Upgrading the CNET Smart Home's garage

We install new hardware in the CNET Smart Home garage, adding better automation and voice control.

A few months ago at the CNET Smart Home, we installed the Chamberlain MyQ -- a basic retrofit device that added smarts to our standard garage door openers. The problem is, MyQ's smarts are too simple. Sure, it offers remote control and monitoring. And it works with the Nest Learning Thermostat to automate your heat and A/C via your garage door. But that's about it.

In fact, between MyQ's limited features, partnerships that have been slow to materialize, and Chamberlain's refusal to allow other platforms to help automate the garage doors, MyQ just doesn't feel like an integrated part of our Smart Home system.

So last week, hoping to find a device that works with the CNET Smart Home, and Amazon Echo in particular, I replaced the MyQ with the Echo-compatible, IFTTT-friendly Garageio.

garageioproductphotos-5.jpg
Chris Monroe/CNET

What's new?

What exactly does Garageio offer that MyQ missed? With IFTTT integration, I can now automate the garage door using different triggers. And thanks to Amazon Echo, I can control Garageio with my voice.

img1950.png
Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

For instance, when I drive up to the CNET Smart Home, the garage door opens automatically -- no button presses or app fiddling necessary. I just use the geo-location tool through IFTTT, and as I approach the home, the garage opens.

If I forget to close the garage door, it will close automatically when I (and my phone) go out of range. IFTTT can also text me when the garage door is opened, a feature I can activate if I leave town for a week.

We've covered some of the difficulties with IFTTT in the past -- particularly noting the occasional latency problems -- so Garageio's partnership with IFTTT certainly doesn't offer security you should stake your life on. But it's a more feature-rich opener than the MyQ.

The second big addition with Garageio is Amazon Echo compatibility. Using Echo's voice control, I can check the status of my garage doors, and send them commands to open or close. These features are pretty basic, but they offer one more important step toward total home voice control -- a priority for the CNET Smart Home.

How safe is garage automation?

Connecting a garage door opener to the Internet of Things of course poses two larger questions: Does the connection itself make a home more vulnerable to digital tampering? And does automation make a home more dangerous?

The answer to the first question is yes. In addition to breaking open a door or a window, any smart lock or garage door opener gives a potential intruder another approach (security people call this an "attack vector") to getting access to the house.

While I don't believe that hacking smart garage doors will replace smashing a window for the average crime-of-opportunity break-in, I can't say it will never happen. It's just not a risk that keeps me up at night.

Whether garage automation poses safety risks is debatable. Chamberlain doesn't offer the same level of automation as Garageio because the company doesn't feel full automation is safe.

That's defensible: garage doors are heavy, and automating them with, say, small children around the house raises some questions. Even if you're the only resident in the home, automation could, in theory, result in accidentally opening your garage door while you're away.

smart-home-garage-5.jpg
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Keep in mind none of these openers interferes with existing garage safety precautions. If someone crosses the electric beam at the threshold of the garage while it's closing, the door will halt.

Regarding accidental triggers, it's probably a good idea to practice general mindfulness with regard to any garage door automation. Don't chain together multiple triggers to open or close the door. Don't tie the opener to more devices than you can keep track of.

Chamberlain and others are correct that safety and security are important to keep in mind as you automate a garage door opener. As with the security concerns, you ultimately need to decide for yourself whether you're comfortable taking on the added risks.

For me, the risks seem relatively minimal.

Looking forward

I almost never need to open the Garageio app since the IFTTT programming and Echo integration both work relatively well. This is an unobtrusive approach to garage door openers, and I like it. For the future, though, I'd like to see a few improvements.

First, the geofencing needs sharpening. Garageio usually opens the door sometime while I'm entering the neighborhood, rather than consistently as I enter the driveway.

Second, Amazon Echo integration is cool, but because the Garageio skill isn't native to Alexa, voice control isn't as intuitive as I'd like. Mostly that just means I have to say, "Alexa, tell Garageio to open my garage door," rather than "Alexa, open my garage door."

As the possibilities with automation and voice control continue to grow, however, I'm excited to keep an eye on garage door openers and their increasing potential. For now, Garageio is doing good work at the CNET Smart Home.

Close
Drag