On our latest IoT Podcast episode, we take a question that Mark left on our IoT Voicemail hotline. Mark wants to use the sensors in a smart thermostat and other devices to detect the presence of people in his smart home. But he doesn’t want any automations or actions from those devices to fire up if a pet walks by the sensors. Mark has a cat that currently sets off some devices when they detect his feline friend.
We’re actually just on the cusp of new, smarter sensors that will help in this situation. Mark is using HomeKit in his house with Home Assistant to supplement it. The topic is relevant to any platform or ecosystem, however.
The newest Ecobee thermostats, announced last week, for example, use millimeter wave technology. This acts similar to radar and provides more data when a person, or a pet, is moving around. Older PIR, or passive infrared sensors, are better suited to tell you if something is moving.
Millimeter-wave provides higher-resolution scans and, when paired with the right algorithm, can accurately determine movement between people, pets, and other things. Other RF detection solutions include Wi-Fi sensing although that market seems behind the millimeter-wave products.
We checked with Ecobee on its new products and were told both the thermostat and the new remote sensor can tell the difference between a person and a pet. However, Ecobee says to ensure the best presence detection, sensors should be at least three feet above the floor, not pointing at blinds or curtains which can move. That’s actually a good rule-of-thumb for any sensors, in my experience.
Older devices that use PIR technology might discern pets and people moving around, but if you need pet detection, I’d hold out for hardware that uses newer radio solutions. As upgraded hardware appears, you’ll see more that rely on higher resolution sensors with more “smarts” in this regard.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a handy tip for people using webcams to detect motion or people. Most of the mobile apps that support webcams offer a masking feature. This is used to create a mask or zone for the camera and that’s the only area it will look for people or motion.
Given that I have pets too, I’ve used this approach on my indoor and outdoor cameras, specifying a zone that’s above floor or ground height. Aside from the very occasional false positive, this has worked well for me in the past.
To hear Mark’s question, along with our discussion in full on the topic, tune in to the IoT Podcast below.