Not exactly the sexiest title for a blog post is it? But if you don’t have an interest in either of those fields then this post is just going to bore you silly anyway.
We recently moved into a new house and I’ve had some time on my hands. So I’ve been dabbling in home automation.
Before exploring what ‘home automation’ even means, let’s start with the Internet of Things.
Internet of Things
The idea is that lots of different things will be connected to the internet. Things like your bathroom scales, your fridge or even your kettle. As they’re online you’ll be able to connect to and control them from anywhere (trigger the kettle to boil before you’re even out of bed) – and they can communicate with each other and external services (your fridge adds milk to your online grocery order) .
Home automation (“HA”) has been around much, much longer. So it’s easier to define what it is and point at what’s available.
Let’s start with a socket timer switch that let’s you set your electric heater to come on automatically at 8pm and to go off again at 10pm. At a stretch you could call that automation. But what happens when you have that same heater connected to a central system (a “controller”) that knows – via other devices – the temperature of the house, whether anyone is home, if the windows are open, etc? That controller now has a whole load of data to decide whether that heater should be on.
Another example: You go to bed. The bedroom motion sensor notes your arrival and tells the controller. Because it’s within a time-frame that you specified the controller triggers a pre-defined set of actions (a “scene”). It checks the doors are locked, the lights are off and the temperature is lowered.
Typically these systems are installed and set up by an engineer – a custom installer or “CI”. Want to change or add something? Pay him to come out and do it.
There are some great systems available and great installers too. But the market for these expensive-to-install-and-maintain systems is tiny compared to the DIY market. From apartments in New York to three-bed semis in Fulham,
geeks enthusiasts have been installing their own systems for years
It’s grown from fiddly systems designed in the 70s that communicated over your powerlines to newer systems that use radio technology and mesh networks (think Sonos) that are far easier to install. The daddy of these newer systems is Z-Wave.
Z-Wave is a protocol that’s baked into many products from different manufacturers. It lets them all communicate with a central controller (of which there are lots available). The products are cheap and easy to install. It’s easy to start with a basic set up and gradually add to it.
So what’s the difference between these pre-existing home automation products and this newfangled Internet of Things?
Well, sod all as far as I can tell.
True, the individual devices in a HA set up aren’t connected directly to the internet and don’t have their own IP address. But so what?
Would you want to log on to each device separately to control it or would you rather a central controller that let you manage everything from one interface? Good HA Controllers have mobile apps and you can access them remotely.
The difference is really down to positioning and marketing.
I hope some of the established players in the home automation space jump on the Internet of Things bandwagon. It’s time to blow the dust off of the marketing manual and stick a rocket up the R&D teams rear. This industry is about to get very hot. Maybe it already is.
There are two companies that I think have the potential to dominate this space. I’ll write about them very soon. Get notified when I do by entering your email address here.
In the meantime, let me know what you think using the comments section below.