What Is Home Automation?

Perhaps the buzziest among buzzwords when it comes to electronics is Home Automation. This is a branch of IoT where you can actually go to the home store and come out with bags filled with products. The current Hackaday Prize round challenges you to automate your life and setting your sights on the home seems like an area open to everyone. But we’re having trouble putting our finger on what exactly makes a home automated, and more importantly, the best ways to benefit those who live beside that technology. So we want to know what you think.

Do you have a great idea for what makes an automated home more than a buzz word? Perhaps you are already sold and have been building your own; tell us about it! We want to know how (and when) you think this will turn from a buzzword to something most people want running their house. We’ll round up the best from this discussion for a future post. As a thank you, we’ll select some of the best comments and send you a T-shirt from the Hackaday store.

automatic-ice-maker
Who doesn’t love an automatic ice maker?

You can go back fifty years to the cartoons of the 1960’s and see that home automation was just around the corner. The Flintstones had dinosaurs to handle the mundane, and The Jetsons had a robot maid reigning over a cadre of whimsical gadgets in the home. At that point in time the home was already moving into the automation realm with thermostatically controlled air conditioning and water heaters. This was around the same time that automatic ice makers started to appear in a home’s freezer and remote garage door openers came into use.

Beginning in the 1970’s and 80’s it became common to find a dishwasher under the counter in the kitchen. The porch light option of dusk-until-dawn sensors came into use and were followed later by motion detecting lights which used PIR sensors. Automatic lawn sprinklers started to appear in the yards surrounding the home, and security systems that monitor doors, windows, and often motion (using PIR sensors again) became a thing.

These are great examples of home automation which is often overlooked. Even smarter thermostats are all the rage today, and security system add-ons that let you monitor cameras and locks over the Internet.

Which brings us back to the question. Where is this all going? What kind of automation will be developed now in our time, and looked back in 50 years as obvious technology wanted in every home? Do we already have the automated hardware in place and just need something to stitch it all together? Let us know what you think below, and if you’re already working on your own automation project don’t forget to enter it in the Hackaday Prize.

73 thoughts on “What Is Home Automation?

  1. I’m currently looking into a home automation system using a Raspberry Pi as the main brain and either an Arduino or maybe an MSP430 as the microcontroller driving the sensors everywhere. Here’s a list of my requirements:
    Server so I can log in remotely
    Low power consumption for the sensors (don’t wanna be changing batteries all the time)
    Able to open and close the blinds
    Able to turn the HVAC system on and off
    Able to serve video/music to any TV in the house
    Turn lights on/off based on motion detectors (Maybe not every room, just the key ones)
    Sensors to tell if the windows/doors are closed and locked or not
    Status display in the bedroom for door/window locked/open (I’m thinking one of those RGB LED rings from Adafruit. I just want the wife to be able to look at it and know if all the doors are locked up without having to ask/check five times before going to sleep)
    Load cell on the bed to track sleep cycles and turn off everything when we’re sleeping.
    Smart mirror to display weather info and schedules for the day as I’m getting ready after the morning shower.
    E-ink display on the fridge with a grocery list, calendar, weather, etc. Updated through connecting to the house server.
    I would also like to add features I would use, such as:
    Update all the save files on my Raspberry Pi emulator boxes. I would like to be able to save a game in one room, and then resume it later in another room on a different Pi without having to drag and drop files.
    Schedule home/car maintenance, and have that piped to one of my displays to remind me to actually do it.
    One button YouTube/twitch recording/streaming. The kids play a lot of games, and I they would love to broadcast themselves. Of course, kids on the Internet is maybe a bad idea, but I would use those features myself.
    Can anyone think of anything I forgot, or anything they would do differently?

    1. Schedule home/car maintenance, and have that piped to one of my displays to remind me to actually do it.

      Our car apparently has a way to download service data and info (not sure how that works as we don’t have onStar or anything similar). But in general just having appliances and cars reporting performance data and recommending service would be very useful. This also makes me think of our furnace system which has sensors in the ducts to measure delta; something that should be able to predict when service is necessary.

      1. Problem is, cars and devices aren’t actually smart enough to self-diagnose problems, so the best they can do is set a calendar note for scheduled maintenance or give you a beep after n-miles of driving – which is not such a critical piece of information that automating it would produce any great value.

        The problem with self-diagnostics is that the problem is equally or more often failure in the sensor or other electronics that detect the fault because they too are subject to wear/aging and breakage, so simpy adding sensors to everything doesn’t necessarily result in any useful indication of the need for service, rather than just create more points of failure.

        For example, in cars the lambda sensor that monitors remaining oxygen in the exhaust to adjust the A/F ratio and detect other problems is itself a part that wears out in use, so a bad lambda reading can be one of two things: an engine failure, or a sensor failure. It’s impossible to get any useful prediction out of that.

        1. Dax, one possibility is to create scripts that create timer objects, then inject either the resultant notification time into your calendar (like Google Calendar) or HA system. This is where machine learning will help as the algorithm used initially is just a guestimate.

          We could build a wireless arduino (did I just invoke Godwins law?) like device that takes the OBD info and pushes that to some central service, that calculates if the card meets some service requirement. I’m betting it could be done with our phone. I already push updates with Tasker to a public MQTT server.

          1. My calendar is on the wall and made out of paper.

            I learned to keep my important calendar events off electronic devices when I accidentally washed my phone. I don’t think I’ll even have the same phone or the same online services available for the 20 year life of a car, or the 100 year life of a house.

    2. For the emulator save state idea, a fairly frequent (every minute, even) scheduled rsync between the emulator devices’ save directories and the main brain RPi should keep everything up-to-date.

      1. Maybe, but a bit ugly. Could you use Unix’s “everything’s a file” system, to set the emulators to save, not to dumb files, but to some server program somewhere?

        Actually simplest option is probably just set up a file server somewhere, and have the save files stored on there.

        1. Yes, the absolute simplest would be to have the saves stored on a server (most likely the main RPi running the house), but it’s risky. If the server holding the files dies, so do all your saves. With an rsync-based setup, even if the server explodes you’ll still have local copies each device.

          1. Backing up is a standard part of servers, even if that’s just copying your saves to some other place now and then. Your method’s a bit ugly, I don’t like cron jobs running all the time, spinning their tyres, doing useless tasks 90% of the time, to come in handy now and then. The save should be copied after it’s accessed. This is a general principle I have about things like this. Sure a quick hack does the job, but better to have event A lead through B to completion.

