Home 2.0 – Volume 1 – Overview

I would like to share in this post one of my fetishistic passion: the subtle combination of perverse interior design (read slick, minimalist, a la Apple) and high-tech home automation. In contrast to the depiction of the house of the future in science fiction (see the Monstanto house videos hereafter), I actually didn’t see many home automation solutions that people like you and me can (or would) buy. That Jetsonian ideal of an all automated, fully-networked smart house remains what you see at fairs, not in a house.

Domotics are not yet main stream products you find at Best Buy (or our local equivalent Mediamarkt), and as of today I see this market limited to two personality types: the high-income early adopter that loves technological fads (and can afford them), and the geek (like me) who likes to play around with technology and finds fun to build a twittering house or smart meter. In this first post of a series where I’d like to dig a little in the different aspects of the smart home (whatever that means), I’d like to provide a brief overview of the current state of the art in this field. The basic definition of the Smart House I will use throughout these posts is a set of interconnected devices embedded in a building or a room that make that place smarter (or automated). But what makes a building smart? According to Joe’s post, it is the ability to continuously self-regulate to provide a better living environment for the user, and at the same time minimize energy consumption. I love the way Joe phrased it (I adapted a little his phrasing to make it shorter):

“Continually measuring, analyzing, and acting is what differentiates an audit from sustainability. [..] Making buildings more efficient is not only about data, but you also have to know what to do and how to act on that data.”

Nicely said! It certainly has a real value for buildings and companies to automated their factories and utilities, and many companies have already understood it. But when it comes to particulars, does the smart house really bring something tangible, or is it just a caprice for rich pampered kids? I’d like to propose and discuss in this post the four main reasons why domotics didn’t really take off for end consumers, which are price, applications, standards, and privacy. These devices are quite expensive and it’s definitely not something we really need, indeed, why would anyone want to automate our homes? To provide some answers to this question, I’d like to share with you my list of applications we’d expect from the smart home:

  • Entertainment (TV, radio, DVD, music, games, etc)
  • Data storage (NAS, or a centralized data repository)
  • Security (Door alarms, cameras, passive-infrared detectors)
  • Lighting (automated, ambience effects, etc.)
  • Utilities monitoring (Water, electricity, Gas, etc)
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air conditioning)
  • Health Sensors (Nike+iPOD, blood pressure, etc)

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but shows that there are indeed many different things we could dream of in the house of the future (I’ll spare you the business plan argumentation). There are literally thousands of solutions available in each of these, but the big problem is many different standards exist to connect them, and interoperability between all these devices is a must in the smart home.

The main issue for the smart home is the popular beliefs and fear of technology. First appears the issue of privacy (“If the system gets hacked, then people can access the cameras in my house when I take a shower, monitor my whereabouts”, etc..), but also the danger of it (people can lock me inside my building, cut the ventilation, etc) as illustrated by the horror movies about elevators, where a high-tech building goes wild and harms the inhabitants. This is an essential issue that should never be underestimated, and a single technical failure can harm severely the image of the smart home. That’s why I think security should be an essential component for WOT (and neither Dom nor I are security experts :). Volunteers, welcome!!

This is just a first post of a series where I’d like to go more into the details of home automation and internet of things. In the next post, I’ll go more in detail about the actual solutions and devices out there, and also focus more onto the different solutions out there to build the necessary infrastructure to build such connected buildings, and that’s where the research fits right in, build such an infrastructure (so that building new apps/solutions is cheap and accessible). More to follow on that soon!

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