Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What is Home Automation (HA)?

I've been puzzled as to how to properly answer this question for years. I know what HA means to me as I use it in my home. But how do you explain it to someone that has no idea what HA is? Well the folks on Wikipedia have done a very good job of explaining HA and I've expanded it a bit further. Here's my definition:

Home Automation (or Domotics) is automation specific to the requirements of private residences. It applies techniques for the comfort, security, entertainment and communications needs of it's residents. In simplest terms it is control and monitoring of devices and information.

I define private residences as a house, condominium, town home (row house) or apartment. It does not include things like a hotel room or suite. I should probably change residents to residents and guests. I think I've include all the major topics in the above paragraph with information falling under communications. Here are some examples:

  • Lighting and appliance control
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Energy/Resource management
  • security and access control (SAC)
    • Doors and windows control and monitoring
    • fire alarm (FA), fire, life, and safety (FLS)
    • CO alarm
    • Flood/Water Alarm
    • Thunderstorm/Tornado/Weather warning
  • communications (voice and data)
  • Entertainment control
  • information processing

All of this material will be posted to my web site and to a work in progress for Mr. House called Complete Home Control with Mr. House. Since I just put together a presentation for the a few Linux User Groups I've gotten more interested in putting some more work into the above 'ebook' (for lack ! of a bet ter term).


At 11/25/2007 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just getting back into HA. It has definitely changed since my first dabblings with x-10 stuff way back when. Glad to see things are going to another level. A couple of questions for anyone....1. I have more than a few x86 boxes laying around. I have been trying to get up to speed on Linux and the variants and it seems promising, but overly technical - so I having a few challenges pulling everything together. So far, it seems that diskless Linux running on one of these x86 boxes would be a perfect platform for HA. I'm really tired of everything it takes to keep a WIN platform going and am looking for a simpler alternative, except that I do NOT want to learn a new OS. I have winxp's on a home lan and a dlink 323 box that was a breeze to setup. Is is realistic that I can create/build one of these without a lot of cost or learning curve? 2. If so, where do I go to find out more?

Thanks in advance,
Ed in Tenn -

At 11/25/2007 1:50 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Please don't take this as an insult but Linux may not be right for you and since Windows is not right for you I need to suggest something else. Don't worry I have something else. Yes I do understand what you mean by 'everything it takes to keep a WIN platform going'. Linux and HA will require a lot of work unless you want to use something like ECS which is a commercial HA application for Windows and Linux.

A better suggestion might be to get one of the hardware solutions such as an Omni or Elk M1. It's diskless so it's less likely to crash and take out everything. I'm leaning towards getting an M1EZ8 because I don't need the speech portion. I'll be using it with Misterhouse because I can't leave well enough alone. ;-) Misterhouse (Windows or Linux) has a steep learning curve. I'll get around to it later and create a how-to for Misterhouse and then a how-to using Misterhouse with one of many HA system (such as the Elk M1, Insteon, ZWave or UPB interfaces). At the moment I have a lot on my plate.

On the Linux front, I find Ubuntu very easy to use and I haven't had to muck around with it's internals. I'd use Linux with a hard drive first so you can get used to it then move over to a diskless setup later. I'll be doing something like that in the future with a laptop but I'll be using a read only compact flash card as a driver. HA apps like to read and write files (configuration, rules, cached info) so having a drive is not a bad idea. Also if you get something like the Twonky server for you audio/video streaming (it works really well) then you'll need a really large disk for the media. I put a 150G drive in my NSLU2 with Twonky and the disk is full of media to stream.

BTW, my book covers Misterhouse and Twonky along with a few other odds and ends with Linux. The wireless has gotten much better since I wrote the book (worked with no funny stuff under Ubuntu).

And now, back to my homework. :-)

At 11/25/2007 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


First, Thanks for the prompt reply. Second, you didn't insult me. As a former MIS professional and CIO, I'm used to technical 'stuff', but I don't want to take on another time consuming project, since I have other higher value things on my plate, and this is not a hobby I want to learn hundreds of trivia and facts about at this specific moment. I am simply looking for a solution that is not overly techincal and does what I need doing with a minimum of learning curve. Novel idea, eh?

