Thomas on Tech

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Thomas on Tech

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In this instalment we interview our founder, Thomas Laurenson to find out more about his passion for smart homes and how people can get started with introducing some smart elements to their homes.

What inspired you to create your business?

I have always been interested in gadgets and fascinated to know not only how things work, but really understand how to take them apart and put them back together again. I was made redundant from my job in the oil industry in 2016 and this led to me finding ways to “smarten” and automate our own home on a budget. I particularly love a soldering iron so I can build and adapt my own gadgets. After some tinkering, I found it’s really difficult to build an affordable system which can be tailored and is easy to add to or adapt as needs change, using only off the shelf systems. What grew was a passionate belief that the power of home automation should be accessible to all and not just to the Kevin McCloud Grand Designs dream home builders and people with huge £30k budgets putting in hardwired systems and cinema rooms.

Deeper than this, I wanted a job which would allow me to come home at the end of the day and feel I had done something worthwhile and that my kids would be proud of me for.

TL Tech Smart Home Solutions was born and I dedicated more and more time to researching the devices on the market, to understand how to integrate the systems and adapt the off the shelf solutions, building knowledge of things like battery life, compatibility, security, response times, signal strength and so on. We quickly realised that the technology available on the open market today could be used and integrated in such a way as to make a real difference to the lives of elderly and disabled people, including those who are vulnerable and their families.

What is your favourite gadget and why?

That is a very difficult question, I’m not sure I can pick only one.

There are the voice assistants, addressable LED controllers (WLED is currently my favourite LED control software), my computer (and all my monitors), a selection of various wireless buttons and controllers, wireless relays, the Infra-Red blaster to control the TV, our new unifi network with access points around the house, our new coffee machine that makes an awesome hot chocolate…

But if I had to pick one, I would have to be boring and say my mobile phone is my favourite gadget. With my smart phone I can communicate, play games, watch videos, take photos and videos, track my wife’s location (not in a creepy way), but I can also monitor and control everything in our smart home and write programming on the systems at home remotely when I am away from home. At the minute my smart phone truly is a jack of all trades, although it is a master of very few, but it does get me by in most situations.

What advice would you give to people wanting to get started with Smart Homes?

You don’t need to do everything at once. Identify the things that would be of most help to you right now if they were automated, or if you could control them in a different way.

If you already have some smart home gadgets that you use and like, like Alexa, Google Home or a Nest thermostat for example, you should put some thought in to what you want to add and how you want to use and control your home environments. Certain systems don’t play well together and this may limit your options further down the line or lead to increased expenditure.

Security and privacy are important factors to consider, but don’t be put off by what you read in the news about people being hacked and their baby monitors being spied on.  Check the manufacturer’s guidance on their security settings and get advice or specialist support if you need help applying security to your system.

What are your top tips for home life and maintaining wellbeing in the current crisis?

Balance, balance, balance. With two of us working from home and home schooling two children at the same time balance is key. There is no way you can concentrate on everything all the time, so my advice is to split your time into tasks and not be too hard on yourself if things take longer than usual.

I also believe that hobbies and down time are essential for mental health, and that is even more important during social isolation and severely reduced social interaction. Although with the technology we have available to us nowadays it is easier than ever to video call and interact with friends and family remotely.

What is next for TL Tech?

During the current COVID-19 crisis we are working with others to identify solutions for providing enhanced communication systems to elderly and vulnerable members of our communities.  This is something where we know we could make a massive difference in people’s lives.

Beyond the short term, TL Tech are continuing to consult and provide advice and guidance on home automation and IoT systems as well as continuing our work with Albyn Housing Society Ltd on their FIT Homes project. We are also working on developing a platform to assist carers and families to function as efficiently as possible using IoT sensors to inform requirements and priorities.

Key Takeaways

Talking to Thomas, it is clear that there is a wide selection of smart home devices and operating systems.  This lack of standardisation can make it hard to know which ones will suit best and how compatible they are with one another.  People are also worried about privacy of their data and how their data might be used or shared with others.

Some key takeaways from our discussion include:

  • A smart home is achievable for all. Even for those with a limited budget. Start small and look to build-up functionality and interconnectivity as you go.
  • A smart home can be a lot of fun. Use your imagination to create new lighting effects or ways to communicate.  For example you can customise your doorbell to speak instead of ring, or summon your children to the dinner table with your voice assistant speaker.
  • Don’t forget security. This is important for peace of mind.  Change the default password on devices, make sure that you check for software updates regularly.

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