Smart home vs an automated home

Smart v automated home
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Introduction

In this article I'll touch on the Internet Of Things (IOT) and what it is.  I will talk about, and show similarities and differences between a smart home versus an automated home.  I will talk about different home automation software packages and different ways to gear your IOT devices towards making your home more of a smart home.

Internet Of Things

You may have heard the terms IOT or IOE before and said, what the heck is that.  IOT stands for the Internet Of Things.  Similarily, IOE stands for the Internet Of Everything.  IOT and IOE,  in it's broadest sense is the process of making the things that we use every day, in some way shape or form, connected to the internet.  These things have various sensors and control functions.  Being connected to the internet allows outside access to to the data and control that those sensors and controls provide.  IOT is a way of simplifying the world around you.  IDC, a market intelligence research firm, says that there are around 13 billion connected devices in use worldwide already.  Business Insider (BI) Intelligence projects 34 billion devices will be connected by 2020.

Home automation projects

X10 LogoOne aspect of IOT that is becoming more common is home automation.  Home automation is nothing new though.  My start into home automation began many years ago with X10.  I found it nice to be able to control devices remotely.  With their software called ActiveHome, I could also automate things with motion sensors and timers using a computer.  After using it for a bit, I found that there were things that I wanted to do that my X10 hardware could not.  Since then I have tried a number of different software packages, most of which fit in the realm of home automation platforms.Automation controllers  Some of these have included MisterHouse, Domoticz and most recently my VeraPlus controller.  I have another blog post talking about my home automation setup.  https://dan.bemowski.info/2017/06/11/my-home-automation-setup/

OSA smart homeOne project I was a part of that geared itself toward being more of a smart home system than an automated home system.  That project was called Open Source Automation, or OSA.  The features that drew me toward the system were it's ability to integrate a number of different types of hardware into one system.  Another thing that drew me toward it was it's focus towards being a smart home controller. When I was on the project, the smart home features were in their infancy, but moving forward.

Smart home vs automated home

So what is the difference between an automated house and a smart house.  The ability for you to turn devices on and off from your phone, and scheduling lights and other devices to turn on and off on different schedules, simply means that you have an automated home.  You may ask then, how is that different from a smart home.  A smart home adds other layers on to the automated home system giving it a new level of functionality.

The broadest aspect of a smart home is gathering lots of data.  Smart homes are made of many data gathering tools and sensors.  Gather more data and you can  make more intelligent decisions based on that data.  Another thing we'll throw into the mix is objects.  These objects have many properties.  The properties of these objects, combined with data that your system has collected can now make smart decisions.  Now your system is gearing up to be a smart house.

One of the biggest pieces of data in all of this, and the most difficult to manage, is occupancy sensing.  A basic level of occupancy sensing is to put motion sensors in a room that will turn lights on and off.  However, the use of a motion sensor will only tell your system that one or more people occupy an area.  Now what if you could tell how many people were in that area.  To take that a step further, what if you could tell exactly who was in a particular area.  Now you can make smart decisions based on that added data.  

People objects

People iconPreviously we mentioned objects and their corresponding properties.  So lets say we defined a person as one of those objects.  We'll define two "person" objects using myself (Dan) and my wife (Karen) as examples.  So let's say Dan likes the temperature in a room to be 70° and he likes a lot of light in a room.  Two properties for Dan would then be "temp = 70°" and "lightLevel = 100%".  Now Karen likes the temperature in a room to be 67° and have the lights a little dimmer, so her two properties would be "temp = 67°" and "lightLevel = 70%".  Let's combine this with motion sensing with person recognition.  You can now define your rule on your main controller to say:

If ( motion_sensed ) {
    if (furnace_mode == off ) {
        set furnace = on; //Turn the furnace on if someone is in the area
    }  
    set furnace_temp = temp; //Set the temperature to the users desired temp
    set lights = lightLevel ; //Set the lights to the users desired light level
    }
}

So with that, if I walk into the room and the furnace is off, it will set the temperature to 70° and turn the lights on to 100%.  If my wife walks in under the same scenario, The furnace will set itself to 67° and the lights will dim to 70%.

As you can see, the more data you can gather, the smarter, more informed decisions your automation controller can make based on that data.  Using this approach can save energy and improve the quality of life for the occupants.  You should now be able to tell the difference between a smart house and an automated house.

Conclusion

So to sum it up, an automated house gives you control of devices from an external source such as a smart phone and limited action from other sensors such as motion sensors.  A smart house makes it's decisions using multiple factors and sensors.  Check out the ongoing discussion on this topic on the MySensors website https://forum.mysensors.org/topic/7814/a-smart-home-vs-an-automated-home/ .

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My Home Automation Setup

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The start

So over the years I have mostly used X10 for my home automation hardware. I used it because it was pretty much the cheapest solution out there. The hardware worked, but it had it's problems and limitations. So last year when my Raspberry Pi had died that I had running a PERL based automation software called MisterHouse, I wanted to explore other solutions. I ended up stumbling on the MySensors website. MySensors is an open source DIY home automation hardware platform that works with a good number of automation controller softwares, many of which are open source themselves. Orange Pi PC Board I started with a software called Domoticz and had it running on a new kind of development board that I picked up cheap ($18 US). The board is the Orange Pi PC.  The board is roughly the same size as a Raspberry Pi and it runs a similar version of embedded linux.   All I needed to do to get started with MySensors was to build a gateway node that  would talk to the sensors.  There were a few different options for communications hardware.  nRF24L01+ BoardI ended up choosing the nRF24L01+ radio boards.  The main reason was because hey were wireless which meant that I could put sensors in places that before were near impossible.  But they were also cheap.  I was hooked.  I could build whatever sensors I wanted, and there were plenty of examples to get me started.  My goal was to completely replace my old X10 hardware and upgrade it to MySensors as much as possible.  I started with a node for controlling and monitoring my garage door opener.  From there I was hooked.  I wanted to MySensorize everything.  So it continued.

Changing controllers yet again

So after using Domoticz for a while, I ended up finding a few limitations.  Being a member of the MySensors forum for a while, I decided to do some searching.  I noticed that a few of the people on the site were using a platform called Vera.  Vera is a hardware device type of automation controller and it has a plugin architecture that can support many different types of hardware, one of them being MySensors.  I ended up requesting and getting a Vera Plus controller as a gift.  It is a great platform and is very customizable with LUA scripting.   The plugins for it are pretty much all built with LUA script.  I have yet to find a problem I can't solve with it.

My current setup

I currently have 40 plus home automation nodes and it keeps growing.  From MySensors nodes to WiFi controlled relays to my Amazon Echo and more, my system continues to grow.  I am always looking for new ways to automate my life.  I don't think I will ever stop.

Conclusion

I encourage you to go out and automate your life.  It is a lot of fun.  Check back to see other posts from me about my journey through my automated life.

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