Home automation is the residential extension of building automation. It is automation of the home, housework or household activity. Home automation may include centralized control of lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), appliances, security locks of gates and doors and other systems, to provide improved convenience, comfort, energy efficiency and security. Home automation for the elderly and disabled can provide increased quality of life for persons who might otherwise require caregivers or institutional care.
The popularity of home automation has been increasing greatly in recent years due to much higher affordability and simplicity through smartphone and tablet connectivity. The concept of the "Internet of Things" has tied in closely with the popularization of home automation.
A home automation system integrates electrical devices in a house with each other. The techniques employed in home automation include those in building automation as well as the control of domestic activities, such as home entertainment systems, houseplant and yard watering, pet feeding, changing the ambiance "scenes" for different events (such as dinners or parties), lighting control system, and the use of domestic robots. Devices may be connected through a home network to allow control by a personal computer, and may allow remote access from the internet. Through the integration of information technologies with the home environment, systems and appliances can communicate in an integrated manner which results in convenience, energy efficiency, and safety benefits.
Automated "homes of the future" have been staple exhibits for World's Fairs and popular backgrounds in science fiction. However, problems with complexity, competition between vendors, multiple incompatible standards, and the resulting expense have limited the penetration of home automation to homes of the wealthy, or ambitious hobbyists. Possibly the first "home computer" was an experimental home automation system in 1966.
Overview and benefits
Home automation refers to the use of computer and information technology to control home appliances and features (such as windows or lighting). Systems can range from simple remote control of lighting through to complex computer/micro-controller based networks with varying degrees of intelligence and automation. Home automation is adopted for reasons of ease, security and energy efficiency.
In modern construction in industrialized nations, most homes have been wired for electrical power, telephones, TV outlets (cable or antenna), and a doorbell. Many household tasks were automated by the development of specialized automated appliances. For instance, automatic washing machines were developed to reduce the manual labor of cleaning clothes, and water heaters reduced the labor necessary for bathing.
The use of gaseous or liquid fuels, and later the use of electricity enabled increased automation in heating, reducing the labor necessary to manually refuel heaters and stoves. Development of thermostats allowed more automated control of heating, and later cooling.
As the number of controllable devices in the home rises, interconnection and communication becomes a useful and desirable feature. For example, a furnace can send an alert message when it needs cleaning, or a refrigerator when it needs service. If no one is supposed to be home and the alarm system is set, the home automation system could call the owner, or the neighbors, or an emergency number if an intruder is detected.
In simple installations, automation may be as straightforward as turning on the lights when a person enters the room. In advanced installations, rooms can sense not only the presence of a person inside but know who that person is and perhaps set appropriate lighting, temperature, music levels or television channels, taking into account the day of the week, the time of day, and other factors.
Other automated tasks may include reduced setting of the heating or air conditioning when the house is unoccupied, and restoring the normal setting when an occupant is about to return. More sophisticated systems can maintain an inventory of products, recording their usage through bar codes, or an RFID tag, and prepare a shopping list or even automatically order replacements.
Home automation can also provide a remote interface to home appliances or the automation system itself, to provide control and monitoring on a smartphone or web browser.
An example of remote monitoring in home automation could be triggered when a smoke detector detects a fire or smoke condition, causing all lights in the house to blink to alert any occupants of the house to the possible emergency. If the house is equipped with a home theater, a home automation system can shut down all audio and video components to avoid distractions, or make an audible announcement. The system could also call the home owner on their mobile phone to alert them, or call the fire department or alarm monitoring company.
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Home automation has been a feature of science fiction writing for many years, but has only become practical since the early 20th Century following the widespread introduction of electricity into the home, and the rapid advancement of information technology. Early remote control devices began to emerge in the late 1800s. For example, Nikola Tesla patented an idea for the remote control of vessels and vehicles in 1898.
The emergence of electrical home appliances began between 1915 and 1920; the decline in domestic servants meant that households needed cheap, mechanical replacements. Domestic electricity supply, however, was still in its infancy -- meaning this luxury was afforded only the more affluent households.
Ideas similar to modern home automation systems originated during the World's Fairs of the 1930s. Fairs in Chicago (1934) and New York (1939 and 1964-65) depicted electrified and automated homes. In 1966 Jim Sutherland, an engineer working for Westinghouse Electric, developed a home automation system called "ECHO IV"; this was a private project and never commercialized. The first "wired homes" were built by American hobbyists during the 1960s, but were limited by the technology of the times. The term "smart house" was first coined by the American Association of Housebuilders in 1984.
With the invention of the microcontroller, the cost of electronic control fell rapidly. Remote and intelligent control technologies were adopted by the building services industry and appliance manufacturers.
By the end of the 1990s, "domotics" was used to describe any system in which informatics and telematics were combined to support activities in the home. The phrase is a neologism formed from domus (Latin, meaning house) and informatics.
Despite interest in home automation, by the end of the 1990s there was not a widespread uptake, with such systems still considered the domain of hobbyists or the rich. The lack of a single, simplified, protocol and high cost of entry has put off consumers.
Constructed in 1998, the INTEGER Millennium House is a demonstration house built partially to showcase a variety of intelligent home automation technologies, including a building management system that could optimize the performance of the heating system, an automatic garden irrigation system that could sense soil humidity conditions and water accordingly, an intelligent security system, lighting that could be set to one of four predefined moods, and microchip-embedded programmable door keys. The house also featured advanced communication technologies such as a telephone service distributed via a local building exchange, digital satellite and terrestrial television available in every room, WebTV, and a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system.
