Home automation is a broad term. I would define it simply as automating things in your home. The age-old and most trivial example is the “automated” coffee pot that is programmed to turn on at a certain time, and when you arrive in the kitchen the coffee is ready. At the other end might be an automated home theater. When you push the “Watch a movie” button in the kitchen, the lighting begins to dim behind you and light up in front of you on your way into the theater. As the screen comes down from the ceiling, the projector rises from a cabinet in front of it. As the projector bulb warms up the lighting in the theater synchronously dims until it is movie time. There is a wide range of things in between these two examples, and any one of them can add a lot of fun and functionality.
Home automation has been one of my hobbies for more than twenty-five years. In the early days it was mostly lighting control using X10 technology from Radio Shack. There was a PC program written by a researcher at IBM’s Almaden Research Center that calculated the precise time of the daily sunset based on the latitude and longitude of your home. At that time, a radio signal rode across the electrical wiring of the house and turned on some exterior lighting. At midnight the lights would turn off. This is all trivial now, but not so in 1987. Since that time I have learned a lot about home automation. After Year 2000 (Y2K), when I began to think about e-tirement from IBM, I also started planning a new “smart home”. Two years later, with the help of a sales engineer from Phoenix Audio Video, electronics contractors, networking and electronics experts, and a programmer, the new home became a smart home at the end of March 2002. Many homes today have lighting and music control with keypads. What I tried to achieve was a higher level of integration — not just music and lighting, but also control of the home theatre (as described earlier), the security system, spa temperature, maintenance of pond water level, single button to close all garage doors or toggle all lights, Christmas wreath lighting control, auto-off of wine cooler compressor during dinner, setting musical scenes for each of 15 audio zones, and the list goes on and on.
The only limitation to what you can automate is the willingness of vendors to provide programming interfaces to their devices. A subtle trend I see emerging is that some vendors like their devices to be proprietary. For example, last summer, I replaced a garage door opener at our Lake house. I asked if they had one that I could control remotely. Yes, they have one, but to use it you have to subscribe to their cloud and get their proprietary app for your smartphone. (I chose a different model that used the good old-fashioned push buttons and then I interfaced that into my Indigo home automation system). The trend I am referring to is the replacement of a dozen remote controls laying around to a dozen separate apps on your smartphone — one for your front door lock, one for your coffee pot, music system, security, etc.
David Strom, a long-time technology colleague and author of the Web Informant, posted a story about how Marshall Rose has tackled the challenge of the Internet of Things. It is a short and very interesting read. David refers back to the day he visited my smarthome nearly ten years ago. The clipart at the beginning of this story is a screenshot of the display that can be found throughout my home and on the iPhone and iPad. See more stories in the home automation section of patrickWeb.
. . . other recent posts from the category “Home Automation”
- 2013-09-27 – Giraff Plus
- 2012-07-03 – FitBit
- 2012-06-26 – The New MacBook Pro
- 2012-05-28 – FCC Approves Spectrum Changes for Sprint and Hospitals
- 2012-04-13 – How to Empty Your Inbox