The first part of a three-part series on the future of home computing. Read the second part, What Home Automation Means for Computing, Part 2: The Unnatural Interface and the third part, What Home Automation Means for Computing, Part 3: The Data Layer.
Home automation is a big deal. Not just because I’m working on a project to build one – though that’s certainly given me a certain amount of perspective. It’s also a big deal because it’s going to change the way we think about computing.
Most people don’t think about the home at all unless they’re remodeling or otherwise upgrading things around the house. But if you do some research into consumer electronics and smart appliances, you’ll find that there has been some major progress in this space over the last few years. The technology is finally coming together to make significant changes in our homes and how we interact with them.
The most important thing to understand as we look at home automation from a technical perspective is that it is more than just controlling lights and appliances remotely. That’s only a small piece of what makes it so revolutionary. Sure, being able to control your lights or your coffee maker from across town is pretty cool, but that’s not what makes it exciting on a
The Future of Home Automation: What Home Automation Means for Computing, Part 1
Since I started developing a home automation system, I have been struck by a number of questions. Is it worth it? What are the implications of such a system? What will be the long-term impact of such systems on the future of computing?
Ultimately, I expect that home automation will change the meaning of computers in our lives. This is something that many people have begun to realize recently as devices like Amazon’s Echo (or Alexa), Google Home and Apple’s HomePod have become popular. These devices answer questions, turn on lights, play music and perform other functions without requiring users to master complex interfaces and arcane commands. As we continue to automate more parts of our homes using computers, we will likely begin to interact with them in different ways. Eventually, I think these changes may cause us to rethink what we mean by computers.
I believe that this is an important topic because home automation is becoming increasingly popular as manufacturers race to capitalize on the trend. However, most discussions of the subject are focused on immediate concerns: how home automation can make life easier now; what products are best suited for various tasks; which platforms are easiest and cheapest to use; etc.
The idea of home automation has been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that the cost and effort of implementing such a system has hit a level that makes sense for consumers.
And while I now have a very capable and useful home automation system, it was not until I was deep in development that I realized just how big an impact this would have on computing as we know it today.
But first, a little background: All of my friends who have seen my home automation system are intrigued by it, but many of them don’t think they could ever implement something like this in their own homes (at least not without massive amounts of work).
The main reason is that the vast majority of what you hear about in the media is either custom-built systems or commercial products. But my system was built entirely with off-the-shelf hardware and free software. In fact, there are only five components to my entire system:
One of these is the core control processor, which runs Linux and serves as the “brain” for the entire system. The other four are all wireless nodes running Arduino sketches (firmware) and connected to various sensors and actuators. These four nodes can be placed anywhere in the house (or outside), so you
A few weeks ago we had a post about smart homes and what they could mean for the future of computing. Today we’ll take a look at the current state of home automation software and hardware, and where it might be headed.
The State Of Home Automation Software
At its core, a home automation system is nothing more than a collection of inputs, outputs, and rules that link them together. For example, you might have a motion sensor that detects movement in one room and turn on the lights in another room. Or you might have a temperature sensor that turns on the heat when the temperature drops below 65F. These simple rules are easy to set up with most home automation software, including X10’s ActiveHome Pro program that comes with their starter kits (and is included free with some CM11A interfaces).
X10’s ActiveHome Pro software lets you easily set up rules to make your home more convenient without complex programming.
Once you get into more complex setups, things get trickier. The most common method for setting up harder to implement rules is by writing scripts that are executed when a certain event occurs. Unfortunately this requires some knowledge of scripting languages such as Lua or AppleScript (depending on which platform you use). X10’s ActiveHome Pro uses
Once upon a time, home automation meant that you could turn your lights on and off from a central panel in your kitchen. Today, it means that you can turn your lights on and off from the comfort of your car. Or from your office. Or from Timbuktu.
The next step is well understood: as soon as we have ubiquitous broadband internet access, we’ll be able to control our homes remotely from wherever we are.
But it won’t stop there. As soon as we have ubiquitous computing, our homes will be able to control themselves autonomously. You won’t need to be anywhere near them at all to turn the lights on or off.
I’m not talking about some distant future when the technology is affordable and available everywhere; I’m talking about today. Given what’s already happened in the last ten years with mobile phones, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if by 2010 every new building in America has an autonomously controlled automated house system built right into it–and by 2020 every house less than a decade old has one as well.
The world has changed a lot since the home automation craze of the 1980s. The first home automation systems were based on the X10 protocol, which was developed in 1975 for remote control of lights and appliances over power lines.
It quickly became evident that X10 was a flawed technology, with poor reliability and security problems. The competition from other home automation protocols, such as Insteon and Z-Wave, did not improve the situation.
The real problem was that these technologies were based on an outdated model of computing. They were designed for controlling simple devices like lights and garage doors, but not for running more sophisticated applications such as security or media.
In addition to being limited in their capabilities, these protocols were also limited by their design philosophy: they relied on centralized gateways that acted as intermediaries between the networked devices and PC software.
The Internet has changed the way we think about computing. When there are hundreds of millions of devices connected together in a global network, there is no reason to have a central control server; it is more efficient to distribute control among all the devices themselves. This is the model used by peer-to-peer (P2P) networks like BitTorrent, where each client acts as both a consumer and supplier of content
The most important idea behind home automation is that the home should be smart enough to know what you want it to do without your having to tell it. This means that we have to solve some problems first:
1. How can the home sense what is going on?
2. How can the home figure out what you want done?
3. How can the home remember and react to your preferences?