhone, Android device or computer connected to my WiFi can broadcast directly to the TV or play music on the speakers. This is a smart entertainment system, as it were. It wasn’t my intent to have a system like that — I just bought some new stuff and it happened to work that way.

Likewise, there are a lot of Internet-connected versions of products you already have, like coffee makers or, as mentioned above, light bulbs, and a device like the Amazon Echo can work as a voice controller for, say, a Nest thermostat or that WiFi lighting. Connected household appliances are only going to become more common as time passes.

Though $40 is a lot to pay for a light bulb, in the grand scheme of smart home expenses, it’s one of the minor ones. Plus, having them means you could turn your lights off from the office if you forgot to do so before your commute, which could save you some cash on the electricity bill in the long run.

The real point, though, is that you can convert your home piecemeal — like only do lighting or the thermostat or whatever — rather than all at once. It’s a la carte, you can do it yourself to save money on installation, and even if you buy a package it doesn’t have to be a total conversion. So the involved costs will vary wildly depending on what you want. To get an idea of the cost, though, you can check out HomeSeer’s online store or Crestron’s price list.

This has been your non-sequitur discussion of the smart home on Mr. Robot. For perhaps a more useful read, check out the gallery below.

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