What Is Home Automation? – Hackaday

Hi all,
i won’t be talking about how home automation should be done on every home, but what i think is useful, and what i’m doing towards it.

——– -1 – Ergonomics——————-
I consider that one of the main goals of home automation is ergonomics. That means that using the home’s system should become easier, and more simple, while maintaining efficiency and security features. Here is an example : when i get home, i happen to search for my keys in the dark. With a proper smart home, some lights would turn on to allow me seeing what i’m doing.
More ergonomic would be to be able to remotely unlock the door, while being able to do so with a key in case of power loss.
Let’s go even further, we can add automatic user recognition, using some method (facial recognition? or perhaps simply a crypto token that is able to communicate with the house, send a coded answer to a coded question?)
All of those would improve ergonomics for the simple device that is the door.

Within the house, the basic thing to have is automatic lights when needed. It means that the system will detect weather i’m in a room or not, and turn on/off the lights if needs be.
But we can also improve this : when turning on the lights in the middle of the night, i’ll be blinded because it is sudden. Knowing that, depending on the previous luminosity, i want to add a progressive turn on of the lights.

I’ll continue on the topic of the lights. Considering that all the lights are controlled by the home, and accessible through the network, i can also use systems to control all the lights from afar. A simple application is the following : when i go to bed, i can push the “sleep” button, and the home knows that i’m in bed, and can turn off all unnecessary systems. An improvement here is to monitor movement and sound to determine when i’m asleep and cut some systems in the bedroom if i left those on.

I can also configure my smartphone alarm to activate a system on the home that will turn progressively a light oriented towards my head to have it waking me up more naturally, more progressively, and much more comfortably. The same can be used with RGB lights for the nightfall with reddish decaying lights that mimics the sunset, and helps the day-night transition. Those can also be set at fixed times, so that i can notice that it’s time to go to bed, rather than stay on a project until 4 AM 🙂

This directly renders the home more ergonomic, but also causes another improvement : since all lights are meant to be remotely controlled, i can have a lot of small lights all around, and have the useful ones turn on and off. Let’s say that i’m reading while my girlfriend watches the TV. I can have only the lights required to read, without having other ones causing glares on the TV. But i’ll come back later on this topic in part 3.

I’ll add something to ergonomics : a fully automated house should always have the possibility for a manual mode. I’ve implemented automated lights for my aquarium, but you can always push a button to change the status of the system (on-> off or off-> on). On this, however, i added a timer. If i change the normal status of the lights, it will remain on for 5 minutes. This can be changed, but this maintains the benefits of the automated system, while giving control to the user. When i turn the system off, it will turn on on the next cycle, unless i change it’s status in between.

———-2 – Efficiency ——————————–
As seen before, with lights for instance, the goal is to turn off the systems when not needed. This goes on par with the efficiency purpose of a smart, automated home. We could have lights always on, and cooling always on, so that it’s already well when needed. However, this is a huge waste of ressources, hence the search for minimizing the use of ressources. This goes for electricity, with lights, cooling, and other systems that don’t need to be on at a given time, but also for water.
For that, the house has to be aware of a few things, such as the activity of it’s humans, and the environnement.

If the house knows the time of day, temperature, and the amount of precipitations in the past hours, it can decide weather or not to water the plants in the garden. Thusly, i can save water by not watering after rain, and be sure to have a good amount of watering when needed. An extra improvement would be to watch the plants in IR to determine their health, and possibly auto-adjust watering duration.
Anyway, the system can water those at night if possible so less evaporation occurs, cutting on the water loss. Why not also include rainwater collection, and have it used if available?

I can also use automated stores to shade some rooms to preserve those cool, or the contrary in cold countries.

By monitoring the power used by the rooms, i can also determine what is more efficient : closing the stores, and reducing cooling, but turning on the lights, or leave cooling on and use the natural lights? in this case, it seems simple, but other cases may occur that could benefit from automated decision. As i use machine learning in my research work, that’s something i want to integrate to the home 🙂

On this topic, there should be a way for the user to weight the importance of ergonomics VS efficiency, so that we can decide if we want to waste ressources for some more comfort or the other way around. Obviously, we want to maximize both, but in some cases, there is a conflict implying to degrade one in favor of the other.

I’ll add that some subsystems may be off-grid, and thus need to maximize efficiency to provide a continuous service. In that regard, i’ll integrate the UPS in the systems controlled automatically : if there is a power shortage, i want my NAS to be prioritized over other systems, so if it lasts more than a fixed time, i’ll have the UPS cutting power on auxiliary systems, and keep the NAS as long as possible, turning it off as a last resort.

On the same topic, for some homes, managing energy generators (solar panels, wind turbines) also comes in the equation, and if those systems are available, we’ll try to use the systems that consumes the most power when those energy producers generate most. By tracking, we can also anticipate peak production, trace wasted energy generation if battery systems are present (if there is wind when batteries are full for instance), and try to use extra power for things if possible.

