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    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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    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.

  8. #8
    Automated Home Legend TimH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wheelbarrow View Post
    Hi Mark,

    Haven't you posted this 96 days early.
    This was my first thought when I read Mark's initial post.
    Soon after that I got to the "isn't this what xAP/xPL are supposed to be doing?" point...

    Subsequent posts have confirmed that yes, this is xAP/xPL territory but where the gap lies is getting these protocols incorporated into mass-market electronics. Technically I can see no major challenge to incorporating "X" into any of the products on the "Automated Home" home page. Politics yes, but not technical issues.

    The list of xAP-capable products is very impressive considering that it is a part-time, unpaid undertaking. But to reach Mark's dream of bringing a new toy home and having it work out of the box is going to take some miraculous efforts, which is sad. (note: no disrespect intended to any of the xAP/xPL guys, but I'm just trying to face-up to the mountain ahead).

    From the stuff I use, Skype appears to have been the fastest-growing phenomenon in the past few years. Tonight it tells me there are nearly 8million users online. Their website used to say how many downloads they'd had and that was over 20million.
    Getting to my point...for commerical manufacturers to take notice and to start incorporating "X" into commerical products, like the next Philips photo frame, is going to take some doing. I don't know how we can do it but we need to change the current almost word-of-mouth method into something more dramatic.

    Automation at home is slowly gathering momentum. Programmes like the Gadget Show and Click are bringing "digital lifestyles" into people's living rooms. The population as a whole is becoming more tech-savvy, hell, even my Gran has a mobile phone!

    But, in the next five years, to be able to buy a washing machine that will text you when its done, or even a photo frame that will show you a picture of who's at the door is, well, optimistic at best. Sure there will be people for whom this will happen - it's happening for some right now I'm certain, but for mass market integration?

    Perhaps its getting Philips (or whoever) to market a web (door) cam and photo frame bundle which does this. And caller ID. And local weather. And local traffic reports. Perhaps like the Shell Home Genie stuff was suposed to work, just a bit s3xier than home security...

    That all sounds a bit gloomy as an outlook, but it needent be. We need a Max Clifford, or a Don King - someone that can evangelise to the world about how great this automation is, and why people need it in their lives. But I also think we need products on the shelves so people can try it out.

    I've rambled enough. Let me know what you think

    Tim.

  9. #9
    Automated Home Legend Paul_B's Avatar
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    Tim,

    Can that big push come from the Eco Energy Saving drive?

    Home-automation making the home smart can save energy by lowering temperatures and turning off lights. In the current climate that is something that has mass appeal.

    Paul

  10. #10
    Automated Home Legend TimH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul_B View Post
    Tim,

    Can that big push come from the Eco Energy Saving drive?

    Home-automation making the home smart can save energy by lowering temperatures and turning off lights. In the current climate that is something that has mass appeal.

    Paul
    Yes, this may be the best way to get the ball rolling, something like the ByeByeStandby stuff. The "real" features could then be brought out as "enhancements" but still using the same protocol.

    How do we get manufacturers to take notice though?

    Tim.

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