I am pretty familar with Windows, but my latest experience with a perfectly legal copy of WINXP professional on a P4 machine running for 18 months that all of a sudden deciedes to have a hiccup on the hard drive, requiring me to re-load everything and still, as of today, I have a copy that is not validated with 15 days remaining per MSFT after about 8 hours on the phone Microsoft tech support (India, Malaysia, who know where..) incents me to a different path.

Actually, I have had twonkey for about 18 months for my govideo 2780, finding the vendor supplied solution very lacking. I haven't upgraded to the 'pay' version yet, then the winxp fiasco, and now the dlink 323 addition seems to provide lots of alternatives again.

I'm looking to solve the media problem initiall, then later being able to take advantage of my x-10 devices without having a 24/7 windows disk based machine that requires updates, is prone to failure, has huge overhead and is just plain inefficient.

Thanks again in advance,

At 11/25/2007 10:48 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

As a former MIS professional and CIO, I'm used to technical 'stuff', but I don't want to take on another time consuming project, since I have other higher value things on my plate, and this is not a hobby I want to learn hundreds of trivia and facts about at this specific moment. I am simply looking for a solution that is not overly technical and does what I need doing with a minimum of learning curve. Novel idea, eh?

Novel? yes but it shouldn't be! I'm not yet capable of building a system that is that good yet but I've been providing some nice how-to pages to make it easy to get started and operational.

LinuxMCE is pretty close to a ready made system but I'm note sure if that is what you want. They use Z-Wave but the interface is difficult to get. They're working on a replacement interface. Visit my site (the all tab) and check out the LinuxMCE video link. It's long but it may be of interest to you.

I mainly use the Twonky for my WMLS11B which I picked up fro $30 (I have 3). It does a nice job of just playing the music. The NSLU2 works okay, I just have to remember the order of booting the devices (I should write that down).

I had been using the Ocelot which worked very nicely but problems with any PLC in my home made me shutdown everything. Since I have 2 I should set it back up.but then I have a lot to restart.

I am looking into the Elk M1. I think that may provide a nice device. I'll still keep Misterhouse running and it it to influence the M1. The M1 is a standalone device but has an Ethernet and serial interface available. It is also very expandable. Visit the Cocoontech Forum

At 11/26/2007 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello again Neil,

Thanks again. I am still looking at all the alternatives, with the previously listed goals.

Since I have a lot of x-10 stuff already so I suppose I need to start with that.

I was hoping to get something to run on an existing x86 box, that would require no hard drive, boots from CD and could load/save a configuration on the DLINK 323 box.

Aside from the easy lighting stuff for my home theater and accessing my media library also on the DLINK, that would be all for the initial pass.

What ever happened to the idea that Linux is just a black box sort of computing appliance and hardware independent platform?

Given my above constraints, any new ideas? Also, where's the best place to get your book?


At 1/03/2008 6:15 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Sorry for the really late response, school, holidays, too many project, sheer laziness ;-) all managed to get in the way.

There are plenty of 'black boxes' that are running Linux. You'd be surprised at how many are already in the home. But those boxes are still expensive because the vendor has to support the complex application that runs on top. Many of the custom HA servers are Linux but strangely enough they don't work with Linux (???). They see the obvious larger market and support that as it quicker and easier to reach.

I've not see any HA distributions yet. LinuxMCE is the closest but it's an entertainment distribution. They are working on using Insteon as there are no drivers for the Z-Wave interfaces that are available such as the HA22 and the old interfaces appear to be discontinued. Hopefully that will be remedied soon.

BTW, the Insteon PLM which everyone seems to be moving towards is compatible with X10. It can send and receive X10 and Insteon.

At 3/19/2008 6:23 AM, Anonymous Neo said...

Just wanted to say that I think your definition of home automation is very good. It's really difficult to explain to people who know nothing about it sometimes and I think you do it very well!


Post a Comment

<< Home