Put Smart-Home Technologies to Work for You

You can put together a basic system using Amazon Echo or Google Home for a few hundred dollars.

(Image credit: (c) Krunja Photographer. All Rights Reserved.)

For decades, we've imagined being served by a robot butler (or a robot housekeeper, à la Rosie in The Jetsons) and owning smart appliances, such as a fridge that ordered a carton of milk when you ran low. Now, Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as an assortment of other systems you can control with your smartphone are making some of those futuristic scenarios a reality. You won't have Rosie serving you a home-cooked meal anytime soon, but a rapidly expanding list of smart-home devices are available, with more on the way.

Because their systems are inexpensive and easy to use, Amazon, Google (and, soon, Apple and Facebook) are quickly taking over the smart-home market. The systems are built around a voice-activated smart speaker connected to your home Wi-Fi. Just say "Alexa" or "OK, Google" and the system springs into action. As with Siri or Google Assistant on your smartphone, the speakers connect to the internet to, among other things, check traffic or the weather, read news headlines, add appointments to your calendar or items to your shopping list, and look up basic information. But the technology is hands-free: You don't have to stop what you're doing to fiddle with your phone.

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Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.