Automated Home – The First 10 Years

I’d always been interested in gadgets, and especially connecting stuff up together. While my soldering skills have always been pretty awful, I had wired my black and white portable telly to my record players amplifier when I was about 14.

Playing the TV through my big speakers just seemed such an obvious thing to do. Various other teenage projects included controlling my bedroom light by infrared remote and creating a pressure pad from a wire coat hanger, some tin foil and a magazine to alert me of incoming sisters.

I first went on line over a decade later (February 1995) with an account from Northern Ireland’s very first ISP – the Genesis Project. I soon found the news group – comp.home.automation – and suddenly my interest had a name – Home Automation!

Back then it seemed HA was practically unheard of outside a small circle of geeks on the net and they were nearly all in the USA. It was for this reason I decided to create my own UK based home automation site. Looking back, my first “home page” was a shocking affair. Animated gifs, flashing text and those textured backgrounds. But then we all started off with a site like that, didn’t we? I can’t find a screen shot or code of the original site, but that’s probably a good thing!

1996 – In the Beginning
My first “proper” website appeared in 1996 when Geocities started giving away web space, something that was totally unheard of then. And so the original site named “UK Home Automation” was born, with the URL – www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/1155/

1996 – October
A short time later I moved to a new ISP and the site moved to the following “catchy” URL – www.btinternet.com/~uk.homeautomation – see my newsgroup post HERE

1997 – July
1997 was a serious year for my HA setup. I imported the 1st HomeVision into the UK and after emailing Craig Chadwick back and forwards for several weeks we had the PAL video and the UK caller ID up and running nicely. It’s a testament to Craig and his product that HomeVision still runs our house today!


Click Above To Read My HA Diary From 1996-2000

1998 – February
It was time to move ISPs again, and as I was still relying on my providers free web space for the site, the URL changed to a more memorable – www.ukha.demon.co.uk – see my newsgroup post HERE

1998 – March
After 9 years of planning finally the work commenced on building our own new automated home. Construction would take around a year and it led to the creation of the Wiring Guide.


Click Pic To Read The Wiring Guide

With the help of Keith Doxey we carried out the entire first fix cabling for our smart home system in a little under a week.

1998 – September
Since the early days I had run an announcement only mailing list. This was used to notify followers of the site when additions or changes were made. I used Pegasus Mail and sent messages one way. Later the Mailing list was formalised using a free service from ONElist.com which was later taken over by YahooGroups. The original announcement only UKHA mailing list was left in place and a new UKHA_D(iscussion) list was created – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ukha_d/

Eventually the Announcement only list was dropped and only the discussion list remains, which has been a huge success with over 1,800 members and an incredible 138,000 messages to date. Many thanks to the handful of co-moderators that have taken on the task of keeping the list a nice place to be over the years.

1999 – February
I was contacted by Mike Huggins after a UK TV program showed a nice Crestron touchscreen remote control. By June of that year Mike had setup LetsAutomate.com and has since gone on to be one of the largest HA eTailers in Europe.

1999 – September
After lots of head scratching and hunting for a name we liked that was not already registered, we purchased the automatedhome.co.uk domain and changed the sites name from “UK Home Automation” to “Automated Home”. At last we had a proper URL. With special help from Kwong Li of Laser.com we were able to get through the process of moving to a new domain name.


Click Above To Go Back In Time

2000 – May
We survived Y2K (remember that?) and in May of that year we moved Automated Home onto Li’s web server. This gave us a great stable and secure site with superb uptime and technical support.

2002 – May
We relaunched Automated Home with the PHPSlash CMS (content management system). With help from Stuart Grimshaw, plus additional work from Li and Trevor at Laser.com the site’s transition from static to a dynamic database driven one was relatively smooth. We took the opportunity to change the logo and the “zig-zag” design was born.


The Zig-Zag Logo

2003 – May
A small group from the mailing list had met the two previous years in a small room above a pub in central London. In 2003 we moved to a bigger venue and took a room in a hotel in Hatfield. “UKHA 2003” was a resounding success with over 100 of the UKHA community meeting for the weekend.


Click To View Photos From UKHA2003

2004 – January
Nearly two years since the move to our first CMS system, the time had come to change to PHPNuke. With more late nights from Stuart Grimshaw, plus lots of help from Li and Trevor this move gave us lots of new features including our own forums – see my newsgroup post HERE.

With the change we also introduced our newest and current mascot, “Otto” the robot. This was the first professionally designed logo we’ve used.


Otto the Robot

2004 – May
The Automated Home community put on its biggest meeting to date – UKHA2004. With Graham Howe’s help we put on a sizable amateur smart home show and with great support for the commercial companies attending, we gave away over £5,000 worth in our free prize draw. We had 18 companies and individuals demonstrating their systems and a great turn out form the UKHA community as well as the public. Once again Paul Gale from siliconpixel.com filmed the event and put together an excellent little movie…

2005 – April
The UK held its first ever SmartHome Show at the NEC in Birmingham. We decided to meet at this show rather than trying to run our own again. The show was small, but it was good to finally see a proper commercial venture in the UK smart home industry.

In November of 2005 we were finally able to purchase automatedhome.com to go with the .co.uk we had owned since 1999. We had been after it for a year or two so we were very glad to have finally secured it.

2006 – November
And so to 2006 and the realization that we’ve been on the web for ten years. Over one thousand seven hundred articles and reviews, and serving over a million pages every quarter, Automated Home now ranks as one of the top smart home technology sites on the Web

Since we started, we’ve been wondering when Home Automation was going to move into the “main stream”. Every year it’s felt like it was just around the corner, just another year and we’d be there. But when you stop and look around at what is common place today – broadband, wireless networks, IP CCTV, Automated Garage doors, PIR Lighting, Media centre PCs etc, perhaps HA already IS mainstream?

Of course there are still many challenges ahead for the industry, not least systems integration. But whatever your opinion on how far we’ve progressed in making the smart home a reality, interest in the technologies and more importantly their benefits continues to expand at an amazing rate.

Thank you to everyone that has helped with the site and the mailing list over the years, and especially thanks to all our readers! Here’s to the next decade…

Mark McCall

Be the first to comment on "Automated Home – The First 10 Years"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*