But what’s it for?
But whether you go for a long-established system with a wide range of plugs, sockets, dimmers, switches and a controller, or something newer, one thing soon becomes abundantly clear: home automation can be an expensive business, especially if you want to go the whole hog and have things like touchscreen panels to control your lighting.
Home automation used to be thought of as something to save time and labour – open the curtains when you’re still in bed, for example. But as many of us become more conscious of issues from home security to energy usage – you don’t have to be a paid up member of the Greens to be horrified by your electricity bills – there are perhaps other ways in which HA tech can be useful.
Nest Labs' Nest thermostat can calculate your most efficient energy use pattern
Smart thermostats like Nest Labs' Nest can learn about your routine, or sensors around the home can ensure lighting turns off when it’s no longer needed.
Automatic monitoring – I’ll skip the connected fridge; check out my feature WTF are… connected appliances – can keep an eye on oil tanks and place orders, while security systems can let you know that the kids are safely home from school, all while you’re still at work.
They can you to movement caught on a camera. If you have a Synology nas box, for instance, then you already have surveillance software - it's just waiting for you to attach an IP camera.
Roll your own
If you’re of a more technical bent, it’s not too difficult to come up with your own automation and control projects, even without investing in dedicated controllers.
For example, the Topfield TF5800 PVR is a Freeview recorder with a published API which includes a way to set timers. A few years ago, I created a service to allow timers to be set via SMS, so a user could send a text like ‘TOPPY RECORD BUFFY / BBC1 AT 1900 to a shortcode. The SMS provider, iTagg, then delivered it to a URL where it was stored in a database. A script on a PC then polled the website, and transferred a control file to the recorder via USB if there were new timers to set.
Take greater control of your energy use with a Wi-Fi thermostat, like the Heatmiser
Or take a device like the HeatMiser WiFi thermostat recently reviewed here. The protocol has been published, and there’s open source code to talk to it. By using the LocationOf.com app on a Symbian phone, I can work out when I’m more than a certain distance away from home, and ensure the heating is turned off.
Next page: Open source, open house
Slowly creeping in
I started reading this thinking "Oh god, another Tomorrow's World special on things that will never happen".
Then I realised, we already have a signal-man that uses an accoustic sensor to monitor the level of oil in the tank and calls the oil company for a re-fill if it gets too low. I didn't even pay for that - the oil company supplied and fitted.
And, when we got our new oil-fired boiler three years ago they threw in a wireless controller. So the heating is fully programmed and, for example, I can stick it in the youngest's room overnight (which tends to be the coldest) and it will ensure the room never drops below 16C.
I also have a £15 all-in-one remote which, from a single button press, will turn on the TV and blu-ray and switch the TV onto HDMI-1 (amongst other things).
And, whilst not automated yet, we get our shopping delivered each week by Tesco. I can use my Android phone, during the week, to take a snap of the barcode of anything I've emptied (cereal boxes etc) and they just get added to the list. On a Monday night I then log in to the current order where it tells me what I ordered last week, what I usually order and if there are any specials on things I've ordered in the past. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the list and it gets delivered Tuesday night. I can see that process becoming more and more automated over the next few years.
Home automation isn't just coming. It is here. But it is here in ways that we tend not to notice - which is surely the whole point.
Re: Who's it for?
Assuming you were being serious and not just trolling;
How am I supposed to measure the contents of a fully sealed oil tank by "getting off my fat arse"?
How am I supposed to stop my son's bedroom dropping below 16C by "getting off my fat arse"? Do I get up every 30 mins during the night, take a temperature reading and either turn the heating on or off?
Or, for the example someone gave above of dumping excess solar energy into the immearsion, should he remain at home all day to do this or do you advise running home every few minutes to switch the relay manually?
That control freak product does not match my specific 'value' test. £299 on ukhomeautomation for what is basically a Sheeva plug with the software preinstalled. AND you still have to buy the X10 computer kit to connect to it.
However, the rfxcom devices look clever and deserve some further research.