Apple's smart home of the future knows where you are

Apple has been awarded a patent for a smart home system that can track your location through your use of devices.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

Apple has been awarded a patent for a smart home system that can track your location through your use of devices.

(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Home automation is moving forward, slowly; more gadgets are being made available all the time that allow you to set up an intelligent light system that follows you through the house or put a timer on certain appliances, turning on or switching things off via smartphone. A cohesive whole is still far out of reach for most consumers, but every day we're getting a little bit closer to Ultrahouse 3000.

Now Apple's getting in on the action. On 5 November, it was awarded a patent, filed in June last year, that can tell precisely where you are based on what gadgets you're using: your smartphone and its GPS, your computer log-ins at a fixed location, a key fob, a car GPS to measure your distance from home. It sounds a bit Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the apparent purpose of the system is less sinister: called "System and method of determining location of wireless communication devices/persons for controlling/adjusting operation of devices based on the location", its aim seems to be to automate the behaviour of other devices depending on your whereabouts, such as turning off the security alarm as you arrive home, for example, or switching on the lights as you enter a room.

It does this by monitoring the location of devices associated with the user and their power states; a sleeping device may mean that the user is elsewhere, whereas if it is powered on, it is more likely to be in use. This information, collated from what Apple is calling "first devices", is then sent to a relay station, which analyses it and extrapolates your location and movements. This then sends signals to automatically power on or off "second devices", such as lights, television sets and air conditioning units.

Different zones can be applied, as well. If the user's devices are all located and active at what the user has defined as a "work" location, the system then knows that perhaps the heater ought to be turned off and the garage door closed. All data is sent to the relay server wirelessly, so a home Wi-Fi network would be required; other devices would possibly have to be wired to the server, which is pretty much how current automated homes operate.

Of course, for multi-person households, another user can be added to the system — just in case someone was home and it wasn't okay to turn that heater off after all. This means that the relay server would be processing and cross-referencing two sets of information; whether it's sophisticated enough for more than two users is unknown.

Of course, as we all know, filing a patent doesn't necessarily mean Apple is going to do anything with the technology; but if it does, perhaps the brand could do for home automation what it did for the smartphone.

You can read the full patent online at the USPTO website.

Figure 1 of the patent demonstrating device communication. (Credit: USPTO)