nCube Base: A Modular, Future-Proof Smart Home HubBy - 04/06/2018
The smart home market is populated by a dizzying array of smart home hubs. Though each of them is different, they are all somewhat the same. They all connect, control, and automate smart home devices. But every once in a while, a hub comes along that stands out. And that’s how I feel about nCube Home’s modular stackable hub; it stands out.
What is nCube Home?
nCube Home started out as a pretty generic hub. It was a blue box with a Raspberry Pi-based board that connected, controlled, and automated over 120 Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices.
During CES 2018, however, nCube Home launched a new version of the hub that takes a modular approach.
How The Modular Approach Works
The nCube system starts with the Base. Think of the Base as an improved version of the original hub. It’s no longer Raspberry Pi-based, but it retained the blue box design and radio protocols. The nCube Base comes with the basic features one might expect from a smart home hub. In fact, you can start using it as a hub right out of the box without adding other layers.
If you want ‘extra’ features, you’ll need to add modules. Each module does different things. There’s a Security Layer, a Storage Layer, and a Voice Layer. To add them to nCube, simply stack them on top of the nCube Base.
The modules are optional. You don’t need them all. In fact, you don’t need them at all. Instead, you choose the features you want and add the corresponding layer.
The nCube Base
As mentioned earlier, the nCube Base includes basic connectivity standards: Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Interestingly, it can also serve as a Wi-Fi access point to smart home devices. Instead of connecting your smart devices directly to your Wi-Fi router, you can use nCube as a secondary router. You can even connect wired devices to nCube Base’s four LAN ports. Connecting your devices to nCube instead of to the router will declutter your home Wi-Fi network. Also, nCube works as a firewall, adding an extra layer of protection for your devices.
nCube connects to a wide variety of devices from multiple brands, including Nest, Honeywell Lyric, ecobee, Philips Hue, and TP-Link. All compatible brands are part of the “In The Groove With” program (as in, nCube is In The Groove With Nest), which they are continuously trying to expand. At the time of the writing, nCube works with:
|Type of Devices||Compatible Brands|
|Smart Lights||Philips Hue, LIFX, Mipow, Belkin Wemo, Aeotec by Aeon Labs|
|Smart Switches & Dimmers||Belkin Wemo, Everspring, Popp, Fibaro, TKB Home, Philio, Aeotec by Aeon Labs|
|Smart Thermostats||Nest Thermostat, Danfoss, Horstmann Secure|
|Security Sensors||Aeotec by Aeon Labs, Vision|
|Others||Sonos (smart speaker systems), Parrot Flower Power (garden sensor), Alexa (AI voice assistant)|
Once you connect a device to the nCube hub, you’ll be able to control and automate it using the nCube companion app. The control you have over the device depends on what type of device it is. For example, if it’s a color-changing smart light, you’ll be able to set the color and hue. If it’s a thermostat, you’ll be able to create schedules or set the temperature. You’ll also be able to automate connected devices using automation scenes, or Cubes as nCube calls them. You can trigger a Cube manually using the app, a schedule, or trigger a Cube based on rule-based automation. One feature that sets nCube apart is that scheduled scenes and rules work even if your internet is out, except for devices that require a cloud connection such as the Nest Thermostat, thanks to nCube hub’s local processing abilities.
Finally, the nCube Base is compatible with Alexa, thanks to the nCube Alexa Skill. The Skill allows you to control most devices connected to nCube, although there are limitations.
The Security Layer
With the base in place, you can start adding modules. Again, modules are optional. You can add just one or two modules, or three, or none at all.
The first module is the Security Layer. It enables nCube Base to work without internet or power. The nCube Base processes everything locally; however, without the Security Layer, its offline capabilities are limited. For example, you can’t control nCube Base with the nCube app if your internet is out which means no smartphone notifications. The Security Layer adds cellular backup to nCube, making smartphone control and notifications possible without internet. In addition, the module adds battery backup to nCube with a battery-life of approximately 12 hours. Of course, connected devices that require power (e.g., smart lights) will stop working if the power is cut.
The Storage Layer
The second module is the Storage Layer, and it’s for those who want to connect security cameras to the nCube Base. The Storage Layer contains a 1TB Solid-State Drive (SSD) that can be used to store security camera videos locally versus sending things to the cloud.
Local recording is great for preserving your privacy, but if you keep your recordings on location, there’s the risk of intruders finding and destroying your evidence. nCube offers a solution:
Optionally, the user may opt-in on an ad hoc basis to cloud storage accessing recording when a security incident has occurred.
The Voice Layer
The final module is called the Voice Layer, which adds Alexa to the nCube system. Now don’t be confused; nCube Base works with Alexa even without the Voice Layer. If you have an Echo device (e.g., Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, etc.), you can ask Alexa to control the devices connected to nCube. What the Voice Layer does is allow you to speak to Alexa right through the nCube Base. You no longer need an Amazon Echo; simply talk to your nCube instead.
nCube Branded Smart Home Devices
Aside from improving their hub, nCube has added security sensors and smart home devices to their product line. They’ve announced a door/window sensor, motion sensor, flood sensor, color-changing light bulb, smart switch, smart plug, and smart power bar.
The door/window sensor detects if a door or window has been opened. It can also be used on cabinet and closet doors. The motion sensor detects both motion (PIR) and tampering (vibration). The flood sensor detects water leaks. All three sensors use Z-Wave to connect to nCube.
The color-changing light bulb, a.k.a. the nCube Colour LED, uses Zigbee to connect to nCube. It’s your typical smart bulb, but it also works directly with Alexa and Philips Hue.
Finally, the smart plug, smart switch, and smart power bar are all Z-Wave devices. They allow you to switch connected lights and appliances on or off.
Pricing & Availability
nCube Home is a UK-based company, but the new nCube Base hub, the modules, and the nCube security and automation accessories will launch in the US this month. Unfortunately, pricing is TBD. In the meantime, you can learn more about nCube on their website, ncubehome.co.uk.