  2. At the moment there are too many disparate systems to ensure a consistent approach to home control. I have ended up having to draw on my programming skills to make the many systems in my apartment talk to each other. There are two branches of home automation that will increase uptake in my opinion. The first is an all-in-one system. You buy one “hub” and all your devices are centrally controlled by that. The upside to this is that users will be presented with a consistent interface and there will be no interoperability problems. The downside being you are “locked in” to one manufacturer or communication methodology.
    The other solution is to use an advanced control mechanism, capable of interfacing with many devices from different manufacturers, such as the evolving Apple Homekit environment. The benefits are that as long as the equipment is “certified”, it will work in your home no matter who makes it.
    Until either of these streams fully comes online there is a need to have some software or hardware knowledge to implement a full home control system.
    If you are interested I explore these concepts in my blog at fabuloushomeautomation.WordPress.com

    1. I agree with the hub being a problem, Revolv is an example. It’s gone and the users are SOL. But I’m playing with SmartThings (it has it’s problems too but still exists … for now) and the ZigBee and ZWave devices I have are standard devices. I’ve purchased Wink branded ZigBee devices and they work fine with the SmartThings Hub. The Z-Wave devices, same thing. I had a Vera (didn’t like Vera) and moved those devices from the Vera to the SmartThings hub.

      What I don’t like about the hub solution is the ‘always connected aspect’. I’m still looking for a good solution for the Open Source Z-Wave and ZigBee solutions with Linux.

      1. Yup. Don’t rely on ANYTHING that needs to connect to a company’s server just to keep working. Unfortunately that’s the way most companies build them, so they can sell the amount of time you spend on the toilet to the toilet paper industry, or something. Which is another strike against, actually.

        Relying on one company is never going to work. Some open standards will have to evolve. Worked for the Internet. Mobile phones, too, all need standards, open or not. Proprietary systems aren’t the future of anything you expect to appear in every home.

        1. Check out the ISY994 from universal devices. It works with insteon and z wave and all control/automation is handled locally, with the option for remote access. Great support/community also. Pretty open interface and can be used with ifttt or any other service with a REST API.

          1. The latest ISY994 also supports ZigBee. It’s a bit expensive but I think you can add the other interfaces incrementally. I’ve never really liked the UI but it the REST interface can get around that. Also, some of the reset problems that occur with the PLM lockups and other software don’t happen with the ISY.

    2. Considering the average security level of most IoT home automation hubs (“almost zero”), I wouldn’t be comfortable handing control of the house to anything I didn’t build myself.

      1. I’m also in the ‘build it myself” camp but the reality is I don’t have that much time or resources. :(

        The SmartThings security is okay (just okay) so far. I don’t have any automated locks or cameras under it’s control. The rest of the self built devices have pretty weak security (the Arduino and other small uC devices). The Linux boxes have the typical security (locked down, encryption, etc.). The IP network is reasonably secure. I am working with the 32bit uCs so I can enable security there but security takes up a lot of resources. On the one hard it makes sense to jump to something that supports Linux (a PI, wish the $5 Pi were purchasable). On the other I want something small without the vulnerabilities of a user env. It’s a pain to satisfy this requirement in a flexible, user friendly manner.

        I know what the commercial solution will be, skip it for now we can fix it later (and they never do).

        1. ‘Not purchasable’ is a total cop-out at this point. Not much I can do at 9:30pm except use one of the two (pre-camera revision) Zeros I’ve purchased already, but I’m completely able to go buy one after work tomorrow- therefore inherently ‘purchasable’.

          Matter of fact- I think I might just stop by my local Microcenter for a Pi Zero after work every day this week just because I can and to have a story to relate the /next/ time someone laments about the unpurchasability of the Zero.

      2. Do you think this is such an issue at the moment? Or something that needs to be on the radar for the near future. Until ubiquitous there is little chance of any real harm being done if someone hacks your lights or your breadmaker. Or maybe I am being a little too lax with my own security!

        1. It is an issue now, though consumers don’t know it is. We are no longer in the age of script kiddies taking their bot nets for a joy ride. There is lots of money to be made in bot nets.

          Consumers are dropping devices onto there home networks and they have no idea how to manage them. And they shouldn’t, it’s not their job. I worked in a huge network lab, corporate added a printer to our private network, someone with a infected PC infected the printer (it ran windows). It took us 2 weeks to find out the printer has the virus. In the mean time we found out our test equipment had also become infected. The vendor was initially reluctant to fix the problem until corporate threaten to pull an order (lab was part of a large fortune 100 company). This was 15 years ago.

          Zip to the present, Cable/DSL modems, consumer routers, set top boxes all running OSs that can be hacked (just take a look at Zmodo camera we hack the $#!7 out of: https://hackaday.io/project/8642-zmodo-local-controller ). Once I can get into a device on your network I can own your network. I’m not malicious or with evil intent. Image what they can do.

          1. I have an amazon echo next to my computer and any time I watch youtube videos of someone hacking an echo when they speak the command my echo responds. This has some really fun implications for hacking – if you can find a voice pattern that the human can’t understand but that Alexa responds to you could have all sorts of fun.

  3. I currently have HA (Smart House, IoT, whatever you want to call it) and it’s working pretty good. I have the SmartThings Hub, Z-Wave and ZigBeee device hooked up to MQTT. MQTT has various scripts pu/sub’ng data. I also have Misterhouse hooked up to MQTT and can control and monitor many devices.

    The one area I have a lot of trouble is the dashboard. The automation is pretty easy. What I really need is an interactive floorplan view with shorta real time updates and notifications. That’s the part I’m still working on.

    1. The idea I started (but remains incomplete 2+ years) is to use transparent renderings from a basic sketchup model. These go on a motion activated 7″ permanent dashboard mounted at the T-stat or accessible via a website. Like all of my HA activities, it sits at about 20% complete (proof of concept).

      1. I have something simple with the old version of Misterhouse (those changes got wiped out when they jumped to the latest version). When I get free time I’ll need to revisit that. The technology is here and it can all be done in the brower. I have several examples with a sprinkler interface I wrote and a weather page. Both update instantly both are fixed page. I also have a gauges page for the weather (it was fun but not overly practical). One thing I could really use (other than a lesson in practical web page design ;-) is to have the dashboard talk to MQTT and the other programs do the rest of the work.

