Making your Home Smarter: Automation
The convenience and security of home automation are undeniable, and more and more people are
using it. Not only that, a smart home can be an energy-efficient one, as you have more control of your appliances. It is always nice to have your lights automatically dim as you leave your room or play your favourite song just by clapping your hands. Home automation might cost a bit to install but the benefits are worth the investment.
Defining a “Smart” Home
A smart home incorporates a network that connects appliances and devices. This network allows anything that utilises electricity to
communicate with each other and respond to your commands. Controlling the devices could be done using a computer, wireless controller, or by voice. The system can be similar to a personal assistant who awaits your every beck and call. Lighting, home theatre, security, temperature regulation and entertainment are the most common systems to be automated.
A Short History of Home Automation
It was just a few years back when only society’s well-off could afford an automated house. But now, the developments in electronics technology have paved the way for much cheaper systems, enticing more families to convert their abode to smarter homes. How did smart homes begin?
It was in 1975 when Scottish company Pico electronics created X10, the technology that gave birth to home automation. X10 allowed compatible appliances and devices to “talk” to each other using the existing electricity connections inside a house.
Receivers are installed in the appliances and devices, and a remote control or keypad acts as the transmitter. Pressing the remote control sends out data wirelessly, encapsulating simple codes like 0010 for “on” and 0011 for “off”. The X10 was revolutionary during that time although it has its limitations. For instance, communication among the devices using electrical wires can be unreliable – the signals are heavily attenuated by the 120/240 volt system that is used in American homes.
More technologies emerged since then, all trying to overcome the limitations of the X10. Z-wave and ZigBee moved away from using power lines and used a special frequency channel for sending out radio waves. Both technologies used low-power and low-cost modules that are connected, following a mesh topology. Being low-power allowed ZigBee modules to be manufactured in small sizes and use smaller batteries. Mesh networking provides reliability and a more extensive communication range.
Choosing the right automation software is very important. Modules follow the same technical standard and they all work the same, but programs do not. You must choose a program based on ease of use. Activhome is recommended for beginners, as the user interface is simple to follow. You can control your appliances through your computer using it. If you want more customization, then Powerhome could be for you. This program allows you to create timed sequences as well as routines that fit your preference.
Adding other systems would require new programs. For example, if you choose to add a weather monitor, you will need Virtual Weather Station. This program allows your automation software (e.g. Activhome) to communicate with your climate sensors.
The server, interface and modules are the hardware of your automation system. The server acts as the brain of the system and will always include controllers, timers and computers. Servers have become more intelligent over the years and may now accept commands from smartphones. E-home Automation products are examples of systems that can process commands from Apple’s iPhone. Interface refers to the connection between the different components of the system, while modules receive the commands for the devices.
Smart Grid and the Future
The term “smart grid” refers to a node in a network of electrical systems that can analyse behaviours and do actions based on what it sees as necessary to maintain the efficiency of the system. The ability to control home appliances and lighting is viewed as an integral addition to the smart grid as it is being rolled out in a few countries.
A combination of home automation systems and smart grids will pave the way for better energy management in the future. A possible application could be turning on the air-conditioning system using the high power derived from a solar panel on a hot day. Smart grid technology will also evolve just like home automation so that this so-called “green automation” can be utilised in more homes.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.www.lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.