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Setup Smart Phones as Presence Sensors in the SmartThings App

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

In a in a previous video I demonstrated how my smart home automatically detected member presence when we arrived at our smart home. Setting up your smart hub to automatically detect your family’s presence or lack thereof is a very useful feature. Having this capability not only allows you to seamlessly arm and disarm your home, but you can also use presence detection routines to trigger a number of useful automations. Such automations include turning on lights, opening a garage door or unlocking an exterior door. Continue reading to learn how to setup smart phone presence detection in the ST App.

Welcome to Bud’s Smart Home where we provide ST related news, practical smart home automations and reviews of compatible SmartThings devices. If this sort of content appeals to you be sure to tap on that subscribe button. This will allow you to receive notifications when I publish more smart home content.

If I had to choose my favorite smart home automation I would have to say it is the routines that enable our home to be automatically armed when we depart and disarmed when we return home. Actually, I believe this is the single best automation for any smart home. Not only is it an awesome security feature, it is also provides the added convenience seamlessly setting the appropriate security mode each time members depart and return home.

Now before I relay any details about the setup of presence detection, I want to make a brief disclaimer. Although the automations that I will share with you today work for me, I will not guarantee that they will work everyone. There are simply too variables that could affect successful setup, namely the vast number of smart phones and smart phone operating systems. Smart phones are a critical component of presence detection. Assuming that your phone can be used as a reliable sensor, there are other essential items which are important for successful set up. First, you absolutely must have a SmartThings or Aeotec smart hub. You must also ensure that the SmartThings App is correctly installed on each participating member smart phone. You must ensure that all permissions are enabled on each member’s phones. You must also have a compatible operating system installed on your phone. I will provide you with my experience with an incompatible OS in just a bit. So just know that there are too many variables that may affect your ability to set up reliable presence detection within the ST App and I cannot possible cover all those exceptions in this episode. So with that proviso made, I will now explain the ST setup that works for me.

To enable presence detection I simply added a home location and then defined my geolocation in the ST app. Once my home’s location and geolocation were set, I then added each family member’s device to the ST App via an invitation link.

Finally, I give SmartThings permission to get the location of each member’s phone. I will leave links below where you can access the steps for adding a location and a geolocation and also a link the steps for adding and managing family members in the ST App.

It is vital that all members go into their ST App and allow the setting titled, Get your location from this phone. This can be enabled by going to the hamburger menu in the ST App, which is situated in the bottom right hand corner. Tap on the hamburger menu and then tap on the gear icon in the top right. Next tap on phrase Get your location from this phone and ensure that you toggle the switch ON for your location. It is also important that you find the setting titled notifications in the settings menu and ensure that you allow notifications as well. Finally, it is vital that you go into your personal smart phone notification settings specific to the ST App and enable the setting to Always Allow Notifications.

Once the ST App is setup properly in all member smart phones, your next task is to write a couple of ST routines to arm and disarm your home based on the presence or lack of presence of member phones. I have four routines that I use to change the mode of my home. I have Good Night, Good Morning, Good Bye and I’m Back routines that switch my STHM between the available security modes of Arm, Disarm and Armed Stay. I am not going to get into the specifics of how I use the Good Night and Good Morning modes. Rather, in today’s episode I will only summarize the Good Bye routine, which arms our home and the I’m Back routine which disarms our home.

Both my Good Bye and I’m Back routines use the ST Member location as the routine trigger. The ST and Aeotec-ST hubs are equipped to detect each member’s location based on each phone’s proximity to the hub's geolocation. The geolocation is simply an invisible GPS circle generated by your hub which encircles your smart home.

The Good Bye routine is written to instruct the hub to use the location of all member phones. If all members are found to be absent from the home’s geolocation the routine instructs the hub to change the location mode to AWAY. It also instructs the hub to change the STHM to Armed away. Conversely the I’m Back routine instructs the hub to use member location to determine when any single member returns home. When member presence is detected by the hub, the hub sets the location mode to HOME and it also sets the STHM to Disarmed.

You may have noted that I also have both routines setup to send notifications to all members. As such, every member is alerted when our home is disarmed or when it is set to armed away.

Previously I mentioned that a phone’s operating system could affect your ability to use the phone as a reliable presence sensor. If you or certain members of your family have older smart phones, you likely will be unable to use them to establish reliable presence detection. I have found that older iOS devices do not work reliably within ST as presence sensors. I previously owned the iPhone 7. Presence detection on the iPhone 7 was extremely unreliable. However after I upgraded to the iPhone 14, smart phone presence detection now works flawlessly.

I initially discovered this when my wife upgraded form the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 11. We noticed that her iPhone 11 worked extremely well as a presence sensor whereas the iPhone 6 was hit or miss. It is my personal belief that older Apple phones may not work reliably as a presence sensor because they do not have the ability to use the latest version of iOS. In June 2022, Apple announced that it would drop support for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus with the release of iOS 16. The maximum available version of iOS on the iPhone 7 is iOS 15.7.2.

Now although I am not an authority on Android devices, what I can tell you is that the newest OS on for Android phone is also working reliably for presence detection in the ST App.

Previously I made a couple videos about virtual presence sensors and that has lead to some confusion about their role within the ST app. Allow me to take a moment to talk about virtual presence switches. Some of you may be asking yourselves why I took the time to present virtual presence switches. You may also be wondering if you even need them in your ST App. Well, that my friend is a matter of preference. You certainly do not need them to change the modes of your STHM. You may however want them if you prefer the ability to use a member status with in a third party app such as SharpTools or Alexa. Let me explain.

First off, I have an article on my website, to which I will link to in the description below this video. In that article you will find a channel invitation for accessing edge compatible VPS. That invitation will permit you to download a ST app that you can use to enable VPS within your ST App.

When you add virtual presence switches you gain the ability to detect when specific members arrive or depart your geolocation. Each individual member must have a VPS and each VPS must be controlled by two routines. The purpose of these two routines is to turn the VPS ON or OFF based on each member’s arrival or departure. So when my virtual presence device which called iPhone Bud is away from our geolocation, the routine instructs the hub to turn OFF my virtual presence switch. And when I return, the second routine turns my VPS ON. So the usefulness of VPS in ST is to have a visual representation of which members are home or away. However, VPS become especially useful when they are used to triggers routines in third party apps, namely Alexa and SharpTools. Without VPS you will not have the ability to see a member’s status in these third party apps. However with VPS, you can instruct your Alexa App to make an echo announcement specific to any member. You can also use a member VPS in a ST routine to turn on specific smart devices or to run a scene that is personalized for that specific member.

So I hope this has helped to demystify some of the confusion surrounding presence detection in the SmartThings.

If this article was helpful and you consider it worth your time, I ask that you take the time to convey your appreciation with a like and a comment.

Either way, please know that I appreciate each and everyone of you and I wish for you the best smart home on the block. Thanks for joining me today. And as always, keep automating and God Bless my friend.

AMAZON STORE LINK - Source SmartThings compatible devices!!

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