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Who is Present?

Location tracking a presence/arrival sensing not lonely makes people connected but is an easy way to trigger automation…or at least it should be. There are a lot of options out there for this from the Samsung SmartThings Arrival Sensor, to services such as Life360 and even Connected Car devices like the Automatic AUT-350C Pro Gold 3G Connected Car Adapter, to built in presence in our Smart Home apps like Samsung SmartThings and Wink. These all have Pro’s and Con’s, in my experience there is no magic bullet answer for presence sensing and they all have a failure rate.

Let’s start with the “built in” presence detection in the SmartThings App. This is notoriously inaccurate, and I would not trust it to run any automations, but the functionality is there. You can even install the SmartThings app on your spouse and/or children’s phone’s and have them work at Presence sensors as well. I must give SmartThings a lot of credit for implementing this functionality because it can be used (if it were reliable) to truly automate automation. Wink also can geofence around your address and should be able to do the same as SmartThings but has no previsions for multiple family members which is a huge miss and for myself makes it unusable.

I love the idea of the Connected Car and there are a lot of players in that market but the shining example of what connected car should be in my opinion is the Automatic Pro. It is a little piece of hardware that plugs into your vehicles OBDII Port (all passenger vehicles in the United States from model year 1996 and newer have an OBDII port) that can do a lot of things and geolocating is just one small part. While Automatic cannot be directly tied into your home automation system it can be integrated using services like IFTTT and Stringify which is great assuming you are within the 5 years of included service or have paid for additional 3G service. In addition to geolocation you also get the added benefits of Trip Logging, Crash Alert, Live Vehicle Tracking and Vehicle Diagnostic Information which if you are looking for any of those features Automatic is the way to go.

Life360 is a great service and has both a free and premium plan. The free plan allows you to install the app on your family’s phone (they call them Circles) and allows you to set 2 locations. For Home Automation you only need one location so this will work. Life360 is a smart phone app so it does depend on your phone for location services which can sometimes not be the most accurate and will not work if say your phone battery is dead or even if your phone is in a low power mode. For the most part this is not an issue for me being a geek I need 24/7 access to my phone so keep it well charged but for my wife this has caused issues.

Currently I am using the SmartThings Arrival Sensors on my family’s key rings to trigger automations based off who is at home and/or who is not home. Being hardware based and having a ZigBee radio in them makes them accurate at determining presence. This sounds great for home automation needs but the big drawback to these is battery life. Because of the ZigBee radio in them that tried to ping the hub periodically batteries can run down quickly but using them with SmartThings I can easily monitor battery level and change as needed.

So, this might lead you to ask what am I using for presence detection and the answer to that is for the most part all the above (except for the Automatic Pro currently). Using SmartThings and Webcore I have built a system of checks and balances that checks the state of multiple sensors and triggers presence variable in Webcore to then trigger automations. I also use Life360 for more in-depth location tracking and to trigger notification on my home Televisions (using IFTTT and Comcast Labs).

Presence is a great gateway into true automation and should be used by everyone entering the automation space. Depending on your exact needs what you use for presence detection may vary but they should all get you to the same place. If using presence for things like locking door I highly recommend using a piece of hardware vs an app that is dependent on your phone. I also do not recommend using presence to disarm or unlock anything, right now there are too many issues around presence and for me it is not worth opening my home based on it.

What are you using for presence detection? More importantly what creative way have you come up with to use presence in your automation? Let me know in the comments below.


Mike View All

I am passionate about the IoT and connected devices. Using connectivity to automate our lives will empower civilization to achieve greatness.

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