        1. I don’t know Misterhouse, but I absolutely know your problem. Getting the data, scripting the data, adding interactivity and so on is the fun part. The user interface is something that I’m totally not inclined or qualified to build right.

          I bet my plain-HTML webpage with a couple graphs and a bunch of buttons and sliders looks crappier than whatever you’ve got. :)

          1. I hate those buttons! Button does not a UI make.

            For my friend, the on/off buttons are fine (except when the HA controller and device are out of sync).

            BTW, I see you crappy buttons on an HTML page and raise you the commands line with JSON return strings (sorry I couldn’t stand to do XML).

  4. I believe the key to home (and other) automation is for vendors to come together and define common interfaces for devices so that all devices can work together w/o having a separate vendor-specific API (or worse no public API!). The best example of this currently is the Allseen Alliance (a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project) and their AllJoyn Framework.

    Currently, there is a huge barrier to entry for home automation because devices/sensors you may want from one vendor may not work with devices/sensors from another vendor because of different protocols or interfaces. As a result, we see all vendors are just creating the same devices but with slightly different looks/capabilities instead of giving us more classes of devices with different capabilities. When vendors shift their focus from building a “complete ecosystem” to building great “things” that are open and use standard interfaces then automation will accelerate greatly and home automation will be as simple as buying Legos is today. As long as the interface is known and implemented, Lego shaped toys from any Vendor “just work” with each other.

    When common open interfaces are used then we no longer need to worry with using a vendor’s supplied software (running locally or within the cloud). If they can’t provide a good software then the community will develop what we want. With interfaces such as AllJoyn it becomes possible for NO software to run on the network and still have automation because the devices themselves can find other devices automatically and control them in response to events (as you permit).

    In short my solution to automation is for vendors to do less and give us more [hardware]! Focus on giving us affordable devices that have open standard interfaces and we’ll figure out how to assemble the pieces in a way that works.

    1. Lego’s patent’s have since expired, which is why you are finding all sorts of other manufacturer’s making blocks that will work with them (such as MEGA BLOCKS). If the patent was still valid and protected, I highly doubt you would find anything that would work with Lego’s today.

      While your premise of an open standard is valid and good, it must be completely open for it to work. If the standard is proprietary and the vendor does’t allow others to use it fairly then we will remain as we are today, with manufacturer’s coming up with their own standard and having several different devices from several manufacturer’s that all do the same thing, and can’t work with each other’s systems.

      1. This is exactly why I use the AllJoyn Framework as the best case example. It is being openly developed by an alliance of over 200 companies. Anyone can contribute and use the framework free of charge.

  5. I’m in progress with a system using an Arduino and Insteon devices. The intial goal here was to automate control of an attic ventilation fan (not a whole-house fan) to rely on temperature delta between the attic and outside ambient air to determine whether the fan should turn on or off. This seemed to me that it could offer benefits over the simple thermostat that switches the fan at 120 F.

    I’m still roughing out the code, but the plan is to rely on the Wunderground API to pull local ambient temperature and humidity (to reduce the number of sensors I need) and then use a 433 mhz wireless temperature/humidity sensor that I pillaged from a cheap home weather station to measure the attic.

    The handy part to Insteon is that they already have a serial modem that plugs into the wall and can communicate with their devices through both the power-line and 912 MHz wireless. This is a pretty simple interface that I’ve only tested in a serial terminal so far, but should be reasonably easy to implement with the Arduino. It also allows me to link the modem to one of their keypads so I can see if a keypad button has been pressed, held or released. Should be handy for controlling what follows….

    In the progress of piecing this setup together, I also realized that I can use the Nest API to read ambient temperature and a humidity data in my house and use that along with an Insteon Fanlinc to control the ceiling fan in my living room. Since the Nest thermostat sets the house to 80F when I’m not home, I usually immediately turn the fan on at arrival to help cool off while the AC gets to work. It seems to me that I could control the fan based off the dew point inside the house and help maintain comfort while the house temperature and humidity fluctuates.

    Going a step further, Insteon has power outlets that measure the current drawn through them and I can use one of these to automatically dim the lamps around my TV when the TV is turned on (using a wattage threshold to determine if it is on or off).

    Ultimately it’ll probably be months before I piece all of this together (and ironically fall before I get the attic fan going).

      1. Great project. Had a quick skim of the intro page, wasn’t sure if the switch still functions as a normal switch?

        I’d like to see one where the switch is just an input to a micro, which can then drive a relay output.
        That way I can control my light with a script, and/or the switch…

        Sorry, I’ve not really used hackaday.io so I don’t know where to look for details like that.

        1. The primary function of the switch is still a light switch. The sensor functions are simply used as a foundation for the automation part. The switch part is exactly as you described: a button hooked to the micro which controls a relay. Having the physical button is very important to me since nothing is more reassuring or satisfying than the click of a button. The downside is that it took me more than a year to perfect the mechanical assembly.

          Right now I have a MQTT broker running on a raspberry pi, and a simple UI built with node-red and node-red-ui (as a temporary test platform). The progress on that will be updated when the UX is closer to a finished product.

    1. Insteon had one nice part of their protocol, the reponse was ACk, NACK or lack. An ACK was good the device turned on. A NACK meant the modiule received the command but the there’s not current drawn (lamp is turned off or bulb burned out). Of lack whihc meant it couldn’t talk to the module.

      Unfortunately I had other issue with Insteon.

      1. What other issues did you have? If you don’t mind me asking. I’m pretty early on in this project so I haven’t really locked into Insteon yet (although I have purchased hardware, but it can be sold).

        1. Max, the biggest issue is that I was an early adopter and I have a lot of old hardware which is err, less compatible. The quality of the hardware hasn’t been great and Insteon hasn’t handled that very well. The PLM needing to be unplugged from the wall to reset it from brown outs/power hits really got my goat. So I got tired of it and started to move on (started moving to Z-Wave, ZigBee and custom hardware).

          Also I have a electrically noisy environment and had all sorts of issues with Insteon not working from time to time. At times it was like phase of the moon problems (voodoo, magic whatever).

          I’ve also had problems with Z-Wave (I think weak vs strong signal devices) but much less (also could have been the Vera which gave me fits). I’m expecting the ZigBee to be a problem since the 2.4 is saturated in my neighborhood (there are are least 20 decent strength WiFi APs reaching my home). So far the ZigBee and Z-Wave have been working very well. I have about 30 devices on those technologies. I’ll be adding more.

