Google Home’s new Home and Away with presence sensing feature released in the beginning of October and promises some pretty awesome tricks for home automation addicts like myself. Automatically turning all of my lights on or off, automating the Nest Secure and more when I leave or return home sounded like a dream come true, but so far it’s been an absolute nightmare for me and my family in our home and I think I know why.
Whenever your phone, Nest devices or other compatible sensors in your home sense your presence, they toggle things on or off or change your thermostat temperature if you’re utilizing Home and Away with presence sensing in the Google Home app. When the feature first arrived, I was excited to start using it. It could be that I haven’t set it up ideally, but from what I could tell, and I’ve poked through all of the settings and tweaked everything as best as I could, I still couldn’t get it to work for me in a way that didn’t end up in complete frustration and me disabling it entirely.
You see, I have a Nest thermostat E which Google said was compatible with my home HVAC system, but upon receiving it, I found out that it was not – a year later. (Way before their new HVAC monitoring feature became a reality). So, after running up my bills because I don’t know much about HVAC units – something I’m ashamed of – that thermostat is now sitting in my junk drawer. With that, my Nest Guard facing the front door instead of my living room and the door and window sensors covered by blinds, I’m left with my phone to determine if I’m home or away.
One of the results of this includes all of the lights in the house turning on when I wake up to use the restroom in the middle of the night, forcing me to quickly turn them off in order to keep my son from waking up. This happens because, after a long night of my phone not moving, Google suddenly thinks I’ve returned home from being away. At the same time, the alarm suddenly turns off, which could be dangerous that late at night if I hadn’t heard it happen. This occurs because when I return home, my alarm turns off and all of the lights turn on to welcome me, but the same behavior occurring at night is anything but ideal.
Similarly, when I turn the alarm on at night, all of the fans in the house turn off, because my Away routine is set up to turn my alarm on and the fans off when I leave the house. Manually turning the alarm on triggers the Away routine for some reason. As you can see in every situation, the Home and Away with presence sensing is a universal tool that does not have much context based on the time of day. Another example is when I come home at night. I prefer to have the living room light on, but not when I come home during the day and Google doesn’t care – it just turns all of the lights on during both times and when I come home in the early afternoon I have to manually turn the living room light off because I spend my time in the office instead.
When we’re home, we don’t keep our phones in our pockets or hands after we settle in most of the time, and we may sometimes walk around the house or do some work on the computer. After a while, the lights all turn out at the most inconvenient times, because Google thinks that no one is home. It’s doing its job and it’s doing its best, but it’s primitive. I’ve tried to modify the Home and Away routines to exclude the alarm and lights, but then the feature is completely useless as that’s mainly what I wanted it to control.
Google says that it works best when everyone participates in location sharing with their devices, but my girlfriend and I have the same habits and our phones are both enrolled. I automate the alarm, fans and lights with a custom bedtime routine as well, but Home and Away seems to disregard this. There doesn’t seem to be any way to set time preferences in the app for when presence sensing is active since it takes time to learn you. Instead, it just has an on and off toggle and presence history that can be deleted.
Now, I won’t pretend to understand all that goes into making presence sensing effective and I imagine that there are innumerable factors that need to be considered, which means that it won’t end up working for everyone. With that being said, I don’t really think that our coming and going habits are very irregular. I hope that Google considers adding presence sensing routine times that can be customized for the morning, afternoon and night. Their Google Home devices work this way with down time tools, so I hope it won’t be too difficult to implement. I also suggest that custom routines have the ability to override Home and Away routines with presence sensing and manual device toggling no longer activate them – or at least that we have a choice for whether or not they do.
Do you like Google’s new presence sensing technology? Do you have any of the same issues that I do? Perhaps I don’t like it because I lack enough sensors for it to determine my actions properly, but while I am just one person, I imagine that the feature was meant to work for the masses and not just the smart home elite.