Many of us have seen sci-fi movies where the characters come home, walk in the front door, and their lights turn on for them. Perhaps they tell the house to switch on the TV or bring up the video phone with its wall-sized screen to call a friend.
Unfortunately, we're not quite "there" yet with regard to commercially-available home automation technology. But you might be surprised at how much can be achieved by the enthusiast looking to advance his home into the 21st century. Let me show you some of the shipping protocols and options. Then, we'll walk through the purchase process and installation to see what it takes to turn a house into a modern-day electronic toy.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, lets talk a little about what home automation is, exactly. HA, short for home automation, is a technology class that enables automatic and/or remote control of household electronics. The most commonly connected devices in an HA implementation are usually lamps/over-head lighting, heating/air conditioning, lawn and garden irrigation, and security systems.
One of the vendors we looked at, SmartHome, seems fairly biased by their near-exclusive offering of Insteon products. But the company does have some convenient information on HA, including a chart of the available technologies. You can check that out right here (opens in new tab).
We'll dig into more of the differences, considerations and available options later.
Interview with George Hanover
First, we wanted to talk to an expert in the field and find out why home automation isn't more popular among computing enthusiasts than it is today. We exchanged emails with George Hanover, a fellow and membership chair of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society, to find out more.
Tom's Hardware: Why isn't home automation more pervasive today?
George: Well it is catching on, albeit slowly. “Buying” home automation is not like buying an appliance or even a home theater system. A customer can be shown a new refrigerator or TV set, but how does a salesman effectively demonstrate home automation? Also, all of the user devices must be compatible with each other and with the HA system so that they can talk to each other.
So, when a customer buys in to a particular system, he/she is really making a long-term commitment.
Tom's Hardware: We'd think that a basic home automation setup could be deployed for less than the price of a mid-grade computer. Many households have two or more computers these days. Is it the installation process scaring most folks off?
George: Also, there’s the matter of retrofitting into the existing housing inventory. Each year, only a tiny percentage of the housing stock is new, which means the biggest market for HA is in existing homes, and some of them have been around for 40+ years.
Tom's Hardware: Most people don't install irrigation systems themselves. Instead, they hire a contractor to perform the installation. Are there home automation installers, and are they difficult to find?
George: Yes, there are, and no they’re not.
Check the Customer Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) Web site at http://www.cedia.net/. You will see an installer locater and also find that CEDIA has a certification program for installers and holds an annual expo. Also, I think the level of expertise needed to install a first-rate HA system is much higher than needed to install an irrigation system.