          Now, my friend has Insteon (started later than I did) and he’s not having problems. His network is much smaller (10 devices). He’ll be getting my device and no I don’t know if he sabotaged my network to get my stuff. ;-)

          I still have X10 but I mostly use that for temporary things like Christmas lights. As they die I’ve been switching them to the surplus Z-Wave I purchased from Radio Shack a few years back.

          1. Neil, thanks for the response! In the interim I had been doing a little searching and obviously you’ve had a great deal of experience in home automation so thanks again for weighing in. Ironically I found your blogspot post about going away from Insteon shortly before your reply. Go figure.

            Sounds like it would be wise for me to leave the PLM (a 2413S) plugged in for a while and check periodically that it’ll still respond to commands. I also got my hands on a busted 2413U that I found had a burnt out voltage regulator (that surprisingly didn’t damage anything else) so uh… fingers crossed that is a fluke.

            I took a good look at Z-wave, seeing it wasn’t proprietary and offered more flexibility in terms of vendors, but shied away when I couldn’t find a well documented serial modem. I really wanted to stick with a microcontroller, being something I’m familiar with and have laying around, but I make no illusion that I probably should have just gotten a hub.

            Here’s to hoping you didn’t just doom your friend by giving him your old hardware. ;)

  6. A home is automated to the degree in which the functions it provides (shelter, cooking, lighting, cleaning, etc), and the maintenance of said functions, are provided without the need for human interaction. Given the economic cost to *any* “labor-saving device”, adoption of said device must be driven, either by a competing economic factor (the saving of time, which is money), or intangibles, aka “cool factor.”

    Due the fact that most of the poster-children for today’s “home automation” projects generally don’t save that much time, adoption is going to be low until retro-fitting and new construction can include them at a cost less that double that of legacy solutions. A dishwasher, for instance, can save hours of time each week. Automated lights might save you 10 minutes of “get up and flip light switch,” not even considering the hours you spent installing the damn things. This is why roombas are (moderately) successful: it’s readily apparent that $500 to save an hour or two of vacuuming a week is worth the cost of adoption.

    Additionally, when considering intangibles, one must consider the negatives as well as the positives. “Cool factor” goes away very rapidly when it takes you 10 minutes to figure out why the light isn’t turning on. It’s really hard to beat the lightswitch interface in terms of ease of use and reliability. A worse interface, with worse reliability, is never going to win significant marketshare.

    If switching things on and off is all home automation is good for, it’s going to be confined to people who feel the “cool” is worth the extra effort, until it’s so cheap that it can be installed for the same cost as legacy solutions. If home automation can find ways to save time & money without providing a crappy user experience, then it has a chance, but it will need to prove its economic case, and not rely solely on “cool factor.”

    1. I think you got it right. Automation stuff too often get in the way instead of making life more convenient. Hard to compete with the simplicity, reliability and convenience of a light switch on the wall. Great things can be made with lots of attention to design and user experience, but in the end I think the KISS principle really rules things as far as HA goes.

    2. I agree, the current market that advertises it as home automation is missing the mark on user experience and cost. But there have been a few areas where home automation has been highly successful of late, just not advertised as Home automation. Take for example the Amazon button.

    3. I think your scope is too narrow. When Home Automation is seen as more than ‘flipping a few lights’ is when it will hit the mainstream. So long as Home Automation is viewed as a ‘neat trick’ to be shown off at dinner parties then the tech wont gain any traction in the lay(wo)mans home.

      When the home becomes an intelligent entity we can interact with and that can influence our lives is when it becomes real. When the home becomes the unifying center of the gadgets we interact with is when the market will form. It’s not just about dumping raw OBDII data from our vehicles into a home server and scheduling maintenance on a calendar, it’s about having a hub that can process that data for irregularities and notice that fuel economy has dropped then through comparison of known data suggest that perhaps the air filter has become restricted ahead of the spec’ed maintenance.

      As much as I hate to turn to Science Fiction for a comparison- what Home Automation really needs is a JARVIS.

      1. I think you missed the main thrust of my comment, really. I pointed out several tasks that have been automated and achieved widespread adoption, due to the economic benefits of said automation, and said that IF home automation is confined to flipping lights, widespread adoption is far away.

        tl;dr: we agree, yay :D

        1. We’ll know that HA is really here when you can sell your home without having to rip everything out or providing a personal support contract. As it stands my wife is afraid that if I die before her she won’t be able to use the Internet or the Automation. At this time I have worked to simplify the network and the HA to where if it fails it’s easy to manually bypass (just use the normal switch). I guess I should document the network …

          But, yes we’re far from adoption, there just isn’t a set of interoperable standards that are recognized by the trades (electrian, plumber, etc.).

          On the issue of the AI/ML, I would love to see something but at the moment I’m not sure what to feed it.

  7. As soon as home automation can respond to voice commands in plain language the way the Star Trek computer could, it will take off. Siri and Echo just aren’t good enough yet. When I can say “turn this room’s lights on for the rest of the day” and have the computer realize I meant to say “pause the normal lighting schedule, switch all light-connected receptacles in the living room to on, and resume the normal schedule at midnight”, *on the first try* *in a noisy room* it will be ready for widespread adoption.

        1. Actually this is one of the areas where I think Apple has done poorly (HA not the voice stuff). It’s odd that now everyone is jumping to adding the Amazon Voice stuff. Apple isn’t forgotten but I can’t interface to it unless I have an Apple product. I can use whatever OS I want with the Amazon products. Even odder is that Google has had this stuff for a while but no real API (we have something together for Misterhouse and my Galaxy S phone).

        1. We might want to extend that to the TV will be your ‘phone’ and a central part of your automation. The reason for quotes is that the phone may not be the ‘phone’ in the near future. All the kids in my neighborhood (and the young adults) live on the phone, its the center of their universe. The TV is becoming less important.

  8. Home automation is great fun but not always a great thing. Years ago I automated the curtain and lights in my bedroom. Although it worked like a charm it wasn’t immediately accepted by the people around me… that came a little bit later.
    The problem with home automation is that it isn’t common enough, there are too many types of devices to turn on lights or to control the temperature. And all these things need to be supported… by whom? Most systems are being installed by hobbyists and then removed when these people move (or die). Simply of maintenance reasons. It’s either too complicated or too expensive. So the only way to achieve an acceptable form of home automation is by one device at a time. So we’ll just have to wait for another 100 years…

    Jan

    Some time ago I made a home automation program for my C64 just for fun to prove you don’t need fancy stuff. It worked, it was fun, but in the end… well, not realistic.

