ET: There are a lot of smart technologies available, but home automation needs to be approached holistically. What real initiatives are out there to achieve this?
Eric & Shane: Tomorrow’s homes will be vastly different to today’s â€“ technology will completely transform how we live and interact with our home environment. Compared to the options freely available today, tomorrow’s technology will enable simple configuration, â€˜plug and play’ functionality, programmable process and task automation, and communications capabilities that are â€˜childs play’ to operate.
Global appliance manufacturers are currently delivering the first wave of home appliances which incorporate the latest embedded communications technologies and smart features. The concept is to produce appliances that can think for themselves, save time, be more energy efficient, and offer significant added value.
Home automation is already high on the agendas of companies like Microsoft, Intel, HP, Thompson, Samsung, Sony, and Philips.
Appliances will soon talk to each other and provide the basis of internal mesh networking principles which introduces the ability to provide flexibility in roaming internet, VoIP, telephony, messaging, and more, via for example, your kitchen toaster!
Digital convergence is now combining previously separate services into one package such as television, security, telecommunications, home theatre/audio and environmental control. These are handled via a mix of mediums which include 230V carrier technology, Cat5 cabling, and wireless technologies. Manufacturers are working to find common ground to deliver this successfully, and on open standards platforms that allow transparent interconnection with different manufacturer’s products.
Appliance compatibility is also addressed by utilising globally recognised communication standards and protocols.
Living in a smarthome won’t require a major learning curve for occupants â€“ the technology is designed to interact seamlessly with each new service appliance and becomes an embedded component in the house. The theory is that as people grow older the home can adjust from delivering entertainment and information, to monitoring habits for shopping lists, to accessing online health services.
ET: What are some of the more significant home automation projects happening in New Zealand?
Eric & Shane: There are a significant number of initiatives aimed at delivering stand-alone solutions as well as components that will eventually be used in the home and building automation industries.
* The Mega Box (www.megabox.co.nz) is one of the first products in New Zealand the uses a PC as the media centre. It incorporates DVD-RW, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MPS, VCD, radio, TV, Dolby Prologic 5.1, Internet, and PC functionality all in a form factor not unlike today’s DVD player. HP, Microsoft, Acer, and several other high profile manufacturers are all pushing variants of this concept.
* Canterbury Universities Hit Lab is a specialist human interface laboratory (www.hitlabnz.com) leading the world in Augmented Reality (a term given to the convergence of â€˜immersed virtual reality’ and the â€˜real world’). Exciting new developments are underway to develop leading edge technologies that are portable and incorporate control functionality intuitive to humans. The project is focusing on multi-modal communications devices that will use Bluetooth, RF, 802.11x, UWB (Ultra Wideband), and infra-red technologies to replace all remotes in your home and interface your home with its appliances.
* Manukau City has made it mandatory for broadband provisioning in Green field developments since December 2003. Flatbush (also known as Sir Barry Curtis Park) is the first subdivision to incorporate broadband provisioning in its design plan. Home media cabling will be virtually mandatory. The concept is that â€˜high-tech’ attracts high-tech workers and, of course, with these people comes high incomes. The first residential development at Flatbush will incorporate the Smart HomeÂ® Media Cable Solution, and Digital HouseÂ® Integrated Building controller. Homeowners will benefit from state-of-the-art security; early warning detection systems for fire, heat, and gas; keyless entry; and the ability to literally plug in a PC, TV and phone in every room. Any number of apartments can be tied together as a single unit for those who live and work in the complex. What is significant is that the systems have been designed and standardised to a point where cost comparison with traditional separate discrete systems is negligible.
* Touch screen technology allows us to touch-enable any screen, window, or shop front. New Zealand company Next Window (www.nextwindow.com) has developed a clever device to convert traditional screens (LCD, Plasma, CRT, rear projection, through projection) into touch enabled screens. Compared to off-the-shelf screens in larger formats, this solution is very cost effective, accurate, and user friendly. The technology allows you to virtually touch-enable any flat surface. Applications include kiosks, manufacturing systems, as well as home automation and control interfaces. Early use in homes might take the form of touch-enabling the coffee table to say provide both the viewing interface for the Internet and the control centre management access interface for the house itself. Even a picture on the wall could be a touch interface!
ET: Home automation has been talked about a lot – but has to a large extent been under-delivered. What factors are going to drive forward its adoption?
Eric & Shane: The driving factors are related to the price of appliances and the availability of broadband Internet into the home.
Demand for services is the driving force for delivery of 2MB access to the home, but even this will fall short of expectations within the next 12 -18 months. Internally the PC is now capable of delivering a common control platform for all service automation. As well as cost-effectively delivering information and entertainment to the home, there are business applications such as farming that are a natural extension of the smart home. It lends itself to the lifestyle block owner who wants to enjoy life but not be tied to the 24/7 farming lifestyle. The online doctor who can monitor people with mild dementia or Alzheimers Disease is another automation application (it has been proven people live longer in their own homes).
