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Thread: 2008 Brings Smart Home Utopia?

  1. #1

    Default 2008 Brings Smart Home Utopia?

    Huge news! By the end of 2008 "System X" will be available and built into almost every electrical device! Your home cinema AV amplifier will come with X. It will ramp down the volume when the doorbell or phone rings, and its on-screen display will superimpose the phone callers details or live video from the front door X enabled wireless CCTV camera. Of course every new display device you buy from now on will have the same abilities built in. So whether you are near the digital photo frame in the kitchen, or the new flat screen TV in the bedroom, you'll see the same information instantly displayed.

    You'll walk into your local electrical retailer and look at the washing machines. The cheapest ones will have limited X, perhaps the ability just to send an X packet when its finished a load. Other machines will have top of the range X features. They'll be able to report the time they started, the estimated time of completion. They'll let any other X enabled device know the instant they have finished and you'll be able to query them on how many loads they've done this month and how much electricity they used. They'll even send you an email to warn when their parameters are outside of normal and you may need a visit from an engineer.

    Sonos and others will launch their X enabled firmware. Suddenly your house has a voice. Now the washing machine can announce it's finished and ready for the next load in all the rooms you choose. Need a reminder to put the bins out each week? X will make the announcement in the zones you require at the day and time of your choice. The AV amp will use its OSD to show a brief message too. A simple press of a button on your remote, your mobile phone or any of a number of devices around the home will stop the bin reminder playing again after the pre-programmed 30 min "snooze" time.

    Like all other X enabled devices the washing machine will use Ethernet to communicate. As every electrical device in the home now has an IP address and they can communicate directly with one another. You can expand your X setup with an inexpensive USB device and software package that will provide even more intelligence to your system, whilst providing a web interface to monitor and control everything from anywhere on the planet. However, the appliances will always retain the ability to talk directly to one another, should the central controller go off-line.

    You security system will be X enabled too and so the house can make many other decisions based on safety, as well as security. If the smoke detector trips at night while the house is occupied, X will enable the security panel to talk to the lights and the phones. Turning all the lights on and ringing all internal telephones will waken everyone in double quick time. Of course if the house is unoccupied X's integration with the internet and phone system will produce a flurry of email, SMS and voice messages to make sure you get the news as soon as possible, along with your neighbour perhaps.

    As the HVAC controller also talks X, the simple action of arming the security system is enough to have the heating system drop a couple of degrees as it gets the message that the house is no longer occupied. Many other similar simple routines will be triggered without a second thought from you, allowing your home to better manage use of utilities, reduce its own carbon footprint.

    X will of course integrate with older systems like X10 with X Gateways. But the true power of X will be best served with two-way systems like Z-Wave that have status reporting. The open source community will have a great involvement. Anyone can write applications for X as it is an open standard.

    So what what is X and will it really be available in 2008? Well, so far X is just in my imagination. X is my utopia. Most of the senarios above are achievable now, but only with a huge amount of work and a geek to ensure the many stages of translation between each sub-system's disparate "language" are achieved.

    After 10 years of writing about the "smart" home, isn't it time the hardware manufacturers and software companies got together and sorted this whole integration standards thing out? We're more than a decade into the widespread use of the internet. IP is the standard. Wifi is built into everything from watches to games consoles. There's more computing power in my phone that on the Apollo rocket that first landed on the moon. Surely it's not beyond the capability of man in the 21st century to sort out this mess.

    Isn't it time your washing machine could talk "X".

  2. #2
    Automated Home Lurker
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    Hi Mark,

    Haven't you posted this 96 days early.

    Happy Xmas and New Year.

    Paul

  3. #3

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    It's not an April Fool, more a War of the Worlds

    It's born out of my frustration. Surely its time these issues were sorted. All I'm asking for is a virtual phono cable, a standard by which everything can be linked.

    M.

  4. #4
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    Personally, I think we are part way along the road - but it's not going to be 2008!

    given my own experiences in this area, I think I have a deeper feel for why it hasn't happened - here's my thoughts.

    I believe that Ethernet is, and will be, the only show in town. In my university days, the Profs waxed lyrical about token ring and derided ethernet as a poor technology - yet here we are. Gigabit is available easily and cheaply, 10Gbe is in use routinely on big networks. 10Mb ethernet is an old donkey of a technology, but it's a veritable torrent of data compared to the bandwidth of X10, EIB or Cbus.

    Cheap (and by cheap, I mean sub 10$ level) ethernet modules are just on the horizon as the big silicon foundries look to stretch some more life out of their old inventory, and with cheap ethernet modules comes a way to build super cheap home automation networks..

    Seriously, why invent an entire new infrastructure when 10Mb ethernet hubs can be built for peanuts and are now completely free of IP restrictions?

    Wireless is, I believe, an annoying distraction - I think that we will always be wanting to come back to a wired solution for reliability and speed. There's a place for it, but I think congestion of the public space will render may of the wireless HA technologies as clunky and unreliable as X10 within a few years.

    In terms of the actual glue to make it happen - been there! the obstacles are clearly not technical, but political and financial. The big question for the vendors is going to be "what's in it for me?" and clearly, the answer is "not much".

    Too many vendors still think that they can "win" - become the gatekeeper for the new technology - when in fact, real progress won't come along until these guys realise that everybody wins when open standards are developed and used.

    It's no secret that I vocally dislike CBus (and Skype - for exactly the same reason) because of their closed, secretive protocol. No matter how nice their kit is, they have kept the protocol secret to prevent anyone else from playing in "their" playpen. Of course, you can interface to C-Bus through the specific module but god help you if you try to build your own hardware to talk directly to the CBus network.