    1. Steve Ciarcia (Byte Magazine/Circuit Cellar Magazine) ran his HA system on less, back in the 80’s. The first was his Home Run System (a 6801 processor). Later he build the Home Control System (a Z180 processor). I have the later, wish I had the former too.

      I had something similar for my Atari 800 (Health Kit X10 interface kit) which I later moved to the AT&T 3B1. Fun times.

  9. I started on home automation a long time ago. My first system was a 6502 based system using a UK made Tangerine SBC. I still have the board! At that time, the main problem I had was building a non-volatile (battery backed up) memory board for the settings. I moved on to an X10 based system which proved horribly unreliable. When I started the project my house was free from interference with other X10 devices but as time went on interference became a major issue even with filters on the lines. Also the units would fail after a year or two. Next, I moved to Insteon. The basic units were much more reliable and interference free but after a couple of their internet interface boxes melted down, I decided to move on. I have since been working on an IOT based system using ESP8266 for simple sensors and actuators, CHIP and RPi boards for more complex objects, such as a Hot Tub controller, and a RPi 3 as my hub. All the objects connect through dedicated IOT Wifi networks that are secured and do no advertise. I think it is critical for security to separate out your home control network(s) from regular computers. I use a GL.iNet router running openWRT for my IOT connection to the internet. This is locked down as much as possible.

    Another important thing is to be “Cloud Free”. That is to say there is no intervening provider between you and your home, other than your ISP providing the “wiring” Just about every IOT based system out there want your data for free. Using such services is a really bad idea for many, many reasons, including privacy, security and reliability. I talk directly to my own hub. Today this requires a DDNS service but with IPv6, hopefully anyone will be able to easily get a static IP address. Unfortunately the ISPs don’t want to do this as they seem to have a nice money maker by charging more for static addresses. Also, the commercial devices available use proprietary protocols, such as Zwave and do not integrate well across systems. So, I am looking to create something that could be part of an open system for DIYers and Hackers.

    Today, I am using Blynk hosting my own Blynk server as this has allowed me to get up and running faster. It is not ideal, but I can move on later. Right now, I am concentrating on IOT “retrofits”, that is taking existing isolated devices and IOT enabling them. For example, I am building a controller for my whole house fan, a monitor for a UV water treatment unit and retrofitting a pool saltwater system. The next step is to add a HVAC controller that allows each room to be managed separately, using actuators to control airflow.

    After that, comes integration, automation and, eventually, learning. There is a long way to go….

    1. Hmm, I’ll need to take a closer look at blynk. I like the local idea.

      I’m not 100% against the cloud usage but I’m not liking what we currently have. There is a gentleman in Finland or Norway that has his HA controller in the cloud. Interesting idea, not sure I’d want that. The cloud does offer quick expansion of services when needed (not sure why I’d need that) but I wouldn’t mind some form of NFS for remote devices. None of this really is geared towards the home. So while I’m open to the thought of cloud usage I’m not really willing to depend on it totally.

      I haven’t added IPv6 to any of my uC, do you have IPv6 on the ESPs? That I would be interested in seeing.

      1. It is important to differentiate between a cloud between you and your home, which is both unnecessary and reduces privacy, security and reliability, and cloud services that you use as required. I use cloud services for such things as accessing weather data but I talk directly to my home controller for actually monitoring and controlling my home.

        My IOT devices talk to my hub with IPv4 on dedicated private networks so I don’t need IPv6 for that. In fact I want to hide the devices from outside, so IPv6, where devices have globally unique addresses, could even be an issue. I am only interested in using IPv6 for my hub to be easily accessible over the internet without either having to pay for a fixed v4 address or using a DDNS service.

        BTW, My system is a four level system. I use ESP8266 modules with UDP (CoAP over UDP where possible) for my, often battery powered, sensors. UDP fires up much faster from sleep and is much more efficient than, say, HTTP messages over TCP/IP. These low level sensors and actuators (“IOT components”) talk to always-on “IOT Objects”, such as a Hot Tub controller object. This second level is where the actual control logic is implemented. It is these objects that talk to my Blynk server which is the third “IOT coordinator” level. It is the home control server or hub. I am trying to standardize on MQTT for communication between the objects and the hub. This hub, in turn, connects to the Internet via a dedicated IOT router (“IOT gateway”) using the Blynk protocol to talk to my smartphone etc.

        1. I’m not willing to toss the cloud out with the wash water yet. I have Tasker on my phone and when I leave my home I send a message to a public MQTT server (secured login) which I have my home MQTT (again secured) subscribed to. I use this for presence. It tells my system pretty reliably when I’m not present at home. I may add a bit more (encrypt the message) to the message but this works well and I can put some trust in it. Hmm, I’ll need to look at that.

          I think you are forgetting that the IPv6 can have local networks, that can’t get out. I think there are still a lot of issues with IPv6 but if we secure the network, then networking won’t be the major issue. The issue with the HA is the higher later (OSI L5-L7). Privacy, trust and securing the information being the big 3.

          UDP is a good ide, I think MQTT has an extension for that but I haven’t played with it yet (another todo item). I’m not sure why Blynk over MQTT?

  10. Hi all,
    i won’t be talking about how home automation should be done on every home, but what i think is useful, and what i’m doing towards it.

    ——– -1 – Ergonomics——————-
    I consider that one of the main goals of home automation is ergonomics. That means that using the home’s system should become easier, and more simple, while maintaining efficiency and security features. Here is an example : when i get home, i happen to search for my keys in the dark. With a proper smart home, some lights would turn on to allow me seeing what i’m doing.
    More ergonomic would be to be able to remotely unlock the door, while being able to do so with a key in case of power loss.
    Let’s go even further, we can add automatic user recognition, using some method (facial recognition? or perhaps simply a crypto token that is able to communicate with the house, send a coded answer to a coded question?)
    All of those would improve ergonomics for the simple device that is the door.

    Within the house, the basic thing to have is automatic lights when needed. It means that the system will detect weather i’m in a room or not, and turn on/off the lights if needs be.
    But we can also improve this : when turning on the lights in the middle of the night, i’ll be blinded because it is sudden. Knowing that, depending on the previous luminosity, i want to add a progressive turn on of the lights.

