Home automation lets you control a range of devices and systems in your home automatically, via a smartphone or from a computer. It is part of the next data revolution that is taking place called “The Internet of Things”.
Essentially, home automation takes existing appliances, like fridges, lights or heating systems, and adds a very small computer to them. The computer, a microprocessor, is able to turn appliances on and off according to how it is programmed or by a received instruction.
The best way to understand home automation work and how it works is to first understand how microprocessors work, then to look at examples of existing home automation systems.
What is a microprocessor and how does it work?
A microprocessor is a very small computer that performs a few specific functions. A normal computer will have an operating system like Windows installed so that the user can interact with the computer. Microprocessors will usually have a single program running on them that receives its instructions from an app on a smartphone or a program on a computer.A microprocessor usually communicates wirelessly via Bluetooth or WiFi.
Microprocessors are cheap and easy to make. Because they are also so small (usually smaller than a box of matches), they can be installed by appliance manufacturers without making the appliance more expensive.
By installing a wireless microprocessor on a device, you can control the device by controlling the microprocessor. Another major benefit is that you can control the device from anywhere as long as it has a connection to the internet.
What can I control using home automation?
The smart kitchen is one of the first instances of home automation. In the early days, it was possible to set a timer on a coffee machine so that it would prepare your coffee as you woke up. We can now control most devices to do something similar. An excellent example is the smart fridge. A smart fridge will be able to communicate with a bottle of milk (that has an RFID chip) to determine when it will spoil. If the fridge detects milk that is going off, it will be able to send you an SMS or email notification. In the future, the fridge will communicate directly with the nearest store to have milk delivered.
By installing sensors in the home, it will be possible for lights to be turned on and off automatically depending on whether there is a person in the room or not. You could also send a message or email to your home lighting system telling it to switch on all the lights if you are going to be home late and are concerned about burglars.
If your security system is connected to the internet, it could send you a message if an alert is triggered. In some existing systems, it is possible to have an alert sent with pictures or live video. In more advanced systems, the security program running can tell the difference between a human intruder and a pet by using sensors to determine the height and silhouette of the intruder.
Your heating and air conditioning.
It is possible to program an HVAC system to turn on or off at a certain time of day, an hour before your return home for example. This saves energy and money. If you are going to get home early, you will be able to send a command from your smartphone to heat up the house while you are leaving the office.
Smart TVs and entertainment systems can be programmed to record media by sending a command from your phone. You could also use a central storage system to keep all of your movies or TV shows and play them on any connected device.
Older safety devices like smoke detectors would set off an alarm if were activated. By connecting them to the internet, it is possible to have them send an alert directly to emergency services. This enhancement could save lives. If you lose consciousness from smoke inhalation, emergency services would be able to get to you in time.
Benefits and drawbacks of home automation
The benefits of smart home technology are reduced energy consumption, increased convenience and safety. As the technologies we use become more advanced, we will be able to have a profile stored in the cloud, similar to a Facebook profile, that all of our devices can learn from. This means that our coffee pot, that brews the coffee 5 minutes before we wake up, will be able to let the car know that it needs to start heating our seat soon.
Unfortunately, there is a drawback to using these technologies. Because each microprocessor in each device can connect to the internet, they can be used by hackers to attack other systems. The nature of these attacks typically does not affect individual home owners, but rather large systems like banks, websites and governments.