———3 – Adaptation to scenarios ————-
As i mentioned in part 1, the automated home (and the smart home) can be made able to adapt to scenarios. Rather than having to go all around in the house to turn systems on and off, i could as an example, tell it that i’m going to watch a movie. Thus, i’m not in the garden, so it’s a good time to water it. I can also disable some noisy systems and so on.

When i’m telling it that i’m going to use my power tools, it should postpone using the washing machine, in order to keep the fuses from blowing up.

A lot of scenarios emerge, and we should thus be able to program scenarios easily, and have the home adjusting according to user specified settings.

In the same way, we can also have it adapt to users. My girlfriend likes to have bright lights, whereas i don’t. Depending on the user, it should be possible to automatically adjust stuff, without having to tweak tens of potentiometers and buttons 🙂

In this sense, automation also means automating a sequence of actions, even if it’s from a user input at first.

———4 – Security ———————————–
Considering that the smart home is aware of what it’s humans are doing, it should also be able to prevent unwanted humans to access it’s ressources 🙂

The simple thing to start is to have movement activated lights. But rather than a basic unit, we can have multiple ones, following the intruder. We can also have sound device alerting the intruder that he’s been detected.

In order to ensure security, the house should be able to be aware of the status of the accesses (opened, closed, locked, etc). So depending on the scenario, the house is not secure unless some measures are taken, and the house will warn the user.

If i’m working on my computer, i want my front door closed, but not all stores. If i’m asleep, all accesses will be shut, but i don’t need to be sent mails/sms about all alerts that occurs.

If i’m away from home, then all systems may be enabled, including threatening of the potential intruders, taking pictures, activating alarms, etc.

————5 conclusions ——————————-
What i’m looking forward in home automation is a combination of all those points. That is what i’m implementing in my home, barring a few things (i don’t have electric locks, for now ^^).
I consider that in order to be properly automated, it should be smart enough to understand what actions are required.
I’ll add that since user behavior analysis is the subject of my thesis, i’ll throw some in. Indeed, ideally i’d want the
house to adapt to my mood. If i’m angry or ill, then i don’t care about visitors, and don’t want to be disturbed by a bell, unless it’s the mailman bringing me another random package from china (which may improve my mood ^^)
Anyway, that’s something i’m looking forward to integrate to my systems.

On the technical standpoint, since i’m integrating a lot of sensors, this is privacy threatening. So i’m using only open source software, as much open hardware as possible, and strong security on all systems.

Another important point is that it is a vast project, so i think that all those systems should be modular, just to ensure feasibility. A modular system allows to develop a part of the system when it’s needed, and have it done, without waiting for the whole system to be done. Thus, a service can be provided early in the development, and it will only be improved in time.

A modular is also pretty important in that that not all functionalities are needed by everyone. Someone without a garden won’t care for my watering system. On the other hand, some people may only care for it, and use only that system.

To go further on this topic, the system is also modular, and networked, but with an ability for each module to work on it’s own. As an example, the auto-lights system works better when knowing the position of the user in the house (user position tracking). However, if for some reason the bedroom is not connected to the the network, it should be able to operate on it’s own. This is a best effort philosophy.

Thus, if the system is truely modular, it will be able to adapt it to the needs of the user, but also to some problems that may occur.

Anyway, this is my take on automated and smart home, and this is some of the things i intend to implement within my project domochevsky : https://hackaday.io/project/2653-domochevsky-open-domotics-network

I also implemented some aspects at a smaller scale with rlieh : https://hackaday.io/project/2929-rlieh-aquarium-closed-ecosystem-management , which is, to some extend, an automated/smart home for water pets 🙂

This project will also integrate what i’m developping with Milapli : https://hackaday.io/project/2087-milapli , an environemental monitoring system. Since i have asthma, i want for instance to be notified if there are dust from the sahara that crossed the ocean (those sometime gives me allergies). I want to measure those stuff, and have the house react as efficiently as possible depending on the situation.

For security purposes, i’ll use another project of mine : https://hackaday.io/project/4699-sauronpi-autonomous-raspi-camera : a smart and autonomous network camera based on a raspberry pi, with machine learning, computer vision and cool stuff in it.

At last, i live in the same house as my grand mother (it’s two houses that have been connected, in fact). Thus, i’m aware of difficulties she encounters. In a first time, i want to develop a system to have her asking for help easily (no, the phone won’t do in this case) : https://hackaday.io/project/10006-elderly-wifi-help-beacon
I also want to adapt the house to her, so that systems turns on and off adequately for here, enabling her to have greater autonomy. This part is not really an automated home problematic, but it matters to me, and i want to see how much a smart, automated home can help a person with limited mobility.

There are plenty of other stuff i didn’t mention here, but i wanted to describe the main aspects of my vision of an automated home, hope you like it 🙂

Ps : it goes without saying, all what i’m doing is to be open source, documented, and open hardware, as much as possible 🙂


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