    I’ll continue on the topic of the lights. Considering that all the lights are controlled by the home, and accessible through the network, i can also use systems to control all the lights from afar. A simple application is the following : when i go to bed, i can push the “sleep” button, and the home knows that i’m in bed, and can turn off all unnecessary systems. An improvement here is to monitor movement and sound to determine when i’m asleep and cut some systems in the bedroom if i left those on.

    I can also configure my smartphone alarm to activate a system on the home that will turn progressively a light oriented towards my head to have it waking me up more naturally, more progressively, and much more comfortably. The same can be used with RGB lights for the nightfall with reddish decaying lights that mimics the sunset, and helps the day-night transition. Those can also be set at fixed times, so that i can notice that it’s time to go to bed, rather than stay on a project until 4 AM :)

    This directly renders the home more ergonomic, but also causes another improvement : since all lights are meant to be remotely controlled, i can have a lot of small lights all around, and have the useful ones turn on and off. Let’s say that i’m reading while my girlfriend watches the TV. I can have only the lights required to read, without having other ones causing glares on the TV. But i’ll come back later on this topic in part 3.

    I’ll add something to ergonomics : a fully automated house should always have the possibility for a manual mode. I’ve implemented automated lights for my aquarium, but you can always push a button to change the status of the system (on-> off or off-> on). On this, however, i added a timer. If i change the normal status of the lights, it will remain on for 5 minutes. This can be changed, but this maintains the benefits of the automated system, while giving control to the user. When i turn the system off, it will turn on on the next cycle, unless i change it’s status in between.

    ———-2 – Efficiency ——————————–
    As seen before, with lights for instance, the goal is to turn off the systems when not needed. This goes on par with the efficiency purpose of a smart, automated home. We could have lights always on, and cooling always on, so that it’s already well when needed. However, this is a huge waste of ressources, hence the search for minimizing the use of ressources. This goes for electricity, with lights, cooling, and other systems that don’t need to be on at a given time, but also for water.
    For that, the house has to be aware of a few things, such as the activity of it’s humans, and the environnement.

    If the house knows the time of day, temperature, and the amount of precipitations in the past hours, it can decide weather or not to water the plants in the garden. Thusly, i can save water by not watering after rain, and be sure to have a good amount of watering when needed. An extra improvement would be to watch the plants in IR to determine their health, and possibly auto-adjust watering duration.
    Anyway, the system can water those at night if possible so less evaporation occurs, cutting on the water loss. Why not also include rainwater collection, and have it used if available?

    I can also use automated stores to shade some rooms to preserve those cool, or the contrary in cold countries.

    By monitoring the power used by the rooms, i can also determine what is more efficient : closing the stores, and reducing cooling, but turning on the lights, or leave cooling on and use the natural lights? in this case, it seems simple, but other cases may occur that could benefit from automated decision. As i use machine learning in my research work, that’s something i want to integrate to the home :)

    On this topic, there should be a way for the user to weight the importance of ergonomics VS efficiency, so that we can decide if we want to waste ressources for some more comfort or the other way around. Obviously, we want to maximize both, but in some cases, there is a conflict implying to degrade one in favor of the other.

    I’ll add that some subsystems may be off-grid, and thus need to maximize efficiency to provide a continuous service. In that regard, i’ll integrate the UPS in the systems controlled automatically : if there is a power shortage, i want my NAS to be prioritized over other systems, so if it lasts more than a fixed time, i’ll have the UPS cutting power on auxiliary systems, and keep the NAS as long as possible, turning it off as a last resort.

    On the same topic, for some homes, managing energy generators (solar panels, wind turbines) also comes in the equation, and if those systems are available, we’ll try to use the systems that consumes the most power when those energy producers generate most. By tracking, we can also anticipate peak production, trace wasted energy generation if battery systems are present (if there is wind when batteries are full for instance), and try to use extra power for things if possible.

    ———3 – Adaptation to scenarios ————-
    As i mentioned in part 1, the automated home (and the smart home) can be made able to adapt to scenarios. Rather than having to go all around in the house to turn systems on and off, i could as an example, tell it that i’m going to watch a movie. Thus, i’m not in the garden, so it’s a good time to water it. I can also disable some noisy systems and so on.

    When i’m telling it that i’m going to use my power tools, it should postpone using the washing machine, in order to keep the fuses from blowing up.

    A lot of scenarios emerge, and we should thus be able to program scenarios easily, and have the home adjusting according to user specified settings.

    In the same way, we can also have it adapt to users. My girlfriend likes to have bright lights, whereas i don’t. Depending on the user, it should be possible to automatically adjust stuff, without having to tweak tens of potentiometers and buttons :)

    In this sense, automation also means automating a sequence of actions, even if it’s from a user input at first.

    ———4 – Security ———————————–
    Considering that the smart home is aware of what it’s humans are doing, it should also be able to prevent unwanted humans to access it’s ressources :)

    The simple thing to start is to have movement activated lights. But rather than a basic unit, we can have multiple ones, following the intruder. We can also have sound device alerting the intruder that he’s been detected.

    In order to ensure security, the house should be able to be aware of the status of the accesses (opened, closed, locked, etc). So depending on the scenario, the house is not secure unless some measures are taken, and the house will warn the user.

    If i’m working on my computer, i want my front door closed, but not all stores. If i’m asleep, all accesses will be shut, but i don’t need to be sent mails/sms about all alerts that occurs.

    If i’m away from home, then all systems may be enabled, including threatening of the potential intruders, taking pictures, activating alarms, etc.

    ————5 conclusions ——————————-
    What i’m looking forward in home automation is a combination of all those points. That is what i’m implementing in my home, barring a few things (i don’t have electric locks, for now ^^).
    I consider that in order to be properly automated, it should be smart enough to understand what actions are required.
    I’ll add that since user behavior analysis is the subject of my thesis, i’ll throw some in. Indeed, ideally i’d want the
    house to adapt to my mood. If i’m angry or ill, then i don’t care about visitors, and don’t want to be disturbed by a bell, unless it’s the mailman bringing me another random package from china (which may improve my mood ^^)
    Anyway, that’s something i’m looking forward to integrate to my systems.

    On the technical standpoint, since i’m integrating a lot of sensors, this is privacy threatening. So i’m using only open source software, as much open hardware as possible, and strong security on all systems.

