Smart House Devices
A smart house, also called a Digital Home or Automated Home, is a residence that is digitally accessible and automated to a greater or lesser degree, and is closely related to the ‘internet of things’ concept.
In a smart house, either the home itself or some aspects of housework or common home activities like entertainment are computerised, programmable and at least partially automatic. Central control of common systems like lighting, climate control (heating and air conditioning) door and window locks and alarm systems is common.
These systems have been automated to provide better comfort, convenience, security and/or energy efficiency, depending on the goals of the designers and users. Home automation can also aid the elderly or disabled to improve their overall quality of life and reduce or eliminate the need of a caregiver, or delay the need for institutionalised care.
As the prices of electronic and computer equipment continues to fall, and actual computing capacity increases, home automation has become much more practical at small and large scales alike, and is therefore becoming much more popular. Specific advances include the ability to monitor, control and program aspects of the house automation with a smartphone or tablet, which have become all but ubiquitous.
How does it work?
A home automation system is essentially a network of all of the electronically controllable devices that are in (or are a part of) the home. The devices can communicate with each other (or the outside world, through an internet connection) and share information as required by the designer. From your control point, often a smart phone or laptop, you can instruct the house to perform tasks either automatically, or in response to certain events which the house has been modified to be able to sense. From that one connection, you can control your home entertainment systems, activate lawn or houseplant irrigation, feed your pets, modify your internal heat or lighting settings, and even access, control and program any domestic robots that may be incorporated into the system.
All of this can be accessed through a variety of means. Users should consider the security threats presented by allowing home systems to be accessed from outside the home, as few security systems can deter a truly determined hacker for ever. More common security systems only allow smart home access and control from inside the home, over a secured wireless communications point.
Indoor domestic robots
A domestic robot, or service robot, is an automatic, programmable, often mobile device that is used to assist with household chores, education or entertainment. Almost everyone is familiar with the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner, for example.
Until recently, domestic robots have seen limited commercial success, the Roomba being the exception. However, their numbers are rising sharply as computing power rises and prices fall. Worldwide, there were an estimated 3.5 million service robots operating in 2006, compared to less than 1 million industrial robots.
Common domestic robots include automated vacuum cleaners and floor polishers, automated cat litter cleaning devices, and even security drones of growing sophistication.
Outdoor domestic robots
Many robots or smart-home extensions are designed to do work outside the home. Most common are automated lawn mowers, pool cleaners, window washing units and robots to clean the eaves or gutters.
Users should take care to determine the legality of using an automated device outdoors in their community, especially if the device is to operate without supervision.
Drones are a different category than robots, and are becoming much more common even for civilian use. A drone is by definition mobile, and can move along the ground or fly under its own power. They can be controlled remotely, but are capable of following preprogramed routes and performing actions based on environmental cues.
The most common type of drone to be incorporated into a smart house is the security drone. Many are primarily mobile surveillance platforms capable of patrolling a set area and detecting movement or intruders. Suspicious activity can be filmed for analysis by a human operator or the police, and many are capable of sending text or email alerts of detections if they are programmed to do so.
Surveillance drones are the centre of numerous privacy debates, and the legal limits imposed on them are volatile. Users should take care to follow all laws with these devices, and to be aware of neighbour’s’ privacy concerns.
History of smart homes
The automated ‘home of the future’ has been a concept since just after the Second World War, appearing frequently in exhibitions such as the World’s Fair and in science fiction literature. Limitations on the technology kept such devices largely theoretical until at least the late 1960’s.
In the 1980’s the idea had its first real renaissance with a few digitally controlled home devices and robots, most of which were little better than toys, despite having a price tag similar to a car of the time. Bill Gates championed the idea in the 1990s, when technology had advanced enough to make it possible, if not practical.
Today, smart homes are almost affordable, and many individual pieces of ‘smart’ technology are becoming common in new build homes. The next ten years could show a real revolution in smart home technology, as priced drop still further.