What is a smart house? How much it costs? How can we achieve it? Three global questions that need rapid answers in the era of smart and intelligent devices. I bet that most of you don’t know that the idea of Home Automation isn’t a recent concept in anyway, but it has been more of a case of technology growing up with the time passing. In this article I will introduce into understanding home automation and smart house definition.
Smart House – Part 1 – Introduction and History
Smart house and home automation from the beginning
For a log time Home Automation was a science fiction topic until first signs of intelligent controlling appeared in the 1898 when Nikola Tesla unveiled the first wireless remote control that was sending radio waves to control a miniature boat. But nothing was really important until the 20th century when there was a boom in domestic appliance with the engine powered vacuum cleaner in 1901 and the electric powered vacuum 6 years later. In the next 20 years there was the revolution in home appliance with refrigerators, clothes dryers, washing machines, irons and toasters, but could only be afforded as a luxury because of the high price.
Engineers were flirting with home automation with in the 1930’s but not only in 1966 when Jim Sutherland developed the first Home Automation System called “Echo IV”, which could control temperature, manage a shopping list or turn the appliances on and off. Another tryout came in 1969 when the Honeywell Kitchen Computer appeared, a machinery who could create recipes, but never had commercial success due to the huge price. When the microprocessor appeared in 1971, the price of electronics started to fall quickly and the technology become available to everyone.
The Smart House term was first coined by the American Association of House Builder in 1984. In the early 1990’s there was a new focus in combining gerontology with technology in gerontechnology, to improve the lives of elderly. By the end of the century domestic appliance, computers and robotics were combined in many products trying to make them more intelligent. A new term was commonly used to describe that – Domotics – but despite the efforts to make this technology accessible it was still to expensive and was left for the rich.
In 1998 a demonstration called Integer Millennium House was opened in Watford presenting how home automation could be integrated to a home with heating systems, automatic garden controlling soil, security systems, lights and doors. Gradually with the technology became more affordable, this technologies slowly started to be integrated in our homes. With the popularity growing there was more investment into making them more cheaper and efficient and in the end accessible for regular people.
Smart house in the present
Today home automation is almost everywhere, but most of the time we aren’t aware of it because it became natural. We can now control our TV, heating, lights, alarms, doors from our smartphones and controllers. Nowadays all home products from fridge, washing machine, cooking devices come with integrated WiFi modules and manufacturers call them being SMART devices because they are able to interconnect and communicate, and all of this thanks to ASIA which is producing smaller and cheaper integrated electronics each year.
But how can we define a Smart House? Has home automation already touched the edge? What can we get more?
When we talk about technology I can assure you that nothing touched the edge yet and probably wouldn’t soon. I consider that SMART is not a standard and should be defined by each one of you. A device which is smart for me maybe is not smart for you. What? Well, because we have different needs and different tastes, and off course different budgets we probably have a different vision about how technology combines with our personal environment. Well, let me tell you what a smart house should be able to do from my point of view, and remember that we are talking about the house itself, not appliances:
Smart house benefits
- Monitoring – we should be able to monitor in real time or historical, from any remote location, the house status. A smart house should provide live data and statistics about most of the systems integrated like energy consumption, water consumption, temperature and humidity monitoring, heating system status, security access alerts, proximity scanning and people presence counting. A software tool accessible from any device should process this data and provide valuable statistics and recommendations based on analysis and comparison with other houses results in a centralized anonymous database.
- Controlling – as much as many of you think that remote control is critical for a smart house, you are probably wrong. While you gain the privilege to control a system, that systems losses that privilege to control itself leaving to you the power to make decisions, which is not smart anymore. Don’t get me wrong, your house should give you a way to control it, but this shouldn’t be necessary. You should look at controlling your house as an emergency backup plan, in case anything goes wrong, and not as a day to day habit.
- Efficiency – well, it wouldn’t be much of a smart if it can be more efficient than a regular house. First of all a smart house should provide low energy consumption rates. Therefore the core software should a have an energy process manager in order to continuously monitor and analyze data from the inside and outside sensors and make constant adjustments to all energy consuming systems. As I told you before, most of the self adjusting systems works better when are connected with other self adjusting systems. Take a look at the intelligent vehicles, many manufacturers are hardly trying to make a self driving car with 100% safety but this will not be possible until all vehicles will be able to communicate each other. The house main central software should be able to connect with other houses and compare data in order to make more precise adjustments and better decisions. Also considering you have a parallel green energy system like solar panels, the house internal system should manage energy storage and how to distribute it depending on house loading and weather conditions.
- Intelligence – probably this is the most important factor but also hardest to achieve. Let me tell you few features that from my point of view transform a regular house into a intelligent one:
- House should know at anytime how many people are inside, and also how many people are in each room. This is important, it can be the main factor in controlling the heating systems, lights and also setup the security perimeter and alarming, and can be easily achieved with proximity sensors and door magnetic counters. Whit this benefit It should be able to close the TV, turn off the lights and save the heating energy in rooms when there are no people in, and also know when you are gone in vacancy by counting the days since no one entered the house.
- House should be connected to the internet. This is mandatory. Beside that it should give you remote access to the systems, the house should be able to access online weather providers and combine the forecast data with the measurements from sensors in order to adjust the heating systems in advance for a smooth temperature changing.
- A smart house should talk with you. It should give you real time notifications regarding improvements and adjustments that you can do, based on the feedback from the other houses. It should also tell you that you forgot to close the door and nobody is in the house, or while in the living room are 24°C, in the dorm are only 12°C and you should probably check the opened window. There are plenty information that can be delivered in real time based on the sensor readings. But also you should be able to talk with the house. For instance I’d like to tell my house that I’m coming home in 1 hour, and then the house will start the air conditioning unit, prepare the security system, start refreshing the air and maybe turn on the TV.
- Never the less the a smart house should be able to interconnect with other smart devices, especially smart home electronics and appliances which at some point become part of the house. Despite that most of the appliances are featured with WiFi capabilities there is no common language between them, there is no global communication protocol to make them communicate each other. With other words… they are NOT smart. There is nothing smart in being able to watch YouTube on your TV or make an electronic shopping list on your fridge. Those are just tiny features which in reality are not making any difference. Instead manufacturers should provide a natural understandable API for configuring and controlling the device, so that you can then build an integrated system which can command on demand.
Until the big companies will start producing really smart appliances and electronics that can talk to each other and offer ready to use gates for controlling, we are still restricted to use independent controllers and make use of blind power switches. In the second part we will get into how to make your house smarter using Internet of Things, low budget hardware and free open source platforms. Before that, you may be interested in the following articles:
- ESP8266 Arduino tutorial – WiFi module complete review
- Temperature sensor comparison – DHT22 vs DS18B20 | Arduino tutorial
- MQ4 Gas Sensor – Methane Natural Gas monitor with MQ3 / MQ4 sensors
I kindly recommend you the following great learning materials if you want to find more about home automation:
- Amazon Echo: 2016 User Guide to make your home life easier
- Automate your home using the powerful Arduino platform
- Z-Wave Basics: Remote control in Smart Homes
Hoping that this article inspired you, i kindly invite you share this article, subscribe my YouTube channel and join the communities on social networks. Feel free to comment or send suggestions / remarks so i can improve the content quality.