While there is still much room for growth, according to ABI Research, 1.5 million home automation systems were installed in the US in 2012, and a sharp uptake could see shipments topping over 8 million in 2017.
Domotics is the study of applications of information technology to create intelligent home environments. French Journalist Bruno de Latour coined the term domotic in 1984 as a composite of the Latin word domus and informatics. In the 1990s the term was introduced in Spain and Italy as "Domótica". It literally means intelligent houses, through the use of automation technologies and computer science.
Alternately referred to as the Digital Home, the term includes home automation, multimedia, telecommunications, e-commerce, etc. through home networks. Domotics and home automation means that systems talk to each other for improved convenience, efficiency and safety. Domotics for elderly and disabled people is referred to as Home assistive technologies.
There have been many attempts to standardize the forms of hardware, electronic and communication interfaces needed to construct a home automation system. Some standards use additional communication and control wiring, some embed signals in the existing power circuit of the house, some use radio frequency (RF) signals, some can be installed wirelessly and some use a combination of several methods. Control wiring is hardest to retrofit into an existing house. Some appliances include a USB port that is used for control and connection to a domotics network. Protocol bridges translate information from one standard to another, for example, from X10 to European Installation Bus (EIB now KNX).
Home automation systems include the following types of devices.
- Sensors to measure or detect things like temperature, humidity, daylight or motion.
- Controllers such as a PC or a dedicated home automation controller.
- Actuators such as motorized valves, light switches and motors.
- Buses for communication that can be wired or wireless.
- Interfaces for human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interaction.
One or more human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interface devices are required, so that the residents of the home can interact with the system for monitoring and control; this may be a specialized terminal or, increasingly, may be an application running on a smart phone or tablet computer. Devices may communicate over dedicated wiring, or over a wired network, or wirelessly using one or more protocols. Building automation networks developed for institutional or commercial buildings may be adapted to control in individual residences. A centralized controller can be used, or multiple intelligent devices can be distributed around the home.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can include temperature and humidity control, including fresh air heating and natural cooling. An Internet-controlled thermostat allows the homeowner to control the building's heating and air conditioning systems remotely. The system may automatically open and close windows to cool the house. Today - there are also dedicated gateways that connect advanced VRV / VRF and Split HVAC Systems with Home Automation and BMS (Building Management Systems) controllers for centralized control and monitoring. In addition, such gateway solutions is capable of providing remote control operation of all HVAC indoor units over the internet incorporating a simple and friendly user interface.
Home automation products can be used for something as simple as adding Multiway switching to existing electric lighting circuits, or can include very complex interactions with other systems.
A Lighting control system can be used to switch lights based on a time cycle, or arranged to automatically go out when a room is unoccupied. Some electronically controlled lamps can be controlled for brightness or color to provide different light levels for different tasks. Lighting can be controlled remotely by a wireless control or over the Internet. Natural lighting (daylighting) can be used to automatically control window shades and draperies to make best use of natural light.
On the residential market, Z-Wave, Insteon and the older X10 protocol are very commonly used for lighting automation.
This category includes audio and video switching and distribution. Multiple audio or video sources can be selected and distributed to one or more rooms and can be linked with lighting and blinds to provide mood settings.
Automatic control of blinds and curtains can be used for:
- Presence simulation
- Temperature control
- Brightness control
- Glare control
- Security (in case of shutters)
A household security system integrated with a home automation system can provide additional services such as remote surveillance of security cameras over the Internet, or central locking of all perimeter doors and windows.
With home automation, the user can select and watch cameras live from an Internet source to their home or business. Security systems can include motion sensors that will detect any kind of unauthorized movement and notify the user through the security system or via cell phone.
The automation system can simulate the appearance of an occupied home by automatically adjusting lighting or window coverings. Detection systems such as fire alarm, gas leak, carbon monoxide, or water leaks can be integrated. Personal medical alarm systems allow an injured home occupant to summon help.
An intercom system allows communication via a microphone and loud speaker between multiple rooms. Integration of the intercom to the telephone, or of the video door entry system to the television set, allowing the residents to view the door camera automatically.
Using special hardware, almost any household appliance can be monitored and controlled automatically or remotely, including cooking appliances, swimming pool systems, and others.
Costs mainly include equipment, components, furniture, and custom installation.
Ongoing costs include electricity to run the control systems, maintenance costs for the control and networking systems, including troubleshooting, and eventual cost of upgrading as standards change. Increased complexity may also increase maintenance costs for networked devices. Cloud-based services supporting an installation may also entail fees for setup, usage, or both.
Learning to use a complex system effectively may take significant time and training.
Control system security may be difficult and costly to maintain, especially if the control system extends beyond the home, for instance by wireless or by connection to the internet or other networks.
Home automation technologies are viewed as integral additions to the smart grid. Communication between a home automation system and the grid would allow applications like load shedding during system peaks, or would allow the homeowner to automatically defer energy use to periods of low grid cost. Green automation or "demand response" are terms that refer to energy management strategies in home automation when data from smart grids is combined with home automation systems to use resources at either their lowest prices or highest availability, taking advantage, for instance, of high solar panel output in the middle of the day to automatically run washing machines.
Comparison of popular protocols
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