Blog Post:

Home Automation: The Frontier of the “Internet of Things”

Internet of ThingsHome automation is one of my hobbies that I use to entertain and enlighten myself when my day job is a little tedious (which lately has been quite rare). I think home automation is on the verge blossoming from the domain of the hobbyist and wealthy into a huge growth market. It is all part of the heavily hyped “Internet of Things” (IOT) you see marketed in technology journalism everywhere.

The Internet Of Things (IOT) is being driven by the drop in cost and rise in performance of embedded processors and low power digital radios like Zigbee, Z-Wave, 6LowPAN. Even the more established radio technologies are becoming very easy to integrate into embedded systems. Sparx recently evaluated Digi’s Wifi modules in the popular XBee footprint and interface and they were quite easy to use (even if the peer to peer mode did not quite work as advertised for us). We’re also currently working with Nordic Semiconductor’s NRF51422, a Cortex M0 SOC with a software defined radio capable of ANT+, Bluetooth low energy (BLE), or both simultaneously. The point is it is getting cheaper and easier to establish a digital link from just about anything to anything else and home automation is one of the few areas where there is a real value proposition for the consumer.

Take for example my system (that is built around the excellent Vera system), which makes my life a lot easier and safer for me and my son. Let’s say on a Saturday, I go shopping while my wife goes to the gym. The Vera is the logic “glue” between Z-wave enabled locks, my alarm system, and my security DVR. The Vera can email or text me telling me which code unlocked the door or disarmed the alarm. It can even trigger recordings on the security camera of the door that was unlocked so I can see exactly who came and went. I can also check up on him through the security cameras and can even remotely lock the doors and arm the alarm system in stay mode if he forgets to re-arm the system.

DVR triggered by Vera Home Automation System.
Security cam still triggered with home automation scripts.

Because the door locks and security system are connected to a system I can script / program, I can do neat tricks like enable single use security codes for guests, or only allow the house cleaner’s codes to work every other week. This is a great convenience that beats the heck out of having to re-key things if a key is lost / stolen /compromised.

But my favorite application of home automation (and probably the “itch” that got me started with doing this) is my wife’s habit of asking late at night “Are you sure the doors are locked and the alarm is on?”. Now I just grab my phone off the nightstand and fire up the excellent AutHomationHD and show her that the castle is secure. And thanks to the Vera home automation platform that ties everything together with a script-able UI, a single user input arms my alarm, locks all my doors, and turns out the lights.

Vera ties home automation devices together with an attractive web based GUI.
Web UI of the Vera Home Automation Platform

What else? I can turn on and off the lights, I can even water my lawn thanks to the Open Sprinkler Beagle. I’m working on a garage door sensor / controller using a relay and a reed switch but work got crazy fun / busy before I could finish. But that is next on my list.

Home is where we live / sleep / eat and there is real value to be had making home automation systems smart enough to simplify life. I’m looking forward to having the time to build my system out even further.

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