    That for me is the problem - And it's the old Apple vs PC debate again.

    Everyone wants to be an apple, to have complete control over "their" platform, when in reality, the PC model, where standards like PCI, ATX, IDE, AGP and so on have allowed lots and lots of vendors to build a much, much larger market where it's in everyone's interest to adopt the open standards.

    How big a market do you think AMD would have if they had tried to develop their own CPU line, rather than producing x86 compatible procs?

    We have a standard, cheap and reliable physical layer - ethernet. We have an open standard transport layer - IP.

    What we need now is an open standard HA application layer to allow the "everyone wins" marketplace to develop.

    that and word peace

  5. #5
    Automated Home Legend chris_j_hunter's Avatar
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    Default 2008 Brings Smart Home Utopia?

    >Apple ... complete control ...

    not sure about that ... must say, I always thought the Apple closed approach was mostly about protecting the UI ... which required a quite disciplined approach .. that, for some reason, didn't come naturally ... even though they made it as easy as possible, by including a host of stuff in the OS (originally mostly ROM, for speed), to make it easy & cut development times & application memory requirements to a minimum ...

    they were very logical, and reasoned ... and Inside Mac was a great read ... but the way of the world was something else - logic be damned !

  6. #6
    Automated Home Legend chris_j_hunter's Avatar
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    Default 2008 Brings Smart Home Utopia?

    >System X ...

    surely, in the various ways, lots have tried this ... MS with BG's house, Apple with their UI & user-focus, EIB (who even have the appliances - ovens, washing-machines, fridges, etc, already linked-in), Idratek, xAP & xPL, even the X-10 guys, and many others ... but it's not that easy !

    years ago, people said it would be easy to talk with & instruct computers ... but when they tried, they very soon found they didn't really understand how to do it - English was more than a dictionary & its grammar, talking was more than just words ...

    the System X dream is what we're going for, pretty-much ... choosing our components & processes & tools, as best we can, & hoping we can make them work for us ... hopefully we've chosen well, but time will tell, and we'll certainly discover more is needed, along the way !

    Chris

  7. #7

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    Chris - as I've said in the piece, many of the scenarios are currently possible, with plenty of work on the translation side.

    The thing missing from all the Systems you quote above is a common standard, open protocol to link them all simply.

    That would be X and that's the whole point of my article.

    M.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_j_hunter View Post
    >Apple ... complete control ...

    not sure about that ... must say, I always thought the Apple closed approach was mostly about protecting the UI ... which required a quite disciplined approach .. that, for some reason, didn't come naturally ... even though they made it as easy as possible, by including a host of stuff in the OS (originally mostly ROM, for speed), to make it easy & cut development times & application memory requirements to a minimum ...
    actually, I am talking about hardware more than software - apple were brutal in their dealings with would be partners. they briefly flirted with the idea of licensing their hardware, then screwed those mac clone makers and killed them off.

    ultimately, simple market economics have forced apple to adopt standards (such as PCI, and more recently the vastly superior core2 duo intel procs rather than the mickey mouse G5 "Power" PC chips), but they did this because they had no choice, not because of any vision.

    the thing is chris, without people like yourself who defenc apple no matter what they do, the company would have been dead for decades. Clearly, there's something there that engenders this degree of fandom, but all things considered, I think my example is a good one -

    The PC model of multi vendor standards based cooperation (in essence, the same model as Linux development) is vastly superior to the closed off single vendor lock in adopted by Apple.

    Ian.

  9. #9

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    Ian - While I agree with some of your points about Apple, you have to look at the company's performance this year and admit they are doing rather well (although they are currently around 7% market share, so they still are small fry in the grand scheme of personal computing).

    It may be old age setting in, but increasingly I'm willing to spend more on products that "just work". And I put Apple's products firmly in that category, along with Sonos, TiVo etc.

    The locked down side of things is a doubled edged sword and in an ideal world I'd have a Mac/iPhone that was more open. Of course that's also where the trouble can start in other areas like stability and security.

    It's all about balance. I hope Apple realise that.

    M.

  10. #10
    Automated Home Legend chris_j_hunter's Avatar
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    Default 2008 Brings Smart Home Utopia?

    >common standard, open protocol to link them all ...

    would certainly help, but would it be enough ... maybe, maybe not ...

    as an aside, it will be interesting to see how Apple take the iPhone forward ... on the face of it, it seems they are being drawn in the direction of a more open approach, being persuaded to change their ways ... it's going to be very interesting to see what happens in April, when they (hopefully) come out with the iPhone user-friendly development package ... how far will it go, I wonder ?

    must say, though, I've a feeling that Ethernet & USB & WiFi & TCP/IP may take us a long way - they (with what they are attached-to) are quite persuasive ways & means of enabling different systems to work with each other ... already there's talk of getting iTouch & iPhone, for example, working with Idratek, for example, via web-browsers ...

    ---

    >market economics ... PCI ... Core2 Duo Intel ...

    not sure it was market forces, more the need for power & speed ... SFAIR Apple were just early adopters on PCI ... maybe market forces were the thing for them with SATA (they'd already grown out of SCSI ... and PowerPC was a JV with IBM & Motorola that had run out of steam, with no way forward, which Intel certainly did have ...

    >Apple no matter what ...

    not me ... I use HP/Compaq/ Windows a lot, and AppleMac, every day ... capability & productivity are the drivers when it comes to buying what's needed ... the last computer I bought was an x86/PC, on capability grounds, the one before was an Apple, on productivity grounds ... our network will have both ... the Apple will run OSX, Windows, and Linux, so that's a third option that might find its place ... depending on what's to be done !

    Chris

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