    Another important point is that it is a vast project, so i think that all those systems should be modular, just to ensure feasibility. A modular system allows to develop a part of the system when it’s needed, and have it done, without waiting for the whole system to be done. Thus, a service can be provided early in the development, and it will only be improved in time.

    A modular is also pretty important in that that not all functionalities are needed by everyone. Someone without a garden won’t care for my watering system. On the other hand, some people may only care for it, and use only that system.

    To go further on this topic, the system is also modular, and networked, but with an ability for each module to work on it’s own. As an example, the auto-lights system works better when knowing the position of the user in the house (user position tracking). However, if for some reason the bedroom is not connected to the the network, it should be able to operate on it’s own. This is a best effort philosophy.

    Thus, if the system is truely modular, it will be able to adapt it to the needs of the user, but also to some problems that may occur.

    Anyway, this is my take on automated and smart home, and this is some of the things i intend to implement within my project domochevsky : https://hackaday.io/project/2653-domochevsky-open-domotics-network

    I also implemented some aspects at a smaller scale with rlieh : https://hackaday.io/project/2929-rlieh-aquarium-closed-ecosystem-management , which is, to some extend, an automated/smart home for water pets :)

    This project will also integrate what i’m developping with Milapli : https://hackaday.io/project/2087-milapli , an environemental monitoring system. Since i have asthma, i want for instance to be notified if there are dust from the sahara that crossed the ocean (those sometime gives me allergies). I want to measure those stuff, and have the house react as efficiently as possible depending on the situation.

    For security purposes, i’ll use another project of mine : https://hackaday.io/project/4699-sauronpi-autonomous-raspi-camera : a smart and autonomous network camera based on a raspberry pi, with machine learning, computer vision and cool stuff in it.

    At last, i live in the same house as my grand mother (it’s two houses that have been connected, in fact). Thus, i’m aware of difficulties she encounters. In a first time, i want to develop a system to have her asking for help easily (no, the phone won’t do in this case) : https://hackaday.io/project/10006-elderly-wifi-help-beacon
    I also want to adapt the house to her, so that systems turns on and off adequately for here, enabling her to have greater autonomy. This part is not really an automated home problematic, but it matters to me, and i want to see how much a smart, automated home can help a person with limited mobility.

    There are plenty of other stuff i didn’t mention here, but i wanted to describe the main aspects of my vision of an automated home, hope you like it :)

    Ps : it goes without saying, all what i’m doing is to be open source, documented, and open hardware, as much as possible :)

    1. Nice, I’ll take a look at the Machine Learning stuff. I think this is next big HA thing. I’m also going to visit the rest of the links. :-)

      We can do much of what you are asking for. The presence stuff is hard. Just ask anyone who had the lights go out on them while they’re in the bathroom (dang I knew I shouldn’t of had that extra burrito).

      1. That’s why i intend to use multi-modal detection : sound, IR, and position estimation in the home.
        If one person is in a room, and suddenly not detected in this room, but without having been detected in adjacent rooms, it means that he’s probably still in there :).

        Furthermore, about motion detection, what i use to combat the “not moving means not there” effect is to count the amount of detections in a room. Rather than turn off the lights when the “no detection” output is triggered, i keep measuring for a time, and once X amount contiguous “no detection” triggers have been recorded, we can begin to turn off the lights.

        Furthermore, we’ll progressively dim the lights, son in the worst case, you’ll move an arm and get detected, have reactivation of the lights.

        Anyway, that’s why i also want to keep a button to change to auto, semi auto and full manual modes :)

        1. How do you get around dealing with multiple people throwing off the count. I also have dogs (chow-chows) so pet friendly sensors make things more complex.

          BTW, the moving the arm didn’t work previously, I was in the bathroom stall (I knew I shouldn’t of had that burittto … ;-) ).

          Yes, a manual bypass is a good idea.

  11. Well, Home Automation isn’t here yet. I got into this when the hackable Wink hubs became a thing. Linux+radios? I’m in. I have a hub and five bulbs. Four are RGB bulbs from Osram, one is a brightness-only option from the Hue range. The reason my house isn’t full of these, is because the systems are limited; despite my high level of control over them.

    The first and most important reason, is that the equipment just isn’t very reliable. Apparently, my power here isn’t very clean; occasionally the bulbs will reset themselves. Fine if they’re just ‘on’, a moment of flicker isn’t a big deal. However, statistically; a home automation system should have it’s bulbs in ‘off’ mode most of the time. After the reset, these bulbs default to ‘on’ mode. There isn’t enough communication between bulbs and hub to recognize the change in state and correct it. Either way, since the default mode is ‘on’ rather than ‘last state’; you end up with three bright lights in your bedroom at 2am. Worse than that, sometimes after the reset; the bulb won’t respond to radio requests until you manually power cycle them. Which means you end up getting up and turning them off at the wall anyway.

    The second problem, is that while standards exist; particularly ZigBee light-link and home-automation profiles; these provide for a very small subset of devices. Many novel devices (from the Quirky/GE line, the AirCon, many of the home sensors and the legendary ‘egg box’) are using proprietary and vendor-locked link technologies like the Electric Imp; and do so purely out of technical necessity. I can theoretically have EI reassign my egg-box imp chip to my own account rather than Wink’s, but it’s still vendor locked to EI; and I’ll have to create my own egg-box firmware, as the official one will be erased. Not great. There needs to be a much more comprehensive set of standards for different device types for the major interconnect types, and a standardized way of updating them.

    Finally, the biggest killer for this is that the interfaces just aren’t good enough. Voice recognition is obviously still very proprietary; and still very… in progress. Mobile phones are also an inadequate replacement for controls. A well designed home automation system should be controllable from every ‘computer surface’ in your home. It should have an overlay on your PC or laptop. It should have an interface on your smart TV. And heaven help us, it should have an interface on your wall.

    That last one is really the worst offender here. The switch you can control with a finger, while walking past the door. There are solutions for this, the Wink Relay being the best of what we have; but a $400 device with the brains of a $50 smartphone and a tenth of the features is unpalatable. Fixing the bulbs is a worthy challenge. Making changes to the ZigBee alliance is difficult at best. But creating new interfaces, especially with unlocked network controllers such as the Wink Hub and the SmartThings available; is a huge area of opportunity for hackers to invent and to create and to produce something novel. I have my own ideas, and I’ll be sharing more.

