We’ve all seen futuristic movies where they show one of the characters interacting with some device in their home that seems so high tech it’s difficult to imagine ever seeing something like that in your lifetime. Home automation has come generations in just the past few years. SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) refers to a centralized system that monitors and controls devices. To truly appreciate the evolution, here’s a quick review of a couple areas.
About 10 years ago, I got into home automation and retrofitted every light switch in our home with x10 push buttons that work just like a normal button, but can also be controlled with a remote control. I actually did this for a specific reason but also because I’m a geek and was looking for a reason to do this. We had a dog who was diagnosed with diabetes and needed an insulin shot every day at 7am and 7pm. I traveled full time, so I programmed the lights in the entire house to blink on and off twice a day at those times to remind my wife to give him his shot.
In my opinion, x10 is great for “dumb devices or appliances”, basically devices that turn on and off like a water hose does, and is controlled by power either going to the cord or not. If you wanted to turn a lamp on or off by using a remote control, you plug the lamp into an x10 plug and the x10 plug goes into the wall. That allows the x10 plug to control the power to the lamp, but the lamp is dumb, it doesn’t know whether it’s on or off, the x10 plug does however.
Smart appliances and devices are now being developed where they have their own computers built into them, know lots more than just if they’re on or off, and can also communicate over wireless to update their software as well as download or upload data from the web. Sounds totally unnecessary?
Here are a few real scenarios that you may find in the next home you buy:
Interactive Cutting Boards: Imagine making dinner and instead of printing out a recipe you have a fully interactive and touch enabled TV built right into your countertops. You can search for new recipes, and when you find them, you can pull up videos right there that will teach you how to make them, or guide you in a new cutting motion using a special technique.
Smart Refrigerators: Does your family use a family bulletin board where you pin up a school calendar of events or the kids practice schedule for their sports teams? Then things get rescheduled over email and you never print out the updated schedule, so the family bulletin board becomes useless… That’s my world. Soon, refrigerators will have integrated screens that show today’s calendar of events for the whole family can see and know who’s where and when. The calendar will be linked to your email calendar so updates to that will automatically update your refrigerator data, or vice versa. It will show you relevant news, whether, alerts, just like your pc can do.
Microsoft Research is testing a new home operating system called HomeOS,which will enable the average home user to interact with devices in their home (lights, gaming consoles, TVs, security cameras, appliances, routers, printers, PCs, tablets, phones, and lots more). Microsoft has also released a first beta of the LoT (Lots of Things) developer framework, which will allow people to create new ways of connecting devices. This shows huge promise for the healthcare and energy management industries, where devices and sensors are a critical piece of their operating efficiency.
All of these “smart devices” will talk to a central computer that’s running HomeOS, where the individual device data will be centralized so analysis can be done by the home user. You’ll be able to see trends day over day, week over week, month over month, and even forecast future consumption. If you were actually able to see that the 100W hall flood light actually costs 10 cents a minute when it’s on, would you be more apt to turn it off when it’s not needed? By simply replacing that 100W flood light with a compact fluorescent or LED bulb for just a matter of minutes, you’d be able to instantly see in HomeOS the actual energy usage difference, and be able to forecast a cost savings if you replaced other bulbs with high efficiency bulbs. That brings Business Intelligence to the average family that can realistically save a quantifiable amount of money.
Within a couple of years, if not much sooner, you’ll be able to view the total power consumption your home uses, which specific devices or appliances are consuming the most energy and at what times, and be able to react to that in real time. Imagine having a shower head that has people profiles, so it knows who is showering. You could then see not only your household water usage by month, but see that your daughter uses 400% more water than anyone else in the household. You could even set custom timers where the water turns off after a certain amount of time, or better yet, just turn off the hot water!
Need more proof that this will be helpful? Call your power company or water services provider and ask them which devices or home utilities (like sprinklers) are consuming the most resources on a daily basis. They can’t tell you that because all they see is what’s going into your house from either the water or power meter. They don’t know if your daughter is taking 90 minute showers or if your neighbor ran a hose under the wall to his house and is watering his grass with your water. That’s where HomeOS comes in and will rely on vendors making smart devices/appliances that can communicate over a standard protocol. This will change how we run our households in a good way, and in the long run, will help the average consumer conserve tons of energy but today has no real way of doing it intelligently outside of light bubs.