home automation

Because I'm something of a gadget freak, my pals ask me about how automated our house will be. And I've disappointed them by noting that, aside from the audio system, we aren't planning to have any wired-in automation. Why? Three reasons, really: (1) cost, (2) rabid obsolescence, and (3) the coming revolution in wireless.

Automation systems are expensive. We've checked out a few (for example, Control4), and they cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Furthermore, these systems are often proprietary. If you want an addition to your system or an upgrade, you have to have the local supplier supply and install it.  In other words, it's a bill that keeps on billing.

rabid obsolescence
Ever been in a house from the seventies with a pushbutton intercom? At least back then it took a decade or more for that system to become obsolete. In today's day and age, it can take a year. Many automation systems have their own (proprietary) touch screens and controllers. But how long before they become obsolete? And why have a proprietary touchscreen when many of us already have one in our pocket?

the coming revolution
Enter the reason we are holding off: Wireless. Most homes already exist; therefore, it's expensive to wire existing homes. This creates a strong incentive to develop a wireless solution to access the full home market.

the revolution arrived yesterday!
And just yesterday, Philips announced Hue, a wireless-controlled scalable lighting system:

The app-controlled system allows you to manage up to 60 LED bulbs (gulp) from the screen of your smart phone or tablet. You can change color and brightness and can even program special scenes such as fading on in the morning and flashing when you need to go to work. It's not exactly cheap ($200 for a wifi controller and 3 bulbs; $60 per bulb for extra bulbs), but it's less expensive than a wired proprietary system, it's user controlled, and it's infinitely flexible (need that light over there to be controlled rather than this one? Just change a bulb!). Geek.com has a nice detailed review of the technology. The starter package and extra bulbs will initially be sold at Apple stores.

Add this to the nest wifi controlled smart-thermostat, the beginnings of wifi controlled plugs, and (ugly) wifi door locks, and (reasonably) affordable home automation appears to be in reach.

competition coming
I've been following the Kickstarter efforts of LIFX to do the same thing. It has to be a blow to have one of the big boys beat you to market, but perhaps competition will drive prices lower (sweet note from one of the execs at Philips on LIFX's facebook page). Insteon has also had it's system out there for a bit.

house hackers?
All this wireless tech makes me wonder: Will the evolution of a hackglar (hacker plus burglar) be too far away?


  1. But you do want a wired security system and it makes sense to put in window/door sensors before sheetrock.

    Wifi only works for line powered devices - doesn't work for door locks because it needs too much power to run off of batteries. You need ZigBee or ZWave for battery powered devices. The Hue uses ZigBee under the covers.

    and even normal burglars just kick in the doors 2/3s of the time instead of doing something with more finesse :) - the security thing is about the lowest wall - if your neighbor has no security system, they have a lower wall. If you both have security systems, either they go somewhere else or look at the systems to pick the easier.

    The hacking is going to come from people using web/app interfaces to enable/disable security systems, since that will be the weakest link.

    1. I do want to put in video. Bottom line is: If someone wants to get into your home, they're gonna get in.

      If so, I want a photo!