    1. My TCP bulbs (sorry won’t be purchasing more of those) do the same thing, Power comes back bulb is on. It would be nice if the bulb or switch kept it’s last state. I think a better solution to the is an application that keeps track of all your HA devices states. When a power outage occurs, reset everything back to the last known state. It would be nice it could catch up if the outage is long in duration, yup still doable.

      I agree on the interface, I need to work on my dashboard. I might use node.js/node-red for this. Interface to MQTT and I can keep the dashboard separate,

      I agree with the profiles problem, say I want a device that’s a rain sensor that returns frequency and pressure rather than it’s ‘wet’. I work around this by creating virtual devices in SmartThings but it would be nice if I could find more that temperature and humidity. I mean I might want a device that returns strings (my NOAA weather sensor).

      1. To be fair, meteorological equipment falls a little outside of the current scope of home automation for most people.

        That said, a flow rate indicator in the drainage system compared to a tipping bucket would allow monitoring of faults in house infrastructure. An anemometer could be used to automatically collapse parasols and remind people to make preparations or take action.

        Perhaps it’s not necessarily complete profiles that are needed for devices, but a more comprehensive set of data element definitions for things like ‘Fluid rate’ (Applies to pipes, tipping buckets and potentially wind) ‘orientation’ (Wind, doors, sun position, solar collector angle, etc.) as well as a series of controls and measures, and concepts. This could be built up to create more complex self-describing profiles; rather than just have a light bulb, have a device with hue, saturation and lightness, plus a property that defines it as a light source… or as e-wallpaper, or as a configurable artificial flower. Or anything!

  12. One thing I never see being addressed is the longevity of the automated systems

    A house is built for 50-100 years. Electronic and electromechanical devices are built for 5-10 years. Even high reliability parts other than very simple things like motors and relays, start breaking down when they’re 20-30 years down the road, which means the entire automation system of a house needs re-doing at least three times during the life of the house.

    That means you have to construct it out of parts that are either a) so ubiquitous and standard that they’ll be available 100 years from now, or b) make it out of parts that last a hundred years, or c) make it so the house can operate normally without the automation system should no replacement be found

    Option A is not going to happen. Option B is not going to happen, and option C means the automation is completely unnecessary in the first place, so why have it?

    Indeed, the home automation we actually have is built around very simple robust parts that haven’t changed since 100 years ago, such as bimetallic strip thermostats. They’re always available should one break, whereas trying to get a replacement Raspberry Pi in the year 2054 is going to be a hell of a problem like it is a problem today to fix a home automation system built in the 1984 around some obscure and obsolete computer board – and you end up re-engineering the system entirely.

    1. Longevity is an issue in two ways. When I built my house 20 years ago, I pulled 10,000 feet of state of the art wiring, CAT5 cables and RG6 coax. The Cat5 is still usable but has been superseded with CAT5E and wireless. RG6 is now rarely used for anything other than TV signals and is being less used for that. So, part of the issue is obsolescence and that is hard to address, but modularity, “pluggability” (easy replacement), good diagnostics and open systems help.

      The second part that is often missed is the reliability of electronics. With home automation, the amount of electronic devices in the home will multiply enormously and simple statistics mean that, unless they are very reliable, you will be constantly having to replace or repair devices. Current consumer level reliability is aimed at providing from one to five years of use before replacing (think smartphones). For home, the design lifetime has to be at least ten years to avoid having to fix something every week. The main culprits are eletrolytic capacitors whose lifetimes are very temperature dependent. I am designing my modules to keep them really cool in the hope that this will significantly increase the overall life of the device.

      1. I wonder about the first part of obsolescence. After all, Cat5 is still a perfectly viable cable choice and will happily carry gigabit data. The same is true of OM1 fiber (62.5/125) and actually, RG6 coax as well.

        This then leads to the question; is the coax the problem? The simple truth is that the coax served to run proprietary or non-consumer-interconnect TV and broadband protocols. This is the only choice for 1996, as we didn’t have consumer Video over IP back then. But as you also ran the ‘standard’ system, you can happily use that to stream HD video from room to room over GigE network.

        With home automation, there are the standards and the proprietarys. If Home Automation survives, the chances are that there will always be a player in the market that supports Zigbee devices. Region-specific ZWave, the Kidde protocol only available in the US, non-standardised Schlage door locks over bluetooth; these technologies are unlikely to be backwards compatible with new controllers twenty years from now. As such, there is limited value in investing in them. Your average Zigbee bulbs however, should be around.

  13. Here’s my definition:

    Domotics, Domotica, Smart Home Technology, the Smart House, the Electronic Home or Home Automation (HA) is an integrated automation system that is specific to the requirements of a private residence. It applies automatic techniques (mechanical or electronic) for the comfort, security, entertainment, communications, and information processing needs of it’s residents.

    In simplest terms it is control and monitoring of devices and information in your home.

    Now having said that, I find it a lacking definition. Many of the sensors I need are not just about the home but about where I’ll be and how that affects me. I’ve mentioned the NOAA weather sensor. I need that for alerts so that when I’m riding my bicycle I can know about the weather in the area I’m in (I rode into a Tornado warning 50 miles from my home, those winds are scary!). So I need to rework the definition to add personal domotics.

  14. Back in the ’80s, my family had X10 hardware that was interfaced with our Macintosh 512K, and I’ll yell ya…being able to control the lights in every room in the house (The first floor anyway, as I recall we never got around to wiring up the second floor.) and some appliances, all from the computer screen, felt very Jetsons. :D

    I don’t need jetpacks and flying cars, I just want technology to bend to my will. :]

  15. I did a talk on my home monitoring system back in 2014 – I’ve posted the slides here: http://pantonvich.blogspot.com/2016/07/blog-post.html

    I monitor weather, natural gas, water, electricity, alarm, hvac and doorbell

    then I first started I thought electricity monitoring would allow me to find saving – not so much – so far the only real value I’ve gotten out of it – is from monitoring water – Atlanta is like the 3rd highest cost for water/sewer (because of court ordered [needed] sewer separation projects). It’s also a tiered system so the more you use the more expensive it gets – by having real-time water usage I’ve found a few water leaks and a few sprinkler valve failures. These could have cost me $1000 of dollars just in water/sewer charges if not identified quickly.

    As an additional note I used a unique method to read the natural gas meter – at least one I’ve never seen posted – using an IR Led pair I’m able to sense the position of a mechanical arm located inside the meter.

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