ET: How will home automation technologies impact on the electrical contracting market – will there be a whole new skillset developed to install and commission automation systems?
Eric & Shane: The commercial market has always used certified and reputable electrical contractors to carry out proprietary installs such as plant and machinery automation. Security companies install alarms and surveillance, telecommunications companies install data and phone systems. However, there are no requests for any smarthome certification â€“ to show that a electrician is competent in all fields.
While some electricians are experienced in the delivery of data, telecommunications wiring, security, and even audio/visual solutions using some of the newest technologies, most have limited experience in these cross fields. Even those with experience are not necessarily up with the standards within these respective fields.
Unlike 230V wiring, data and telecommunications networks are getting faster, smarter, and have less tolerance to bend radius in the cable plant, to correct termination and testing methods. Network speeds in the home will most likely settle at 1Gbit and will provide media distribution for all services. Issues such as cross talk, radiation, and emissions must all be accounted for in the infrastructure design.
Failure to observe standards will effectively render most installations useless because Gbit tends to bleed over Cat5 if not installed correctly and interferes with service provision. At 100 Mbit speeds this is not an issue and the cables are fairly resilient to even the roughest install. Customers must be sold on quality future-proofed solutions.
Most importantly the industry must adapt to becoming recognized home integrators. This involves understanding the correct cabling architectures for specific applications and proving this knowledge by registering as a certified cabler on the TESSO cabling register. For those looking to become certified smart home integrators, courses are currently being developed to cover computer, telecommunications and MATV coaxial installations. There are also moves to introduce security, surveillance, audio, and wireless courses including RPL (recognition of prior learning) for people already working in those industries. These courses should be available from late 2005.
Eric Sagmeister and Shane Walls-Harris are directors of Smarthome Ltd of New Zealand
Thanks to Electrical Technology Magazine for allowing us to publish this Interview
A day in the life of a 2010 smart-home owner (As visualised by Eric and Shane)
Bill Gate’s Microsoft vision for home technologies is not far from reality. A typical day in tomorrow’s home might go like this:
The alarm wakes you with soft, easy listening music. You head to the shower â€“ only the house knows your preferences, so the shower is already running at just the right temperature. While you’re getting dressed, the coffee-maker sets itself to make your morning cuppa. It told the toaster to lightly toast the bread, and turns on the plasma screen embedded in the table to catch the news.
Not to mention the popped up message window informing you that you have email. Light switches are a thing of the past; motion and/or voice are your interface to control lighting. While eating breakfast you decide its time to change the picture on the wall. At the touch of a button, or voice command, the picture is now of your parents, the children, or perhaps your dream car.
The phone rings â€“ it’s Joe at the office. The call came in via the VoIP circuit, but it’s so seamlessly connected to your plain old telephone service it’s transparent. The house automatically receives and sends calls via the cheapest and fastest method.
Meanwhile you can’t hear because the kids are blasting music upstairs â€“ a quick press of a button or voice command and you’ve overridden their volume control.
The kids love the MP3 and video-on-demand collection in your electronic library. The best part is you can all watch the same movie in different rooms â€“ enjoying individual control of functions such as â€˜pause’ and â€˜review’ without affecting the viewing experience of others (this is called streaming audio visual media).
As you walk into the garage the door opens automatically and the car is already warming up. The perimeter gate opens as you exit the garage and the garage closes and locks behind you â€“ it’s all automatic.
Because the family is with you, the house automatically locks and arms the alarm. The surveillance system goes on standby and, of course, you can monitor the house from work. The temperature drops during the day, but the house interior has been set to a constant temperature all year round. To boost the heating or cooling you can manually adjust the settings via your cellphone or PDA.
The house monitors your bio-rhythms, body temperature, securely stores your medical records, and when you need to, the doctor will consult with you via your TV/PC interface At the end of the day, the kitchen starts to cook dinner. It’s dark outside, but that’s no problem â€“ the house has already detected you’re home. The gates open, the house disarms, the door unlocks, and pathway lighting kicks in. You get in the door and the house informs you dinner is almost ready and you have five new voice mails and three video mails. After dinner, you decide to hold a conference call with distant relatives. The house dials the number and you can freely roam the house while talking hands-free. There is no phone in your hand â€“ it’s embedded in the house (perhaps in the toaster, fridge, or bedside lamp). The house is so smart it calls service providers automatically and carbon copies you into the call when something needs attention.
Best of all, you can spend more quality time with the family. You enjoy security, flexibility, and technological mobility around the home, and the freedom of choice to set-up your house to suit your lifestyle.
The technology is non-obtrusive, intuitive, easy to use, and affordable. It’s modular, open to multi-mode communications, and simple to upgrade. Your smart home delivers unparalleled levels of comfort and convenience.