Open source, open house
While a glance through the various online stores will turn up quite a few "internet controllers" for home automation, they start at around £100, and very often you have to connect to the provider’s own website, rather than directly to your home network. That’s easier to manage for novices who don’t want to play with their firewall, but potentially leaves you stuck if the company folds.
That’s not going to happen with something completely under your control, and there’s quite a lot of software that you can run on Linux to do home automation. If the thought of a dedicated PC running 24 hours a day doesn’t appeal either, why not take the traditional path of hacking a router?
The Home Automation Hub reaches to a range of devices through your router
Just as replacement operating systems like DD-WRT can make a lot of kit into a more flexible router, the Home Automation Hub (HAH) project sets out to turn an Orange Livebox router into a home automation server, with an extra bit of hardware that – like the TellStick – allows it to control a range of gadgetry, and even keep an eye on energy consumption too.
In fact, with open source software like HAH and low-cost devices like Arduino, it’s probably easier than it’s ever been for people who want to experiment and use web technologies to link up disparate pieces of equipment with a mix of protocols.
Got an old IP camera? You can probably find out the URL to grab a JPEG from it to embed in a web page even if, like my old Veo Observer IP, the company behind it is long gone, and the camera itself would prefer to force-feed you an Active X control.
Since many of us now carry around a smartphone which can effectively be used as a touchscreen remote control, it’s the logical way to link many different devices together. And if the thought of doing all that from scratch doesn’t appeal, then you might instead want to take a look at Open Remote which provides a Java-based server app that can talk to a range of automation protocols, including X10, Lutron lighting systems, KNX IP-based controllers and even Samsung TVs. A cloud-based tool lets you design remote control panels, which can then be accessed from Android and iOS devices, or the web.
Remotely operate your lighting with NXP's Wi-Fi bulbs
Likewise, the Ninja Block team have produced Ninja Cloud, a web-hosted console in which you can apply rules that will trigger events based on feedback from sensors - heat, humidity, distance, motion and such - connected to its Ninja Block gadget.
As more and more devices gain some sort of IP connectivity – even light bulbs are getting in on the act, and I saw the BBC’s ‘Universal Control’ in action when I visited its labs in Manchester last year – it’s surely only going to become easier to control or interrogate things in the home, whether you want to save energy, keep an eye on security, or just make life a little bit easier. It might still seem unnecessary to many, but home automation has certainly come a long way from the days of Frank Spencer. ®
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.