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Smart Home

Lutron Smart Bridge could well entice connected home hobbyists

The Lutron Smart Bridge offers DIY connected home builders the tools to command lights, shades, and thermostats via a mobile app.

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Having a smart connected home sure sounds like a nifty idea. Not everyone, however, has the money or desire to pay a professional installer to create it for them. Recognizing this, veteran lighting and electrical switch firm Lutron suggests you try its Smart Bridge gadget.

For $149, this unassuming little white box links the company's intelligent lights, motorized window shades, and Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats together into one brainy household network. And as part of the Lutron Caseta Wireless System, with everything installed you can command your heating, lights, and other fixtures via iOS and Android mobile apps.

Features

So what can the Lutron Smart Bridge really accomplish? On the surface it appears like quite a lot. The box plugs into a free port on your home network router using an Ethernet cable. It then scans the network for compatible smart home devices. These include Lutron-branded Caseta light switches, Serena motorized window shades, and even third-party Wi-Fi thermostats built by Honeywell.

Lutron envisions the Smart Bridge will serve as the hub of its Caseta Wireless System, which links up a wide range of automated household functions. You can have the lights in any given room dim or brighten depending on the time of day, for example. Now imagine this action paired with shades lowering (as the lights ramp up) at night, or the opposite happening in the morning.

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Control Lutron smart home products through the mobile app. Sarah Tew/CNET

Likewise, you can create custom themes revolving around homebound activities such as "movie," "relax," or "dinner party" and you begin to see some of the Lutron system's appeal. I certainly do, especially when my window shades raise and lower like I'm in some sort of supervillain's lair.

Not only do the companion apps allow for control of your home's ambiance via iPads, iPhones, Android smartphones and tablets from anywhere with an Internet connection, they also power useful abilities. They can automatically shut down lights, lower shades, and crank down the thermostat when the system detects the house is empty for extended periods. According to Lutron, the Smart Bridge manages this task by keeping tabs on the relative distance of registered smartphones (within a virtual GPS fence that you configure) and thanks to technology courtesy of Alarm.com.

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Command motorized window shades with app or remote. Sarah Tew/CNET

Additionally you can simply adjust lights and shades manually with the small Pico Remote, which is also part of the Caseta Wireless System. Of course Lutron made sure to point out that its light switches operate like old-school ones as well, meaning you can turn them on and off with that most versatile of tools, the human hand.

Outlook

I admit the Lutron Smart Bridge and Caseta Wireless System as a whole seems pretty compelling. The solution also appeared to function responsively and glitch-free when I tried it out personally, though I confess I did so in the controlled environs of the Lutron corporate offices in New York. How the gizmo operates in the wilds of a real home is another story altogether.

And there are some concerns I have already with the Smart Bridge. The biggest is its ability to support third-party smart home products and platforms, including the affordable $99 Staples Connect and pricey $299 Revolv, so you can gather a great many intelligent home appliances under its wing. The Revolv promises compatibility with "up to 95 percent" of devices.

While Lutron has said the Smart Bridge will operate with a wide range of smart products (virtually anything that links to Wi-Fi) at some point in the future, it hasn't spelled out exactly when this will happen.

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